You’ve heard all the warnings – businesses have their eye out for any reason not to hire you, and social media has been a game-changer in the hiring process. But is that really true? There are numerous things to do while searching for a job, from carefully crafting your resume to practicing for your next big interview. Should cleaning up your social media profiles be one of them?

There's no way to know whether someone in charge of a particular hiring will seek out your social media profiles. It depends on a lot of factors. In fact, there are just as many reasons why businesses may opt for social media background checks as there are reasons for them to opt out of them. But as a job seeker, it is important for you to consider that anything available on the Internet – from the photos you posted to Facebook five years ago to the information contained on your LinkedIn profile – are fair game, so long as they are publicly accessible.

Public versus Private Social Media

This brings up one of the first points that both businesses and individuals must consider when it comes to social media background checks in the hiring process – what counts as publicly available information?

Both businesses and job seeking individuals must be aware of the fact that some means of collecting information may be potentially deceptive. For example, having an employee of a company send a contact request to an individual to access information behind a privacy wall may leave said business on shaky legal ground. However, even if the business doesn’t inform a job seeker that social media background checks could be used in the process of hiring, it is important to be aware of the possibility of this happening.

However, deceptive or not, job seekers must be aware that anytime they put something online – behind a privacy wall or not – they are potentially exposing employers to that information. This means that merely setting your social media accounts to private may not be enough and that it can still be a good idea to conduct a social media cleanup prior to a job hunt. Of course, there are still few rules and regulations regarding how social media may be used in background checks, which makes it that much more difficult to determine how and where a job seeker should clean up their social media.

This is why it’s important to be aware of what it is that potential employers are looking for in these social media checks, and what could possibly ruin your chances of landing a job.

What are Employers Looking for?

It is important for businesses and young professionals alike is to understand what it is that companies can and should be searching for with a social media background check. While those photos from your college frat party or last year’s Halloween bash may be a little bit embarrassing, they are unlikely to severely impact a job search (unless those photos betray illegal activity or other potential red flags). Of course, it’s always best to put these kinds of pictures in an online location where they’re unlikely to be seen by potential employers – for example, behind a privacy wall on your Facebook account. Leave them off of public profiles like Twitter, and absolutely keep them away from any professional profiles that you may have.

On the other hand, there are certain things that absolutely should not impact your background check. Businesses must be careful about scouring for information that could reveal factors such as an individual’s race, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, family situations, or other factors that should not play a part in the hiring process. For example, discovering that a woman is pregnant or that she’s recently had a child should have no part to play in whether or not a business decides to hire her.


Businesses are aware of the potential problems when it comes to discovering this kind of information prior to extending an offer of employment, which is why those businesses that do conduct social media background checks are often turning to third party companies to do the job, thereby avoiding liability entirely. With an increasing number of businesses turning to third parties to conduct these social media background checks in order to avoid potential legal issues, job seekers can rest assured that, for the most part, these factors shouldn’t play a role in the hiring equation.

That leaves the information that employers are potentially exploring. Explicit references to sex, illegal drugs, or violence may all show up in a social media background check’s report. However, this does lead to another problem – what can and should be regarded as too explicit, and how does a potential employer differentiate between a joke and a potential red flag?

It is up to whoever is conducting the social media background check to determine whether something is a red flag or not. Job seekers likely won’t find out what it was that flagged them as a potential liability. Does sharing a blog post about safe sex practices or a humorous but edgy meme count as posting sexually explicit material? While it may not be that big a deal to you, it could be problematic to someone else. This is why it’s often recommended you take a “better safe than sorry” approach when it comes to cleaning your social media accounts prior to a job search. If there is any potential for a post to negatively impact your job search, think twice about keeping it on your profile.

Protecting Yourself from Social Media Mistakes

It is important to note that only cleaning up your social media accounts may not be enough. Many individuals are under the impression that once they delete a social media posting it is gone forever. However, that may not necessarily be the case. While it may be missing from your profile, those messages can live on in cyberspace – whether because someone else reposted that information (with your username intact) or due to one of the many sites that now cache data from social media profiles.

One of the simplest ways to protect yourselves in these instances is to ensure that you are keeping your personal accounts private. Most social media accounts are connected to you through an email address, and if you readily supply this email address to potential employers, you are essentially telling them what keyword to Google to attempt to find cached and public accounts. This is why it is strongly recommended that job seekers create a new, dedicated email address for the job search process.

Finally, realize that one of the most important things that you can do is approach your social media cleanup from the perspective of a potential employer. Log out of your accounts and use your email, usernames, and other data to conduct your own social media search on yourself. It can give you a heads up on what information is readily accessible, and can let you scope out potential red flags before employers have a chance to spot them.

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