Learn To Keep Secrets On The Internet, Especially If You’re Job Hunting

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If you are looking for a new job or want to advance in your current one, you need to be aware of your online reputation, or at least how you appear to others on the internet.


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The age of the internet has brought many advantages, but in recent years (particularly on social media platforms such as TikTok) we have become too comfortable with what we share online. 

It is not uncommon to stumble across what is known as “storytimes” on TikTok or YouTube; while these can certainly be entertaining and interesting to listen to or watch, there is a fine line between sharing something funny and relatable, and revealing too much information. 

I once saw this video on TikTok of a woman describing a situation where she went to the gym, and the manager of the gym pulled her aside to let her know that she has a body odour problem and other people were complaining of the smell. 

We’ve all been in awkward or embarrassing situations before, and others may have been in a similar set of circumstances, but to take such a personal story to a public platform such as TikTok, and essentially let strangers know that an unpleasant smell follows you wherever you go, to the point where it’s noticeable by several people, may be taking it a bit far. 

There are just some things that not everyone needs to know about.

Another creator on TikTok responded to the above-mentioned woman’s video with a video of her own, and suggested that everyone (not just the gym woman) should “post what is reasonable, and sometimes, you can have some shame. It’s okay to have shame sometimes.” 

The second woman went on to say that the internet has made us too comfortable, and that it never forgets, no matter where you go or which new experiences you may find yourself in later. 

She gave the example of the gym woman hypothetically campaigning in politics one day.

Imagine her running for office, ten years from now, she’s gotten the odour thing under control and now she wants to run for office. TikTok [users] will say ‘are you not the girl who couldn’t use soap and water and deodorant on your body? Now you want to run for office?’

These unabashed tidbits shared to the internet, via a profile that uses your government name, will never fully be scrubbed from the deep crevices of the World Wide Web. 

Those mean comments you left under a celebrity’s Instagram post you thought no one would see, the offensive joke you tweeted six years ago, the likes you left on a questionable post - these could all come back and taint your employability. 

This is detrimental for those in the middle of a job search.

It should be said that while certain activity and content on the internet will lightly tarnish your professional profile and reputation, if that activity and content aligns with bigotry of any kind, employers have every right to overlook your application and should. 

These days, part of the hiring process is potential employer/s combing through your online presence as part of the background check procedure. Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ allow employers to catch a glimpse of your personality, as well as your abilities.

According to a 2017 CareerBuilder study, 70% of employers check social media profiles and 69% are Googling candidates as part of their applicant screening process. This means that the things you share online - and what others post about you - can impact a hiring manager’s decision. 

While you may be qualified or have the necessary experience, an employer may turn away from your application because they don’t want someone that’s too casual with sharing and engaging in controversy, as depicted online. 

Ivan Israelstam, CEO of Labour Law Management Consulting, in an interview with the Skills Portal says:

Whether online or not, the job seeker’s reputation is key to the chance of becoming employed. Because social media is a very easy way for employers to find out about the job seeker’s behaviour and beliefs, this has become a primary means for employers to assess the background and reputation of job applicants.

"Online presence, per se, should not be a problem. However, most employers are very concerned that [the] people who they recruit are fine, upstanding, compliant and law-abiding citizens. If the job seeker’s online presence throws doubt on these criteria, prospective employers may see this and rather hire someone else."

Your online presence and the content you engage with may not directly reflect who you are truly, but potential employers don’t know this. 

Social media has become a window to our souls - something as simple as putting your favourite song lyrics in your bio let’s visitors know what or whose music you enjoy, which views you align yourself with, how you see yourself and how you hope others see you.

For example, a Kanye West lyric would tell me (a visitor to your page) that you enjoy rap music probably of the misogynistic variety (although to be fair, rap that isn’t misogynistic is difficult to find).

You either defend Kanye to those who criticise him, maybe even agreeing with the harmful things he’s said publicly, or you might be one of those people who “separate the art from the artist”, or none of the above. But I can’t know that for sure.

I would also think that maybe (depending on which lyric you opt for) you resonate with or relate to Kanye’s self-inflated ego present in his musical writing. 

I’m definitely not saying that Kanye West makes bad music or that I’ve never listened to him, but in light of recent events, the mention of his name is enough to give a side eye glance and put his fans (and their beliefs, by extension) into question.

The saying goes “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover”, but the reality is, your social media is the book and what you put on the cover has influence over those with hiring authority.

Israelstam says the biggest mistake job seekers can make when it comes to their online presence, is trashing their previous or current employers on social media. 

A prospective new employer will be fearful that they might be next to receive a trashing.

Other mistakes include the expression of political opinions, bragging about how many beers one can drink or how many times one has had intercourse with colleagues, posts about enjoyment of gambling and other practices that might be acceptable to friends, but which may cause discomfort to prospective employers. 

Even after you land that job, you’re not safe from scrutiny. 

That same CareerBuilder study also revealed that 51% of employers monitor their current employees’ social media posts to ensure that they are not disclosing proprietary or confidential information, harassing fellow employees, or otherwise breaking the law.

While it can be argued that as an individual, you are allowed to participate in and enjoy life outside of your job, and this should not influence whether or not you remain employed, but rather play it safe.

If necessary, making a second account separate from your personal/work account can be an option. An account that doesn’t use your real name exactly, and that isn’t a blend of your professional engagements and personal opinions. 

However, you shouldn’t take the chance to use the second account as an outlet to interact with the controversial content you’re hoping will go undetected and cannot be tied back to you. 

Although your online presence can be advantageous to you as a job seeker, it is not always that simple. 

Israelstam says:

Some employers are impressed by online reports of job seekers’ leadership or technical ability or other exploits. However, employers are learning that some of this is disinformation. They therefore do not know what to believe.

"Online job searches are normally entirely legitimate, unless job seekers fabricate their credentials while sending out applications. This practice is very tempting, but is highly counterproductive because, when the employer discovers the dishonesty, the employee is likely to be fired."

This is bad enough. But what is worse, is that the job seeker has this dishonest act on his/her record forever.

The bottom line is, you don't need to share every thought, every opinion, every detail, every experience you have with others online. What may think is harmless, may have lasting consequences that will resurface to haunt you in your professional life. 

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