Harvard recently rescinded admission offers for some incoming freshmen who participated in a private Facebook group sharing offensive memes. The incident has sparked a lot of discussion: Was Harvard's decision justified? What about freedom of speech? Do young people know the dangers of social media?
I am a business school lecturer, career service counsellor and former recruiter, and I have seen how social media becomes part of a person's brand - a brand that can help you or hurt you. College admissions staff, future employers and even potential dates are more and more likely to check your profile and make decisions or judgments about you.
Here is what you should know, so you do not end up like those Harvard prospects.
SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS DISAPPEAR, RIGHT?
Let us be clear about one thing: You have been building your online reputation since your first Snapchat. Think the posts disappear? Think private pages are private? Think again.
You might feel like your life and opinions are no one's business, but you cannot always control who sees what you post. You might make a mistake with your privacy settings or post to the wrong account. And a determined online sleuth can sometimes find ways around privacy settings, viewing photos and posts you might think are well hidden.
You might feel like your life and opinions are no one's business, but you cannot always control who sees what you post. Every photo, video, tweet, like and comment could be screenshot by your friends (or frenemies). You might make a mistake with your privacy settings or post to the wrong account. And a determined online sleuth can sometimes find ways around privacy settings, viewing photos and posts you might think are well hidden.
DO EMPLOYERS AND SCHOOLS ACTUALLY LOOK AT THIS STUFF?
Your profile will very likely be scrutinised by college admissions officers and employers. According to a recent CareerBuilder recruitment survey in America, social media screening is through the roof:
•600 per cent increase since 2006 in employers using social media to screen candidates
•70 per cent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates
•34 per cent of employers found online content that caused them to reprimand or fire an employee
This trend is common with admissions as well. Kaplan Test Prep's 2017 survey of over 350 US college admissions officers found that 35 per cent checked applicants' social media profiles. Many who do said social media had influenced their admission decisions.
WHAT ARE RECRUITERS WATCHING OUT FOR?
So what are the potential hazards to avoid? These are some of the types of posts that left a bad impression on me when I used to recruit:
• References to illegal drugs, sexual posts
• Incriminating or embarrassing photos or videos
• Profanity, defamatory or racist comments
• Politically charged attacks
• Spelling and grammar issues
• Complaining or bad-mouthing - what is to say you would not do the same to a new school, company, boss or peer?
WHAT CAN I DO TO BUILD A POSITIVE ONLINE REPUTATION?
Remember, social media is not all bad. In many cases it helps recruiters get a good feel of your personality and potential fit. The CareerBuilder survey found 44 per cent of employers who screened candidates via social networks found positive information that caused them to hire a candidate.
From my experience, the following information can support and confirm a candidate's resume:
• Your education and experiences match the recruiter's requirements
• Your profile picture and summary is professional
• Your personality and interests align with the values of the company or university
• Your involvement in community or social organisations shows character
• Positive, supportive comments, responses or testimonials
HOW DO I CLEAN THINGS UP?
Research. Both the college of your dreams and your future employer could google you, so you should do the same thing. Also, check all of your social media profiles - even the ones you have not used for a while - and get rid of anything that could send the wrong message. Remember, things cannot be unseen.
Bottom line: Would you want a future boss, admissions officer or blind date to read or see it? If not, do not post it. If you already have, delete it.
Sincerely, Your Career Counsellor
• The writer is a lecturer at the Kelley School of Business in Indiana University.
• This article first appeared in The Conversation at http://theconversation.com, a website which carries analysis by academics and researchers.