When I was a kid, there was a lot of collective fear among my fellow students at the idea of infractions going on a “permanent record.” This nebulous threat from parents, teachers, and administrators had many of us thinking — and fretting — about the types of behaviors and activities that could potentially be tied to us for eternity. (We were easily fooled. What can I say?)
Back in the olden days (i.e., the pre-internet years), we worried about the ramifications of an essentially baseless behavior log that we never actually saw with our own eyes. Interestingly, today’s most frightening form of a permanent record is the one that kids and adults alike are creating for themselves on social media. Unfortunately, bad decisions shared on these forums can haunt users for years to come.
35% of Admissions Officers Check Social Profiles of Applicants
A 2017 survey by Kaplan Test Prep — a leading provider of career and educational services for businesses, schools, and individuals — revealed that social media account reviews are frequently a part of the college admissions process.
The survey of more than 350 admissions officers from colleges across the U.S. revealed that 35% review applicants’ social media accounts prior to making a decision. While this percentage was lower than in 2016 (40%), more respondents in 2017 said that what they found on social sites had a negative impact on a student’s chances of acceptance (42%, an increase from 37%). In addition, the number of admissions officers who said they “often” use social media to aid in their decision-making process more than doubled from last year, increasing from 11% to 25%.
While social media can certainly have a positive influence, the risks can outweigh the benefits. Posts that include racially charged commentary, admissions of illegal activity, and questionable behaviors have not only resulted in students being passed over for admission, they’ve led to rescinded acceptances. Student athletes — of all ages, not just those heading to college — need to be particularly vigilant, as they are required to follow specific codes of conduct within their teams and leagues (and they often have a lot to lose from their bad behaviors).
Here are just a few of the recent real-world examples of the potential pitfalls of social media:
- The Harvard Crimson reported that the university rescinded admissions offers to at least 10 applicants because of controversial memes posted within a private Facebook group.
- Shedrick “Shed” McCall III lost a Division 1 football scholarship because of a YouTube video in which he talked about trespassing.
- The Atlee girls’ softball team was disqualified from playing in the final game of the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series because a Snapchat photo was found to have violated “policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct [and] inappropriate use of social media.”
- Ben Bryant, a committed recruit for the University of Wisconsin, lost his scholarship following a seemingly innocent tweet about a competing offer.
70% of Employers View Social Media Profiles Before Hiring
A 2017 CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,300 US-based hiring managers and HR professionals revealed that job seekers absolutely need to be smart about their online personas:
- 70% of survey respondents said they use social networks to screen candidates before they hire.
- 69% perform online searches (via Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to research prospective employees.
- 3 in 10 employers have an HR staff member who is dedicated to social recruiting.
The simple reality is that employers aren’t just looking to look; they are relying on their online findings to guide the decision-making process. In fact, 36% of respondents look online to gather information even before an initial interview. And 24% said that one of the main motives for going online is to find “a reason not to hire a candidate.”
As with college recruits, there can be positive details revealed through candidates’ social media presence. However, while 44% of employers said their online research drove them to hire an applicant, 54% said their findings had the opposite effect. The most problematic types of content were risqué photos and videos; posts about drug and alcohol use; and inflammatory comments related to religion, race, or gender. But even seemingly innocuous details and behaviors — such as using an unprofessional screen name or posting too frequently — created negative impressions with prospective employers.
That said, deleting social accounts entirely can also work against you. More than half (57%) of employers said that they are less likely to call someone who does not have an online presence, and 25% of those admitted that they expect to find information about candidates online.
Reading between the lines, it seems that employers want to see evidence that job candidates can use social media responsibly. Interestingly, 51% of survey respondents said they continue to monitor their employees even after they are hired, and 34% indicated those efforts have led them to reprimand or fire a member of their staff.
What Does Your Online Persona Say About You?
Because there are so many social media platforms and so many people posting on a daily basis, it can be easy to forget that what you share with others is a direct reflection of who you are as a person. Regardless of what your privacy settings are, you should consider your posts to be a public and permanent record of your online persona.
While we’ve certainly talked a lot about the cybersecurity implications of oversharing on social media, there are plenty of practical ramifications to consider as well. Are you taking control of — and being careful with — your online persona? Or could your posts come back to haunt you?