How social media can help you lose a job

2013-09-22T14:06:00Z 2013-09-23T13:29:05Z How social media can help you lose a jobBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
September 22, 2013 2:06 pm  • 

Social media is a great tool that can help someone land a job or further a career.

Just as Facebook and other social media sites can paint a professional picture, they can also paint a very crude or unflattering picture of an employee or job candidate.

"Facebook is a perfect example of where you should be careful," said Shelly Robinson, director of Career Services at Purdue University Calumet. "Although it is viewed as more of a truly social network as compared to LinkedIn, employers are still checking you out, trying to develop a better picture of you as a candidate."

Social media can also land you in hot water with your current employer.

Just ask the many waiters and waitresses in the news recently who have been fired for posting messages left on receipts - even when the messages were clearly rude or snarky.

Andrea Griffin, a professor of human resource management at Indiana University Northwest, said the issue of what an employee can be fired for in regards to social media is very complex.

"The case law is just developing," she said. "Everyone is feeling their way."

Because the issue of what can get someone fired is so murky, Griffin said it is difficult to come up with concrete rules about what should and should not be put on social media.

"I think everyone expects they're going to have some sort of privacy or free speech, but in employment relationships, that free speech can be curtailed in some situations," she said.

There are steps, however, that can be taken to ensure employees stay in favorable light with their employers, and potential employees don't hurt their chances of landing a job. Here are some tips to keep your social media footprint from hurting your career.

Remember you represent

On the clock or not, you are a representative of your company, said Ruth Keefover, a Hobart resident and social media expert who has worked on several campaigns for national brands like TUMS and Breathe Right.

If an employee posts something negative about the company on social media sites, he can expect ramifications from his employer, Keefover said.

"Some recent examples are the Taco Bell employee who was fired when a photo of him licking taco shells went viral," she said. "There's also the bus driver in Georgia who was fired for ranting about the school system on his Facebook page, and even the Denver math teacher who tweeted photos of herself smoking marijuana and talking about her hot students. There are literally hundreds of stories out there."

The best advice when angry about a work situation - put your phone away.

"Even if you are in the heat of the moment, stop and ask yourself if this is something that could get you in trouble," Keefover said. "If you wouldn't stand in front of your workplace holding a sign with your comment, rant or photo, don't post it."

Discard risky photos

Without a doubt, don't post anything illegal online, such as photos of underage drinking or using drugs, Griffin said.

Even if someone is of age, avoid posting photos of drinking alcohol, partying or other questionable behavior.

"If companies are looking into you and they find you have some inappropriate images, or pictures of yourself with alcohol or doing things they might consider questionable or risky, they're going to make a lot of assumptions about you - correctly or incorrectly," she said.

Avoid endorsing

Sure, posting a ringing endorsement for a new Pepsi product may seem innocent - unless of course you work for Coca Cola.

"We used to have very clear lines between your personal and professional lives," Griffin said. "But that has so completely blurred now that yes, you have to address this area because even when it comes to things like mentioning companies on Facebook, is your company going to be OK with what appears to be an endorsement?"

Don't assume you're safe

In most cases, social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have privacy settings in which users can make their profiles private.

However, keep in mind that while someone's profile might be private, if someone else posts a photo or makes a comment about that person, the original photo can be seen by others publicly.

"For example, you have a private Facebook page, but your friend, with a public page, posts a compromising photo of you," Keefover said. "They tag the photo with your name and mention you in the post. This can be seen by anyone."

Review your site

Today, more than 90 percent of hiring managers are looking at social media profiles of potential employees, Keefover said.

Here are some common red flags employers look for, she said:

* Provocative or inappropriate posts or photos

* Content about drinking or drugs

* Bad-mouthing a previous employer or coworkers

* Sharing confidential information about a previous employer

* Discriminatory comments about race, gender or religion

* Use of foul language

"If you are applying for jobs and not getting anywhere, you may want to take a look at your social media channels to see if you are posting any of these mentioned items," Keefover said. "It may be time to clean up your online presence."

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