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How not to let social media ruin your career

Written by: Luan de Burgh
Published on: 18 Jul 2013

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It is now the norm for an employer to check your social media profile as they read through your application. Don’t let your Facebook profile or Twitter feed ruin your chances, says professional public speaker and presentation coach Luan de Burgh.

Isn’t the 21st Century wonderful? There are so many ways you can tell absolutely everyone and anyone where you are, what you are doing, with whom and all at the tap of a finger. After all, it was such an amazing party and those photos were epic… hilarious… straight onto Facebook! So many ‘likes’ – especially that one of you in the pink mankini! And who’d have thought you were flexible enough to do that anyway? Well, that’s all very well but you need to ask yourself one simple question – does that image really say ‘serious corporate lawyer’?

Now, that is not to say that as soon as you make the decision to enter into the legal profession you have to abstain from any and all forms of social and recreational behaviour even if that does involve mankinis – your free time (such as it is) is yours to do with what you will. But you do need to be very aware that your future employers, and clients, will screen social media sites for references to you.

It’s what has become the de facto first port of call when finding out about people – we simply type a name into Google and see what comes up and Google loves Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Google your own name when you finish reading this and see what’s there already, especially in the images section.

One national newspaper reported that in a recent survey one in five employers had rejected candidates for interview based on their social media footprint. Jobs are harder for graduates to come by now than at any point – this summer’s leavers will face a one in 85 chance of landing a job according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters. With that amount of applications to sift through, don’t give prospective employers any reason to lob yours into the recycling bin.

Please don’t be like Ashley Page, the American teacher who was fired in 2009 after pictures of her appeared on Facebook with a pint in one hand and a glass of red in the other. It was claimed that the image promoted alcohol use. She was, in all likelihood, out relaxing with friends after a stressful week trying to educate recalcitrant children and most probably didn’t end up on the business end of a stomach pump, but the photo cost her her job.

If you find yourself not exactly overly stimulated one afternoon at work, do not announce the fact to your friends online. And do not discuss clients online. Remember the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew sacked for discussing customers? If not, after you’ve checked your own name in Google, type ‘Virgin Atlantic cabin crew + chav’. If you are going out for a night of extreme après ski with old friends then you need to be as watchful as Prince Harry for those ubiquitous camera-phones and you should never, ever tweet while not in full control of all mental and physical faculties. People have been fired for less.

If you are ‘sick’ or ‘working from home’, it’s not a great idea to update your status about how great the beach is. Bear in mind that those slightly risqué shots you thought would be fun to send to your boyfriend or girlfriend to bring you closer could come back to haunt you. Never ever badmouth anyone. Do not trust privacy settings – nothing is 100 per cent safe and once it’s out there in cyberspace it’s virtually impossible to get it back. Don’t get involved in contentious discussions – and never post knee-jerk reactions to anything. Step away, think and then decide whether it is appropriate to post.

Social media is not all danger though. It can be a very useful tool for self-promotion. After you’ve checked yourself out on Google and deleted anything incriminating (and this is particularly important if you have an unusual name – you can only imagine how careful I have to be) then you can set about creating a positive online presence and of the main social media sites, LinkedIn is your first and most useful port of call.

Crucially, get your photo right. If you want to be a corporate lawyer then your photo needs to say ‘corporate lawyer’ and not ‘one of the lads’ and should be professional and up to date rather than an old photo of you taken by your best mate on their iPhone which you think makes you look pretty good. Then you need to build your profile, always thinking ‘would I hire/want to work with this person?’ You will soon forge links with colleagues and clients alike and be able to develop that all-important network.

If you are familiar with LinkedIn you will know about the ‘endorsements’ section, but here a certain element of discretion needs to be applied. It is important that you only accept endorsements for areas that you actually want to be known for. Accepting endorsements from random people you don’t even know firstly means that you have linked up with people you haven’t actually met and you need to ask yourself the question ‘why?’ and secondly it’s all about quality and not quantity.

Equally, don’t just fall into the ‘you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ trap. Being endorsed for commercial property contract negotiation by a ‘freelance vocalist’ who just happens to be an old uni friend merely adds noise rather than value.

The paramount rule is to exercise extreme caution. If you must tweet – and the fact that seven of the ten most followed Twitter users are singers with Justin Bieber coming top must tell you something – consider any tweet a direct quote into a journalist’s microphone and ensure that you have a disclaimer on your homepage stating that any views expressed are yours and yours alone.

If you simply cannot exist without Facebook, then ensure that every privacy setting is activated and check them regularly as the sands continually shift at FB HQ. You Tube is best left completely alone as a lawyer. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.”

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