Professional vs. Private: The social media trap

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By now, most of us are on social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram – possibly all of the above. But where are the boundaries when it comes to employers using this information to determine if you’re right for a position in their company? Are there any? Our account associate and social media devotee Christie explores the opportunities and pitfalls of having your life displayed online.

Australia has one of the highest statistics of social media usage worldwide. An average of 14 minutes of every hour is spent on social media, with 51.45 per cent of our population on Facebook alone. It is not unusual for us to ‘Instagram’ what we had for lunch, post a Facebook video of our wild weekend or even vent our road rage frustrations in the Twittersphere. These statistics however, indicate that Australians are living a second life created through the internet. What we sometimes aren’t aware of is the trap we can fall into just by doing this. The trap where once-private stories between friends and family become key tools by which employers can judge you.

Students and job seekers in particular should be thinking about their personal social media footprint and, more importantly, how this can affect their chances of landing a job. The past five years have seen a rise in the numbers of employers turning to social media avenues to conduct background checks on employees before they even step a foot through the door. In light of this, it comes as no surprise that private networking pages are now fast becoming an integral part of the hiring process.

So why is this?

There are two main reasons employers are judging you based on the contents of your Facebook page. Firstly, the brand you display online has the ability to portray your true personality, hobbies and interests more than a CV does. A picture of you hiking compared to a picture of you at a nightclub can tell an employer two completely different things.

Employers are able to compare the professional credentials on your CV to the personality you promote and the activities you engage in during your own time. By now, many of us are well aware that employers may be scoping out our page, and take adequate steps to ensure that their public information is G-rated, appropriate and even insightful. This doesn’t mean you need to completely change who you are to get a job, however it’s important to be aware that in this day and digital age what you choose to promote in the public sphere will tell employers exactly what your priorities are.

From another point of view, employers like to monitor their employees’ social media pages as a way of protecting their organisational brand. In recent times, there have been seen numerous examples of people who have lost their job and tarnished their company’s reputation with an inappropriate post.

To give you a quick example…

In 2013, a PR executive from a large firm in New York decided to tweet before she got on a plane to Africa – “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white”. This – as you can imagine and probably witnessed – was slammed by social media users and the international press and her employer tried very quickly to separate itself from her opinions.

In the UK, a teenager decided to post on Facebook how boring her new job was and how much she hated her new boss. It was safe to say she didn’t hold down the job for much longer.

Posting about your colleagues and clients can also get you into trouble, with one doctor fired for commenting on his patient through Facebook posts. A university professor was also let go after uploading his students’ grades on Instagram.

It may sound daunting, and no doubt is inspiring some very careful contemplation prior to posting on social media, but these platforms can also be used to benefit you and your career.

Becoming an expert in social media strategy and using this avenue for networking with other professionals is extremely important. For example, research by Frank Media shows Australian users of LinkedIn have increased by 800,000 in 2013, with the site continuing to grow globally by two members every second.

Don’t fall into the trap…

University is full of big nights, funny stories and amazing opportunities. As a student finishing your degree and moving out into the real world, it has never been more important to be aware of your social media footprint and the effect it can have on current and future job prospects. Allow yourself some time to look through your pages and delete things you believe could hinder your opportunities. It is particularly wise to refrain from partaking in overt political or religious commentary, or discussion of insensitive subjects and using offensive language while you’re job hunting.

Most importantly, use your page to your advantage and prove yourself to be an irresistible employee with a unique personality. Join LinkedIn and connect with professionals and businesses, express your personality and image on Facebook and Instagram, and stay up-to-date with current affairs and industry news on Twitter. 

Some Do’s and Don’ts:


·         Be one of the 25% of Australians who don’t bother with their Facebook privacy settings.

·         Use offensive language or partake in discussions about sensitive topics that may offend employers or recruiters.

·         Keep old, expired content or pages live.

·         Comment or post negatively about your company, clients, colleagues or manager.


·         Go through all of your social media pages and make sure your privacy is up to date.

·         Use your social media page professionally and stay aware of your content.

·         Remember the number of people your page can reach and use this to your advantage.

·         Use social media to portray a unique personality to accompany the credential in your CV.

·         Google yourself. This will show you exactly what others see when they search your name.