How your social media could cost you a job
Unless your life’s goal is to be canonised, it’s highly likely you’ve said something you immediately regretted. Blurting out your other half’s most guarded of secrets at a dinner party, calling your best mate’s newborn pride and joy ‘ugly, with a seriously squashed face’ or making an ill-judged ‘joke’ about the boss’s wife during a business lunch are just some of the examples where you might have put your foot in it.
In this social media-centric world, such unfortunate outbursts can reach an even bigger audience and no matter how much you tried and defend them as ‘a bit of banter’, no one really believes you. Misguided quips can not only make you fall out with friends and family but could also hamper your chances of getting a new job or, in fact keeping one. Just ask Kevin Hart about the Oscars payday he was forced to give up when an old Twitter rant came to light and made him look like a complete bigot.
Being web savvy has taken on a whole new meaning in recent years and as the recruitment experts and business owners we quizzed about the subject agreed, social-media skeletons can be the scourge of the jobseeker.
Dan Fahy, a director at specialist recruitment consultancy NSI Talent, feels companies like his own need to be careful not to subdue its employees’ personalities, but at the same time be mindful of how they come across on their online profile.
“I think we’ve all suffered time-hops from previous years and cringed at past behaviour or opinions and employers are definitely becoming more savvy at ‘cyber-stalking’ potential candidates,” he says.
“I think there’s some degree of flexibility in terms of previous conduct – partying and the like – but any extreme-right wing views, racism, sexism and so on that gets uncovered can have massive implications, especially if firms are looking for an excuse to sack somebody.”
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, managing director and founder of PR firm TishTash, believes it’s essential for prospective employees to keep their social media ‘clean’, although she admits ‘we all have a past’, regrettable or otherwise.
“None of us are perfect, but it is important to keep it as clean as we can as your digital footprint lasts forever. And there are always ways to clean things up if you keep an eye and take action. It also depends what industry you’re in. My business, PR, is all about reputation so it’s important we keep our own as clean as we can, but for other industries it may matter less and in some a bit of controversy can be a good thing.”
Sujit Sukumaran, founder and CEO of Optimus Management Consultants, says UAE employees are less likely to be part of the Twitterati than their Western counterparts but admits it can still be a ‘storm creator’.
He adds: “I would be concerned about Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter – in that order. A clean social media history is absolutely required, where ‘clean’ means maintaining the integrity of thought and actions online and offline. Today, increasingly, companies view their employees as an extension of their brand and so it is only more imperative.”
Thanj Kugananthan, owner of Visible HR, believes social media is a rather grey area, with the term ‘clean’ meaning different things to different people.
She continues: “For me and my business ‘clean’ just means ensuring this is a responsible individual who is respectful to others. As long as an employee’s social media history reflects this, I would be satisfied with taking an interview forward.
“However, one caveat I would say is that the definition of ‘clean’ and company values would be different from organisation to organisation and from role to role. If I were in charge of hiring an individual within a role that was involved with building high-profile relationships – this applicant’s social media channels would need to be in line with this.”
A solid CV and engaging job interview are obviously essential to you getting the job in the first place but how much time is taken to vet applicants’ social media channels for past transgressions varies from company to company.
Before launching entrepreneurial media platform UAE DNA, Cristina Magallon was a social recruiter and it was her job to look at your online profile to see if you fitted company standards and morals. She calls not cleaning up your act on social media ‘the equivalent of a death sentence’ to your future career.
“Controversy always raises doubt because trust is very important. Your future employer needs to be sure your actions won’t cause them any harm,” she says. “You are who you are online. Your solid CV and charming your way through an interview will mean nothing if recruiters see your social profiles littered with expletives, or you are seen wasted at parties, or whatever stupidity you thought was fun before. This will haunt you.”
Rosa Bullock, founder of PR, marketing, events and design firm SOCIATE, admits things have certainly changed since she started out in Dubai and that your online persona ‘impacts upon the way you’re perceived’, particularly as it overlaps with your professional persona as much as it does today.
And she adds: “In the comms industry, having more than a fleeting interest in social media is critical and impacts our decision to bring someone on board. SOCIATE offers social media as a service, so having a team that is engaged on it is pretty important to us.
“We ask applicants to share their social media handles with us during the initial emailing phase – more because we’re interested in getting a glimpse of their personality rather than vetting their online presence, though.”
Kameron Hutchinson is head of recruitment at well-known estate agents Allsopp & Allsopp. While he is well aware that their business is ‘built on personality’, he suggests a ‘PG filter’ on your social media would be advisable when applying for a job with them.
“We vet applicants’ social media channels more so now than we used to,” he says. “A huge majority of people have a social profile, so it’s usually the first place we head to. A social profile can tell us more about a person than any CV can – especially in terms of what kind of person they are emotionally, socially and not just what type of work they’ve done!”
Andreas Borgmann and Mark Carroll, CEOs of Kcal World, say they don’t actively search through a prospective employee’s social channels but also won’t ignore posts they feel to be a ‘red flag’.
However, Borgmann adds: “Here at Kcal we encourage our staff to be outgoing, creative and to have a good work-life-balance and so many of them are very active on social media – in fact some of our sales team even
use their channels to help them make sales.
“We trust that the people we hire are mature enough to not post things on social media that could hurt their own reputation or ours.”
Amir Reza, founder of boutique recruitment consultancy service Harmony Connections, reveals some of the candidates he’s put forward for jobs in the past have been refused interviews based on their social media activities, proving companies are interested in your online output.
“Some would argue that a personal social media profile is personal and shouldn’t be judged when selecting talent, however, if the potential employee has questionable social skills, this may reflect badly on the future of the company, especially if they could be in a position of authority,” he says.
“If [the job application] is for a senior position in a semi-government entity, then I would potentially spend roughly ten to 15 minutes scanning the various platforms to ensure there is no inappropriate material.
“I believe that in the same way one would wear a suit and be clean and presentable in an interview to set a good impression, the same applies to your social media.”
So what’s the most simple, yet effective, way to internet-proof your social media and prevent you missing out on your dream job? Our experts all agree it can be an easy task, as long as you know what you’re doing.
Jeremy Vercoe, manager of hospitality recruitment portal CatererGlobal, suggests Googling yourself to see which images and posts related to you are visible to potentially prying eyes.
However, he adds: “Begin by checking your privacy settings and posts to ensure you’re happy with how this represents you. Personal and professional social networks are worth scrutinising. If you’re not confident you can control the tools in the way you would like, it might be worth deleting your account. As a general rule, don’t post anything you wouldn’t be happy sharing with a future employer.”
Bullock agrees that switching to a private profile is the way ahead. “A great rule of thumb for social media is don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say out loud on a bus. Remember where you are and think about the ripple effect a controversial post could have on future opportunities.”
Kcal World’s Carroll is a strong believer that first impressions last, saying: “For starters, appropriate profile pictures are a must – no one wants to see you three hours into a brunch on your LinkedIn page. Secondly, I would say that being conscious of where we are and the rules and cultural sentiments of the UAE should always factor into anything you post online; is this going to offend anyone, hurt anyone or make me look like a fool before you post? If the answer to any of those is yes, then you shouldn’t post it.”
So – think before you post. That way you’ll drastically reduce your chances of becoming a social media liability.
Where potential employees have got it horribly wrong…
“I have seen examples of people applying for junior jobs with us and having very explicit Twitter profiles, casual sharing of right-wing propaganda and casual usage of illegal substances. All big no-nos!”
“We had an applicant who had a solid portfolio, was brilliant over the phone but asked to reschedule an interview at the last minute because they were suddenly ‘under the weather’. Unfortunately, we were already following them on social media
and deduced that the mysterious illness may have very well been a hangover.”
“Just yesterday, I was contacted by a client whose LinkedIn link says ‘Born to Kill’ as the summary statement.
I casually asked him what he meant by this and he said he has a killer instinct to be the best in whatever he does and kill the competition. Talk about misinterpretations in expression. I encounter many such cases on a regular basis.”
“I’ve been sent many CVs from people with open social media pages and every image is near naked. It doesn’t bother me so much, but I always think, ‘What if a client was looking at this?’, which makes me err more on the side of prudishness. I also found out about someone’s three marriages and somewhat dubious past – don’t ask.”
Meet the experts...
Sujit Sukumaran, CEO of Optimus Manag-ement Consultants
Rosa Bullock, founder of SOCIATE
Dan Fahy, director at NSI Talent
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe, MD and founder of TishTash
Amir Reza, founder of Harmony Connections
Kameron Hutchinson, head of recruitment at Allsopp & Allsopp
Cristina Magallon, founder of UAE DNA
Jeremy Vercoe, manager of CatererGlobal
Andreas Borgmann and Mark Carroll; CEOs of Kcal World
Thanj Kugananthan, owner of Visible HR