Looking for a new job? Clean up your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles first

It’s a tale as old as Facebook – someone posts something they shouldn’t on their social media and it costs them their job.

Whether you’re in the process of getting a new job, or you already have secure employment, what you post on your personal social media pages can make or break your career. It may sound harsh or maybe even far-fetched, but it has happened – just ask former playmate Dani Mathers.

Last year, Mathers posted a photo to her Snapchat, body-shaming another woman (who was nude and unaware the photo was being taken) in a gym changing room, captioning her post with, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either!”

Despite deleting the image almost immediately, the post gained momentum on the Internet and got the 29-year-old fired from her radio show on L.A.’s KLOS station.

“Social media actually plays as big of a role as it has ever played at getting hired because companies more and more are trying to research the candidates that they’re talking to for potential roles,” Bryan Chaney, director at careers search engine Indeed, says.

“Depending on the country and where they’re located, hiring is a big decision… because the success or that failure oftentimes come back onto not just the hiring manager, but the recruiting team that helped them make that hire.”

So with their own professional reputation at stake, those doing the hiring have to make sure – without a doubt – they’ve made the right choice. And hiring managers will stop at nothing short of combing through the social media accounts of potential hires themselves, and sometimes with the help of software, Chaney says.

“Companies are looking for people who are – depending on the role – have a presence externally,” Chaney explains. “So they’re not only representing themselves but to a certain extent, they are representing the company as well. This is particularly for externally-facing roles like marketing, sales communications, digital roles, etc.

So it’s that kind of visibility that makes companies want to understand who they’re hiring, the network, and the reputations of the people that are going to be joined with that reputation of the company.”

So before you start applying for jobs (or before your boss finds something before you do), Chaney offers five tips on what every employee should do to keep their name, reputation and social media accounts safe from controversy with your current or potential employer.

  1. Search your name: Know ahead of time what comes up when your name is searched online, Chaney says – that way, you’ll know what recruiters and managers find when they search you up. “Be prepared to answer questions about what relates to your background, and know what doesn’t,” he says. “They’ll be looking for your social profiles as well.”
  2. Choose a profile photo that represents how you look now: Don’t choose a photo from 10 years ago, or a photo cropping out your ex, Chaney says. “Keep it simple, friendly and consistent across social networks, which will help them identify which social account belongs to you.”
  3. Clean up your social media pages: “Scrub your social profiles of anything controversial that doesn’t relate to the job or career you want,” Chaney says. “This includes changing your Facebook privacy setting if needed.”
  4. Know the company: “Do your research about trends, news and media channels that matter to the business and to your future boss,” Chaney advises. “It’s good to follow news outlets and retweet or re-share relevant posts or articles about the company and industry.”
  5. It’s OK to practice a little gentle online stalking: Follow the recruiter or hiring manager on social channels as appropriate, Chaney says. A channel like Tinder, however, is not appropriate. “This lets them know that you’re paying attention to what’s happening and that the information they share is important to you.”