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When Ashley Payne, a high school teacher from the USA, visited Ireland a few years back her itinerary included a trip to the Guinness Storehouse. She snapped a photo of herself sipping a pint of Guinness and posted it to her Facebook profile, which she had set to ‘private’. Back home, however, the parent of a child at Payne’s school accessed her Facebook timeline by connecting with one of her friends.

When she returned to work after her European adventure, Payne was summoned to the principal’s office and given a choice: resign or be suspended. She resigned. It may appear hard to believe, but her seemingly innocent selfie “promoted alcohol use”, according to the school, and that was that – out.

The internet is awash with examples like this; varying degrees of questionable social media activity that has and does cost people their jobs.

1 in 10 young job seekers have lost out

Indeed, a survey by On Device Research has found that 1 in 10 people aged 16 to 34 have been rejected for a job because of comments or pictures on an online profile.

Some of it is so idiotic, so offensive, that you wonder how the people in question ever managed to find employment in the first place.

Some of it though, like the example above, is more bad luck or bad timing, people rushing to like and share without fully thinking through the consequences. One of the hazards of the digital age.

Even so, the damage can be incredibly far-reaching. Not only can an unflattering photo or an untimely tweet cost you one job, it could cost you the next one too and the one after that – without you even realising.

Everyone is watching

Blundering badly on social media can blight your career for years, casting doubt in the mind of every potential employer to whom you send a resumé – because these days, everyone is watching.

Social media monitoring has become a routine aspect of the recruitment process. It’s now estimated that more than 90% of employers will review a candidate’s social media profile before making a decision.

The message is clear: all professionals need to take a fresh look at their profiles. Even if you are not currently in the job market, you would do well to put yourself in the shoes of a potential employer and carry out an audit on your social activity.

Audit your social profiles

Our top recommendations for job applicants:

  • Consider making your accounts professional-only, i.e. no personal content
  • If you do have personal photos, comments etc, keep your settings strictly private
  • Delete anything you wouldn’t want your employer to see (even if it’s private)
  • Make sure all publicly-available content is relevant to your career/profession
  • Same with groups, connections, followers – keep it professional-only
  • Update your profile frequently, focussing on career achievements/qualifications
  • Google yourself regularly to see what’s out there

And finally, think carefully before you post, share or retweet anything. If there’s the slightest chance it will raise eyebrows, think again. Caution and common sense will help keep your social media presence – and your professional reputation – squeaky-clean.