Navigating the social media minefield

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There is no doubt that more employers than ever are taking the time to look up potential recruits on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This is not only to find out if their CV matches what they are saying elsewhere but also to find out about the person behind the CV. This is all good news if you have led a life thus far that can be compared to that of an angel.

As soon as anyone (think teenager) creates a social media account there should be a large, flashing warning sign that says: “Beware: your future employer may see what you have been up to from now on.” Not that I believe that would make one jot of difference to some 14 year olds. What do they care about their future employer?

I myself often look up individuals on LinkedIn and am sometimes surprised by what I find. Is having a cropped photo of you in a pub with your mates’ arms hanging over your shoulders really appropriate on LinkedIn? Does this really give a great impression?

Then there is the issue of honesty. Call me naive but I have been surprised by the amount of dishonesty on LinkedIn. CVs are sometimes referred to as works of fiction but to publish such fabrications on LinkedIn is an odd thing to do. There are so many sets of eyes that know the true story.

Occasionally I stumble across somebody from my past and have a chuckle about how that job stuffing envelopes at RBS has suddenly morphed into “marketing and communications” at RBS. Or how a job position that someone held between date “x” and “y” mysteriously expands to fill an employment gap. Or perhaps a period of employment mysteriously disappears altogether because they were sacked. Stretching the truth is one thing; plain lying is another.

Here is the problem: the more people that are dishonest, the more unfair things are for honest individuals. While Ms Honest may have better credentials than Mr Dishonest, the opposite appears to be true if Mr Dishonest likes to write fairytales on LinkedIn. So what is Ms Honest to do?

Facebook also causes problems. I do not use it for business but I do have a personal account for friends and family, which includes overlap between individuals I have met through work that I now consider friends. This has resulted in some friend requests from business contacts who, while I would love to get to know them better, I would need to do so as individuals before making them a friend on Facebook and opening up my non-business world to them. But what are you supposed to do with those friend requests? Ignore them and appear rude? What if that means a missed business opportunity? It is a quandary, that is for sure.

Social media can be a minefield. From a career perspective, we need to keep it as honest as we can but not so honest that we share various antics that current and future employers would be better off not knowing. It is a difficult balance.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training