In social media, words can hurt more than sticks and stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  We’ve all heard that phrase since childhood, but what I’m talking about here is how a person’s own words can come back to hurt them.  There is a short section about Social Media from the WKU Communication & Branding Manual that bears repeating, specifically to those who are now or might soon be in the job market: “Be prepared to take responsibility for comments made on social media sites. Social media is public and highly visible, and discretion should be used…” That common sense statement is good advice for everyone.

Recently someone said to me, “It won’t be long until, when you go to apply for a job, they’ll look you up on Facebook.”  I think that’s absolutely correct – except for the “it won’t be long” part.  I’ve been doing this for a few years, and I’ve heard many other folks say they have as well.  I know that college students in particular are advised to think about what they post, but in many cases, they are not taking it to heart.  Perhaps they think us “old” professionals aren’t savvy enough to find them on Facebook or Twitter?  Or maybe they don’t believe that it would ever dawn on us to look them up.  Whatever the case, I wish I could shout from the rooftops for all to hear…the status updates (and pictures and videos and Tweets) that they post today could most definitely have serious consequences in the future.

The main point here is to carefully consider how you’re using social media, especially if you’re in the job market, because you never know who will see what you post!

It’s part of the process when reviewing information about potential job candidates: narrow down the selections to just a few, then find them online. It’s not difficult – a quick search on Facebook or Google will nearly always result in a successful search.  Is this considered “creeping?”  Maybe, but you can learn a lot about a person based on their status updates and pictures, and even their Twitter handle or profile picture.  And yes I will admit it – right or wrong, I have chosen NOT to interview people because of what I see on their sites.  A few of the common reasons that I would skip over someone are:  frequent misspellings (though shortcuts don’t bother me if they are obviously done on purpose), poor grammar, offensive language, inappropriate remarks, indecent photos or constant personal drama. That list can all be summed up in one word: Unprofessional.  I realize that a person’s social media page is akin to their personal space, but even so, it’s out there for the world to see. In my experience, a person’s true colors really tend to shine when they’re hiding behind a keyboard…and sometimes that tells me all I need to know.

Of course it’s not all negative.  Social media use can result in positive consequences as well!  There are many great tools to showcase your experience and skills, to network, and to find job openings.  The key is to become familiar with those tools and to use them wisely.  More on that later.


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