Polish Your Online Brand

Cartoon illustration representing the usage of social networking sites to research applicants.

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Now you've got a resume that works! Congratulations. But before you start searching for jobs, I've got one more task for you. There is a lot more information about you available online than you realize. Let's do a quick check. Google your name. I'll wait.

All of us have some combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn. What do all of these social sites have in common? They default your information to be publicly viewable! According to a 2018 Career Builder survey,1 70% of employers use social networking sites to research applicants and 57% have found content that caused them not to hire someone.

Time to take a hard look at what you might have posted over the last few years and decide if that's the first impression you want to leave with a potential employer. Alternatively it may be time to set your social site content to private so that potential employers can't review your partying habits, political beliefs, religious affiliation, sports team preferences, relationship status, health issues, drinking habits, position on vaccines, or preferred conspiracy theories.

Snapshot of the Police Tweet.Snapshot of the Guns Tweet.Snapshot of the Customers Tweet.

How to Clean Up Your Social Media Accounts

Let's walk through how to handle each of your social media outlets. Every industry has unspoken rules of what is considered appropriate and what may be questionable. Cute kitten memes may be on-brand for someone applying to a pet care start-up, but may raise eyebrows around an accounting firm. The easiest way to handle it is to simply set your accounts to private. Employers can't see what they can't find.

All social media platforms make this easy. Think about what social media you've signed up for and posted on. Even if it was over a decade ago, the Internet never forgets.

Here's how to go private on the big ones. For each, you'll want to start on your own profile page. (Note: Directions may vary based on whether you're using a phone, laptop, tablet, or desktop):

· Facebook: Look under Settings & Privacy and click on Privacy, then review the options to adjust who can see your past and future posts.

· Instagram: Choose Privacy, and tap Private Account.

· Twitter: Go to Settings and Privacy, then Privacy and Safety, and select Protect Your Tweets.

· Snapchat: Hit the Settings icon on the top right corner, scroll down to the Who Can … section, and select My Friends under each option.

· TikTok: Tap the three dots in the top right corner, hit Privacy, then turn on Private Account.

There are some jobs where you're going to want potential companies to see your social accounts. Some even ask for links to them in their standard applications. Maybe the company wants to see if your passions and interests align with their mission, or the role itself could require social media expertise. But here's the thing: If you can't decide what's appropriate for your own brand, a company won't trust you with theirs.

Go through every picture, article, video, and gif you've put out there and decide if it is something that will reflect well on you. It's not an exact science, but a good rule is that if it's not something you'd feel comfortable saying, doing, or wearing in front of an interviewer, you shouldn't take the chance it will end up on their screen. Each piece of content you've posted over the years will give you an option to delete it. You don't have to delete the whole account, just the pieces you want to remove.

And yes, scroll all the way back to the beginning of your social media life. If you think that taking a trip down inappropriate-memory lane is annoying, you're right. But not as annoying as losing out on an opportunity because you forgot about that body shot contest you won on spring break.

One platform you should definitely not set to private is LinkedIn. It's how you'll find employers, and how they can find you. But remember, LinkedIn is a professional social media site. Be sure to review your posts, comments, profile details, and even who and what you follow, to make sure it won't raise any eyebrows.

“When one of our job candidates emailed to ask if he could shift the interview from Monday to Tuesday, we accommodated him. The interview on Tuesday went great, and the team loved him. As part of our due diligence before sending an offer, we reviewed his social media profiles. And that's when we discovered WHY he had asked to shift the interview from Monday to Tuesday: Sunday night he was at an all-night rave for which photos of him in various states of sobriety were still being posted at 7 a.m. the next morning. We decided not to hire him, but not because he spent the night before an interview partying. We decided not to hire him because he wasn't smart enough to know not to post photos of himself at a party before canceling his interview!”

—Employer who knows how to use social media

Get Your References Ready

A 2019 survey of more than 2,800 senior managers found that one in three candidates were eliminated from consideration after a reference check.2 Having good references is critical to landing a job. It pays to get your references lined up as part of your job search prep work. Let's walk through how to get references locked in.

Whom to Ask for a Reference

The best references by far are previous employers and previous co-workers. But don't limit yourself. Some other good references include clients or customers, commanding officers in the military, or even teachers or professors, if you've recently graduated from school.

References from your personal life rather than your work life are unorthodox, but can work in rare cases. Good personal references might be a religious leader, a member of a club or team you lead, or another volunteer in a charitable organization to which you give your time.

Confirm They Will Provide a Positive Recommendation

“I don't get it. More often than I'd like to admit, I talk to a candidate's reference, and the reference gives a less than glowing review of the person. Once it got so bad that the reference asked me, in a surprised voice, ‘That person really used ME as a reference?!’ If you can't find three people who are willing to reliably say good things about you, you've got some real problems.”

—Employer not surprised by anything anymore

You need to make sure the references you give are going to say positive things about you. There is only one way to do that—by being direct. Promise me you will come right out and ask every potential reference, “Are you able to give me an unqualified, positive recommendation?” If you have any doubt about their conviction, choose a different reference. References can't get you the job on their own, but they can lose the job for you.

Reconnect Every Time You Give Their Information to a New Employer

“I once called a reference for a candidate, and the reference couldn't even remember ever working with the person.”

—Employer who maybe can still be surprised

Even when you're doing everything right, the job-seeking process can sometimes take months, and as a result, a lot of time can pass between the moment your endorser agrees to help you and the moment you actually need them to be a reference. Don't let them be surprised by a call out of the blue from a prospective employer you're interviewing with. Reconnect every time you want to use them as a reference.

Just before you share their contact information, either text or call to let your reference know the name of the person who will be calling them, the company they work for, what that company does, and most importantly, specifics of the job you're applying to. The more they know about the job and what you'll be tasked to do, the more they can tailor their comments to the particular strengths that make you a standout candidate.

Your reference wants to help you. Make sure you set them up to be successful.

Get Your Recommendation Letters in Place

Write Your Own Recommendation Letter

A recommendation letter is frequently used by people earlier in their career and/or in situations where the reference giver is unable to lend their time to live calls. (Examples include teachers, military superiors, elected officials, or prominent executives to name a few.)

A recommendation letter is a more concise, written version of a reference, but with one big advantage—you can custom-tailor the letter to deliver exactly the message you want by writing it yourself.

Am I suggesting that you write a recommendation letter, sign somebody else's name to it, and submit it to an employer? No. It's never acceptable to forge a recommendation letter. However, what is quite common is to write a first draft of the letter for your reviewer, and allow them to edit it as they would like for the final version.

It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to write a good recommendation letter. Some of the people you ask to write a letter will be more likely to help you if you make it easy for them. If you do end up writing a draft of the letter for your recommender, there are four things every letter should have:

A Clear Opening Statement

The opening statement should describe who the reviewer is, paired with a strong endorsement.

My name is Eric Smith, head of sales at Left Foot Shoes, and I am writing to offer my highest recommendation for Michael Thomas.

Make sure to use a descriptive adjective up front like highest or full-throated or enthusiastic.

A Description of the Professional Relationship Between You

Make sure to include a precise description of how the recommender knows you and the length of your relationship. For example:

I directly managed Dwight for three years in his role as Assistant to the Regional Manager.

Concrete Examples of What You Did Well

To maximize the effectiveness of a recommendation letter, it should specifically identify what you did well, and tell at least one story about what makes you stand out.

Not only was Jen good at the little things like showing up on time, accurately counting out the register, or restocking the shelves, she was also good with people. We had a recurring problem of unchaperoned high school students trying on multiple pairs of shoes and taking pictures, but never making purchases. Rather than bring the issue up with the school or mall security, Jen spoke directly to the kids about the problems they were causing for the store. She was straightforward, and respectful. The kids stopped coming by after their talk. This was just one example of how Jen made an impact beyond the scope of her role.

An Endorsement of Your Future Potential

No recommendation letter is complete without a big compliment at the end. Just remember that if you're drafting multiple letters for recommenders, you'll want to vary the language you provide.

I have no doubt that David will succeed in any role in the shoe industry—or in sales of any kind. Based on his three years of hard work at our store, I know that he will be an asset to any future employer.


· Employers will look at your social media accounts; clean them up or set them to private.

· Be proactive about job references and don't be shy about giving them the words you'd like them to say.


1. 1. CareerBuilder, “More than Half of Employers Have Found Content on Social Media That Caused Them NOT to Hire a Candidate, according to Recent CareerBuilder Survey,” Press release, August 19, 2018.

2. 2. Accounttemps, “Check Your References,” Robert Half, March 11, 2019.

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