My Social Media Profile Cost Me The Job

My Social Media Profile Cost Me The Job

Hey Dan! I got turned down for a security guard job because of my social media profile.

Should I try and explain my way out of it and see if they will consider hiring me? Should I delete all of my social media accounts?

I started in security quite a few years ago and back then the hiring process was simple. The last job I applied for a few years back was still abundantly straightforward.

You made contact with the company to ask about openings, then you either went to a location to pick up an application, or you filled out a form online. After that you waited for a phone call for an interview and found out if you got the job in a week or so.

Sure, the interviewer checked your references and ran a cursory background check, but if you were licensed, the checks were little more than a formality. When I moved past my first entry level job the procedure became more involved, but the basics always stayed the same.

Nowadays the process is a lot different.

Expanded background checks allow companies to look deeper into your credit and criminal past than ever before, and if you lied through omission or by exaggerating the truth, they will find out.

Another, more powerful tool, used by employers is a social media check to see what kind of person you really are. They try to find out everything they can about you, because there’s usually several people fighting for a single opening. Often this social media check is what makes the difference between getting hired, or being passed over.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse. Facebook helps you keep in touch with your friends and family. LinkedIn allows you to network with people who can further your career. Snapchat and Instagram are a great way to share your quirky photos with people who otherwise wouldn’t care about them.

On the other hand, those same channels are a potential minefield that can derail your personal and professional life. Dozens of people around the country have been arrested for stupid things they posted on Facebook, and it seems like every week celebrities are putting out fires for ridiculous tweets.

Checking social media is part of my job when I look over new applications. I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t have a social media presence, but there are several red flags on your profiles you should be aware of before you apply to a company.

The first position I ever needed to fill was for the night shift at one of our warehouses. It was an entry level position, so there weren’t many apps from people with significant experience. After I got rid of the applications full of misspellings and obvious lies I still had a stack of applicants that was less than exciting. I was about ready to accept the fact that I’d have to interview a half dozen people to find the right person when I came across Paul.

Paul had been in the business for over ten years, working a variety of positions, including patrols and desk duty. He was licensed, available to start any time, and seemed like a godsend. I told my supervisor that I thought I’d found the right person, and she seemed impressed as well, but before I could pick up the phone and call him in for an interview, she asked if I’d checked out his Facebook page.

I was stunned for a second. It’d never occurred to me to look at someone’s Facebook page when making a hiring decision. It seemed like an invasion of privacy, and it made me more than a little uneasy, especially after I thought about some of the things that were on my own social media pages the day I first applied to the job. When I brought up my hesitation to my supervisor she reminded me that people put their best self forward when they apply for a job, but underneath that façade the real person may not be a good fit, so we had to use every tool available to us when making hiring decisions. She assured me it would just take a few minutes and it would put her mind at ease.

Paul’s last name was pretty unusual, and it didn’t take long for me to find his page. It then didn’t take long for me to realize why someone with his level of experience would be willing to take an entry level position. About a month before his firing he made a series of posts and comments about how he lost his job with his former company for a work related accident while he was high. I was appalled, and knew right away that Paul was never going to get that interview.

A few months later we were looking to fill a more sensitive position working door security at the main office. This time there were tons of great applicants to choose from, and very little to separate them in terms of skill and experience. The job included a full benefits package, which meant good insurance and a retirement plan, so the competition was stiffer than usual. I picked my two favorites and started combing through their social media pages to see if there were any warning signs.

The first applicant had pictures of her dog, and more posts about reality television shows than I cared to read, but there was nothing on any of her pages that suggested she’d be a bad employee. I cringed a little at the thought of hearing her talk about the Kardashians around the break room, but I figured that’s something I’d just have to learn to deal with. I was pleased with my findings and thought I’d find a similar situation when I moved on to the other applicant. I was wrong on so many levels.

The first few posts were the kinds of things you’d expect from someone her age: talking about weekend parties, hanging out with her friends, and pictures of cute animals. About halfway down her timeline there was a looong post ranting about how immigrants and minorities were ruining the country. It didn’t stop there though, because apparently it was a popular topic between her and her friends.

In the comments she and her friends used every racial slur and derogatory term I’d ever heard (and some I didn’t even know existed), and it became pretty clear she was a racist and proud of it. My mouth hung open as I tried to match the words I was reading with the rest of the profile, so I looked a little further to see if it was a one time mistake or a poor attempt at a satiric remark. Nope. Every week or so there was something new to shock me a little bit more. I think it took ten seconds to get rid of her application, but only because the shredder was slow.

These two were some of the worst offenders, but they are far from the only ones. You’d be surprised at the things we find out when we submit applicants to a social media background check. For instance, one guy lied about his work history and put the names of his high school buddies down as former employers, then made a public post about it on Facebook. A lady thought it’d be a good idea to tweet a picture of herself flashing the camera while she stood on the roof of her security cart while on duty. Another guy bragged about how easy it was to steal office supplies from the building where he worked, then posted pictures of himself swimming in a sea of paperclips on his bed.

All that being said, there are seven things you should do with your social media pages to make yourself attractive to employers the next time you apply for a job. It’ll take a few hours to get your online persona employer friendly the first time, but after that, it’s merely a matter of following basic rules of etiquette.

First, you should have a social media presence, and there’s no reason to be afraid to use it. Like I said before, social media is an important part of our lives today, and if you don’t have any pages at all, it sends a negative message. Maybe you’ve got something to hide, and you’re using a fake page for your posts. Maybe you’re not comfortable enough with technology to use social media. In either case, your chances of getting hired, even with the right qualifications and experience, are lower than someone with social media pages that potential employers can sift through.

Second, delete the accounts that you don’t use. Years ago I had a Myspace account, but when all my friends moved over to Facebook, so did I. Eventually I forgot about the other profile, especially since it was linked to an email address I never used. About two years later, a friend of mine called me and asked why I was posting creepy pictures of dead animals to my Myspace page. I laughed it off until he sent me a link, and I discovered that someone thought it would be a funny idea to hack into my account and harass my friends and family with disturbing images. It’d been going on for weeks, and it was only by chance that I found out. Because the hacker changed the password and login information, I wasn’t able to get into the page and take the posts down myself; I had to wait for an admin to remove the page for inappropriate content.

Unused social media pages are targets for hackers and criminals who want to cause chaos, swindle people out of money, or use them for any number of nefarious deeds. You never know how deep a potential employer will go when they do a social media background check on you, so you don’t want to leave even a small chance that a page you made will be hijacked in a way that will cost you a job.

Third, never assume private is private. You can set your privacy settings as strict as you want, but there’s almost always a way for a dedicated employer to find a way in. Some employers use fake profiles to send a friend request, hoping you’re too busy or too trusting to think twice about accepting it. Other times your friends or family, whose privacy settings are not as strict as your own, will mention you in posts that are visible to the public. If you don’t want a potential employer to see it, don’t post it.

Fourth, remove unprofessional posts and pictures. We’ve all done and said stupid things in the past. When I first started using Myspace and later Facebook I put up pictures of my drunken weekend parties, just like most guys in their 20s or 30s, and trust me, none of those pictures showed me in a very flattering light. Some friends of mine used to share all kinds of disgusting and perverted things with me over Twitter, and I’d pass them right along to my buddies.

Those kinds of posts were fine when all I wanted was a low wage job, making enough money to buy beer; however, when I grew up and decided that I wanted a career instead, I realized the kind of employers I wanted to work for wouldn’t appreciate those posts. Choose a profile picture of yourself looking professional, so the first image a potential employer has of you is a good one. It’s okay to leave silly photos of your burrito on your page (I have several on mine), because that’s part of who you are, but leave the drinking, drugs, sex, guns, racism, etc. offline.

Fifth, never bad mouth an old boss; in fact, don’t talk about them at all. One of my applicants posted a series of thinly veiled tweets about an old boss, saying petty and scandalous things, even though she quit and wasn’t fired. Those posts showed a level of immaturity and indiscretion that are unacceptable when working security. Go ahead and vent all you want about the slow woman at the checkout line in the grocery store (though you need to watch the language you use), but stay away from discussions about former employers or work colleagues.

Sixth, it may be time to clean up your friends list. Generally speaking, the friends I had in high school were good guys, but they lacked a certain social grace. Their fart jokes and adolescent humor was funny for a while, even after we graduated, but eventually I saw that maybe they weren’t so funny anymore.

I finally purged my friends list one day after I came home from work and found one of my “friends” tagged me in a picture that was not only sexist, but completely tasteless. Since I couldn’t check my page while I was at work, it’d sat on my profile all day, and there was nothing I could do about it. Removing friends from your profiles prevents them from making embarrassing public posts that you don’t have control over, and that you may not be able to remove before a potential employer sees it. There’s no reason to have a big confrontation about your decision, and welcome them to contact you through private messages, but your public persona must stay professional.

Finally, use your social media pages to build positive networks. LinkedIn is a terrific place to start, and it shows potential employers that you are serious about building a career in the security industry. When you join professional organizations online, like the International Foundation for Protection Officers or Security Guard Network, you receive news and posts that shed light on how to be a better guard, as well as notifications about new opportunities. Any time I see applicants that are members of any of the guard networks, they shoot straight to the top of my pile. The shoot to the top because being a part of networks and associations indicates they are serious about their career in the security industry.

If you’ve already lost out on a job because of your social media profiles, there’s not a lot you can do to rectify the situation for that particular job. Spend some time to prepare your profiles for the next job that you apply for, and consider asking the employer who turned you down for another opportunity.

Security guards are responsible for the safety of the public, and for the protection of property in the places they work, and for that reason we face a lot of scrutiny when we apply for jobs. Often guards work long hours with very little supervision, and your employer must be able to trust that you’ll present yourself in a professional manner. A social media page full of juvenile posts and absurd pictures will make most employers hesitant to hire you, even if you’re qualified.

Social media is a tool that both you and your potential employers can use.

For yourself, use your profiles as a way to promote positive images of your work, and be seen as a professional before you walk into an interview.

Most modern employers will do a deep check into your background, and the last thing you want is to lose out on a great job because you said something stupid online six months ago.

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