Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry. His latest book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job, is available now.
What happens in Vegas really doesn’t stay there.
That “funny” picture about that “crazy” time, which you (or your friends) posted on social media, can follow you right into your next job search. Increasingly, employers scour social media (about 70% of them, according to a recent survey), and more than half have found content that nixed a candidate from a job opportunity.
It’s a great irony: social media goes a long way toward helping you find a job, but it can just as easily cost you the job you want. You won’t even know it happened since your digital missteps take you out of the running before you get into the interview.
Here are five ways to keep from tweeting yourself out of a job:
There’s no “just kidding” button on social media: Comedians may be able to pull it off—you, not so much. The photo was a doozy: slouched on a ski slope in the dead of winter, wearing shorts and Mardi Gras necklaces around your neck – and, to top it off, a Jack Daniels bottle and several Budweiser beer cans poking out from the snow. Then the sign: “Just another sick day at the office.” The employer who comes across that one would probably say, “No, thanks,” even before the interview. Complain all you want that “it was a joke” or “it was supposed to be private.” But we should all ask ourselves: is anything private? When you tell one person… well, you know the rest. Know what’s out there! Google yourself: type in your name and see what comes up. You’ll instantly be reminded how easily your past follows you and how effortlessly an HR department or hiring manager can uncover something you’d prefer not to be their first impression.
Post with no regrets: Your ever-present smartphone makes it so easy to post, tweet, comment—instantly, before you’ve had time to think twice about it. But do think twice about it. Ask yourself: “Will I offend someone? How can this come back to haunt me?” These two questions would have prevented so much anguish for athletes, in particular, who in some well-publicized incidents have been hurt (including losing their “draft value”) by social media comments made years earlier and dug up recently. And it’s not just athletes or celebrities who get themselves into trouble over controversial tweets and posts. Harvard University last year rescinded admission to at least ten students because of offensive posts in a “private” Facebook chat. Don’t be fooled into thinking there is some kind of “wall” between sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and the largely professional ones such as LinkedIn. Your online presence is one entity—your digital brand—and your next employer is looking everywhere.
Don’t “ghost yourself” on social media: The answer to avoiding digital minefields isn’t to stay away from all social media. Your absence says a lot about you, too—in fact, it could broadcast a lack of relevancy or that you just don’t care. One anchor of your career brand in the digital world might be LinkedIn. What are you posting about your industry; what articles do you find interesting? What are you passionate about?
Choose positivity over negativity: Most of the time, it’s better to follow your grandma’s advice: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.” Now, I’m not suggesting you have to be wallpaper, but most of us respond much better to grace and dignity than to negativity. There’s only one road: take the high road.
Wash, rinse, repeat: On a regular basis “wash, rinse, and repeat” your social media brand to ensure it’s still relevant—and just to make sure there isn’t a picture, post, or tweet made years before that shouldn’t be there.
While “Vegas” may promise it will never tell, social media isn’t so forgiving.
A version of this article appears on Forbes.com.