02/24/2014 06:48 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2014

For Your Job Search and Career, Participate in Social Media -- VERY Carefully

Yes, your social media activities are being watched! What you write (or say) online "can be used against you" in the court of public opinion or in the privacy of an employer's or a recruiter's office. Yet, it appears that too many people are not aware that what they do online, in the "privacy" of their social media accounts, is often very widely visible.

Social Media Skills Are Necessary Now

I know many job seekers, particularly those over 40, who avoid social media. They view their lack of participation as a demonstration of good judgment, unfortunately. However, appropriate use of social networks demonstrates an understanding of how business and society interact now, which is particularly important to prove that a job seeker is not out-of-date. Appropriate use of social networks also offers opportunities to demonstrate knowledge, skills and a level of "with-it-ness" necessary in business today.

But, too often, job seekers and employees who do use social media are careless in their usage, acting as if they think no one is paying attention to what they are doing. Wrong! Use social media, but be smart about it.

This wide visibility can help or hurt both their careers and their job hunting. In this post, we'll explore how people may be hurt by what they post.

Demonstrate Good Manners in the Age of Google and Social Media

In the age of Google and social media, caution is required -- more caution than many people are using. It's not your grandmother's Internet any more! Here are two very important things to be aware of in the Age of Google and Social Media:

1. MOST of what is contributed online in social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter is visible to the world.

2. That world includes both current employers and co-workers as well as recruiters and potential employers -- people you probably want to impress (positively).

Whenever you make a comment online, pretend your mother, your current boss (if you have a job) or a recruiter for your "ideal" employer is looking over your shoulder and reading what you wrote. Because in our current real/virtual reality world, they may be watching.

The Impact of Negative Behavior May Not Be Visible to You

People often assume that if they don't receive negative feedback about their behavior, that everything is fine, that no problem exists for them. Unfortunately, not true. For example:

  • A recruiter recently shared that they were considering proposing a specific person to their client, and then read that person's postings in a LinkedIn Group relevant to the work. With the "See this Member's activity" option, LinkedIn makes it very easy to see a Group member's other postings in the Group. Several of this person's postings were just plain nasty -- someone who would NOT be a pleasant person to work with. So, no connection was made. End of opportunity.
  • I participate in several LinkedIn Groups, and often I am amazed at what people write in Groups and other similar public forums. I have seen reasonable questions draw vitriolic responses from people who apparently have no built-in personal censor helping them control their worst impulses (or who are perhaps under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they respond). Who would want to network with someone like that online? As a consequence of such behavior, a negative impression is created in the minds of the many people reading those entries. Opportunities limited.
  • Another recruiter I have spoken with this year was on the verge of inviting someone in for an interview, but, after a quick Google search revealed the applicant apparently spent most weekends drinking and partying, which they fully documented on Facebook, the interview invitation evaporated. End of opportunity.
  • A Wall Street Journal article contained a report about an employee who made a Facebook post about going out to dinner with friends and then smoking "reefer" after dinner. It was seen by management and other employees. Opportunities limited.
  • A colleague posted a "funny" video before the last Presidential election in the USA. It made fun of the candidate she did not like. She widely promoted it as "fun," hoping to help her candidate win in the process. Half of the country liked the candidate she ridiculed, including me, so she needlessly alienated a gigantic group. I certainly lost interest in working with her, and I bet I was not alone in that reaction. Opportunities limited.
  • A Human Resources manager shared with me that his company fired an employee who wrote angry statements on his personal Facebook page about another employee and his boss concerning a work situation. End of employment.
Except for the last example, none of these people had any idea that they were "passed over" or will have limited opportunities because of what they personally made visible online.

Avoid These 7 Negative Activities Online

Are you creating positive or negative visibility for yourself? These online activities make a negative impression:

1 Cursing and using foul language.

2. Describing participation in illegal activities.

3. Exhibiting rude behavior. Name calling. Personal attacks. Bullying. Intimidation.

4. Denigrating a religion, politician, political party, country, ethnic group, gender, sexual preference, etc.

5. Seeming to be incoherent/drunk/drugged.

And, particularly if you are currently employed, avoid these, too:

6. Slamming the current employer, boss, co-workers or products and services (disloyalty, bad judgment).

7. Announcing your search for a new job. (Yikes! This can result in a quick termination.)

Unless you are writing a careful, coherent review of a product or service on a site like Amazon or Yelp or you are a "mean" comedian, there is no personal benefit to being publicly negative about anyone or anything. Mom was right when she told you, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Such good advice that it has become a cliche.

What to Do About Any Past Bad Behavior

Remove it. You can easily delete your posts and comments in LinkedIn, and you can do it relatively easily on Facebook. Even tweets can be deleted. If a friend or relative has posted something on Facebook with your name attached to it that puts you in a negative light, ask them to remove it. True friends will remove it. Hopefully, your family will also remove offensive material. If material cannot be removed, it will gradually become less visible over time.

Make a promise to yourself to be more careful of your personal reputation in the future and to come back next week to read the post on making a great impression with your online visibility.

Follow me on G+ for more job search tips!

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability, Inc. and the editor and chief technology writer for and This piece first appeared on