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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism
  3. January 18, 2023

How to Clean up Your Social Media Before Interviews

Don’t forget to polish your online presence

Social media apps on an iPhone
Photo courtesy of Sara Kurfeß

A job interview is just one step on the path to getting the job you want. But it’s a big, exciting step, and most applicants won’t get that far. If you do, it’s time to prepare—everything from practicing your answers in the mirror to researching the company to evaluating your online presence.

Don’t forget about your social media profiles, which hiring managers may consider. International career coach, speaker, and development consultant Aida Camara-Crowder says, “Companies more than ever have a presence on social media to brand themselves, and through their recruiters and employees, will check your social media prior to any connection with you and throughout the interview process.”

One survey found that 71 percent of hiring professionals believe looking at social media helps the screening process, 67 percent use social networking platforms to research candidates, and 78 percent believe that even after employees have the job, they should maintain a social profile that’s appropriate for work.

If you’re not really into social media, you keep a low profile, or you have intense privacy settings, you’re probably fine. But keep in mind that 57 percent of employers that do social research have uncovered content that caused them not to hire applicants.

“Social media has a definite impact on how others see you. A social media platform is a page where you decide what to post, what you appreciate, and what you strive and stand for,” says Camara-Crowder.

What should you do when preparing for that big interview?

10 ways to overhaul your social media before an interview

Social media is now a part of everything, from branding to shopping to advertising to networking. It’s become a common component of the recruiting process. Hiring managers can take a peek to find out what someone looks like, what they do in their free time, if they have any mutual connections, or if there are any red flags.

This is why cleaning up your social media is a good idea before an interview. Here are 10 ways to do it.

1. Update your security settings

Your first step should be to look at your privacy settings and update them where possible. Facebook has privacy settings, for instance, that allow you to not even be discoverable in searches. Or, you can decide to only show your content to people you accept as a friend. On Instagram, a private account means that only your approved followers can see your posts. You may want to consider strengthening your privacy settings if you don’t want employers to see your personal posts at all.

However, remember that there could still be social content out there associated with you, like in other people’s posts or photos. If you have a Twitter account, you don’t have as many privacy options, so you may want to look through all of your posts.

2. Get rid of any incriminating or inappropriate content

Even with some privacy settings in place, you should still go through your content across all of your platforms and start deleting. You never know—maybe your potential new boss has a mutual acquaintance and could look at your content with that person’s help.

As you’re browsing through your posts, look for anything that could be questionable. Of course, any profane or offensive language should be reconsidered. Watch for overly political rants or posts that started heated conversations. These aren’t always bad, but remember that they could start to break down your credibility or professional image.

Camara-Crowder says, “If you are in a field that does require such positioning, that’s fine. Otherwise, your potential employer does not need to know your political views, your marital status, and any other elements that are relevant to your private life unless you volunteer to share them.”

Then, there’s alcohol and drugs. You may have a lot of photos of you and your friends out at bars in college or playing beer pong. While employers probably get it, they don’t necessarily want to see it. Consider deleting any photos of you that show you drinking or doing drugs. But a photo of you in front of the Christmas tree with your family holding a glass of wine probably isn’t a big deal. Your goal should be to make yourself look responsible.

3. Cut back on your content from high school or college 

The fact that your parents, grandparents, and younger siblings can be on social media these days means that you’ve probably thought twice before posting something questionable. But don’t forget about all those old posts that could have some less-than-great content in them. 

Maybe you’ve had active social profiles since you were in junior high or high school. Dedicate time to go back to the beginning and look at those old posts and photos. Make sure you clean up anything you may have thought was funny as a teenager. Chances are, employers won’t be looking at every single photo you ever took, but why risk it?

You may think you’ve never done anything wrong, offensive, or embarrassing, but remember that what is considered acceptable has changed a lot from 10 to 15 years ago. It’s worth looking at the language you used or the costumes you wore, for instance.

4. Delete any accounts you don’t use

Think about all the social accounts you’ve ever had, even if you never log in anymore. If the platforms are still active, make sure you delete your accounts. You don’t want something you completely forgot about to come back and bite you.

It may help refresh your memory to Google yourself and see what comes up. You may have forgotten you created that Twitter account years ago to rant about something for a month. If you don’t use it, delete it. Otherwise, those posts will still be public.

5. Look for content where you talked about a past job

We all need to let off steam sometimes. Maybe in the past, you complained about work on social media. If it’s something negative, get rid of it. You don’t want to look unprofessional, even if your last job or boss was terrible. It shouldn’t be public when a new employer may be looking into you.

It’s also wise not to say anything about your upcoming interview or the company you’re hoping to work for, or other interviews you may have, for that matter. But the most important posts to look for and delete are anything that could be read as trash-talking a former job or employer.

6. Update your LinkedIn profile

LinkedIn is still extremely relevant to today’s job candidates and hiring managers. One report found that 67 percent of companies look at LinkedIn before extending a job offer. While most of your work information is on the resumé you submit to the company, hiring managers still like to look at LinkedIn to get a better sense of who you are, who’s in your network, and how you describe yourself.

Camara-Crowder says, “As a candidate, you want your professional social media, such as LinkedIn, to tell the story about your professional brand. Some key questions to ask yourself and answer are: What would you like to be known for? If a recruiter goes on your LinkedIn profile, what would you like them to know or see about you? What type of posts do you like? What type of posts do you make? How frequently? Are you an expert in your field? How can we see it on your LinkedIn profile?”

Before your interview, take a look at your profile. Is your photo out of date? Are all your job details, like dates, titles, and responsibility descriptions, correct? You may want to update your tagline and your “About” section to be more relevant to the job you’re applying for. 

Keep your language simple, stay professional, and ensure you’re presenting yourself in the way you want employers to see you.

7. Pay attention to gut reactions

Browsing through your many years of social media can be a daunting task. It can also take a lot of time. You may not have the bandwidth to go back and forth on whether something is acceptable or not or ask your friends and network for their opinions. 

If you look at a photo or post and think twice about it, it’s probably time to delete it. Pay attention to where you pause and what your gut is telling you. For example, you may find an old profile picture where you’re clearly at a party and people are smoking and drinking in the background. 

You may not be doing either of those things, but some hiring managers may still make assumptions or think a post like that is unprofessional. Rethink anything you come across that could potentially paint you in the wrong light. Following your gut will help you get it done faster.

8. Assess your profile picture

Some employers won’t dig very much at all if they look at your social profiles. They may just want to get a better sense of what you’re like and how you spend your personal time. They may want to see if you are involved in certain professional networks or you promote your own brand.

Because some people will simply find you, look through a couple of details, and move on, your profile picture is important. This is the face of your online presence and can show a lot about you and your personality.

Professional headshots are perfect for profile pictures. If you have one, use it on your public profiles. This sends a strong message to recruiters, Camara-Crowder points out. “You cannot go wrong by having a clear picture of yourself taken professionally, with a simple background,” she says.

9. Revisit your Facebook profile details

If you decide to keep your Facebook profile discoverable by anyone, you should probably make some serious updates, especially if you’ve had your profile for a while (Hello, 2005). The platform has changed a lot, but some of those early details you added may still be visible.

For example, a big trend when Facebook was still new was showcasing your favorite quotes, books, and movies to your profile. You also probably created an “About You” section. Some of these are still visible if you filled them out long ago.

While a favorite movie or quote is nothing to be ashamed of, make sure they’re professional. We’ve come a long way since the early 2000s, and it’s hard to remember all the questionable things we may have thought were funny.

10. Make cleaning up social media an ongoing practice

Once you’ve cleaned everything up and aced that interview, the work isn’t over. Keep these best practices as part of a regular, ongoing practice. Your social presence is still a big part of your online reputation, even if you stay at a job for years. 

Employers may keep an eye on social media platforms with their current employees. Some companies even have policies about what their employees can and can’t post or say on social media, like competitive or sensitive information. 

Your best bet is to make your accounts private if you want to keep your personal life completely separate. From there, make sure you get rid of anything questionable and portray the professional image you strive to have.

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