Guest Post by Casen Combs
Senior Career and Educational Resource Specialist, APUS
On June 2nd, the virtual world exploded into an armada of black squares, and the hashtag #BlackoutTuesday dominated social media feeds. The murder of George Floyd, as with countless others before him, cast a harsh spotlight on our country’s painful racial divides.
For some, the decision whether or not to participate in social media activism is based on personal beliefs about the movement itself and the many nuances surrounding the issue of racial injustice in America. But for the millions of newly unemployed Americans looking for work, participating in social media activism such as #BlackoutTuesday is about more than a difficult social discussion. It’s inevitably about their personal career journey as well.
As we move into the second half of 2020, you’ll be repeatedly faced with the decision to publicly discuss various topics. There is not only the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, but also the ongoing pandemic, the rising death toll of COVID-19, and the heated 2020 election cycle. As you make these decisions, it’s important to understand how your public involvement in these discussions affects your job search.
How Does Social Media Affect My Job Search?
According to the 2017 CareerBuilder survey of more than 2,300 employers, 70 percent of employers use social media as a way to screen candidates, and 69 percent also use search engines like Google or Bing. Consequently, factoring in your online presence to your job search is critical in making your next career move.
Fortunately, many of these employers are either looking for qualifications that support a candidate’s application (61 percent) or a professional online persona (50 percent), which means you can use social media to your advantage. In fact, 44 percent of surveyed employers hired a candidate because of what they saw on social media.
But be deliberate in your posting decisions. Approximately 54 percent of employers found reasons not to hire candidates based on their social media profiles.
What Are My Rights?
While social media has positively affected our lives, it has also developed grey areas where employment is concerned. For example, an employer cannot legally ask you if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. But it is not illegal for an employer to see pregnancy announcements or fertility journeys shared online.
Before making any changes to your online presence, however, it’s important to have a foundational understanding of your rights. According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, “Under the laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.”
There are no clear federal laws about discrimination based on political beliefs. As a result, these issues are mostly left up to state and local law.
While you retain the right to share your life, thoughts, and beliefs on personal social media accounts, those accounts allow employers to find some of this information without breaking the law. While they are still prohibited from using any of this information in their hiring practices, implicit or subconscious biases may play a part in their decision of whether or not to hire you.
If you’re interested in establishing your online presence as either a neutral or positive force in your career journey, take a moment to think before you share. Ask yourself: is this information something by which I want an employer to be influenced, either positively or negatively? If the answer is no, consider withholding the post.
Conversely, ask yourself whether or not you would want to work for an employer who considers certain information a reason not to hire you.
What About Privacy Settings?
Even with the strictest privacy settings in place, potential employers will be able to glean some information from a quick search of your name. At a minimum, they will see a profile picture, which could confirm your gender or even your political beliefs if you’ve used a popular filter. Additionally, you may be affiliated with certain organizations or even appear in a friend’s social media profile.
Most importantly, privacy features on various social media sites change frequently. If you haven’t checked your privacy settings on all of your accounts recently, your profiles may not be as protected as you think.
Deleting all of your profiles won’t help. Fifty-seven percent of employers are less likely to call a candidate with no online presence at all, and 25 percent want to find an online presence for each candidate.
The best way to know how your social media presence is affecting your job search is to perform an unbiased review of your activity. By opening a new browser tab and selecting “incognito mode,” you can search yourself without the assistance of cookies or browser history, meaning you will see what a potential employer would see.
Start by typing your name as it appears on your resume into a search engine. Do a thorough check of every link on the first two pages of results. Then repeat this process, adding “Twitter” or “Facebook” after your name in the search bar.
The Pros and Cons of Social Media Activism
At a time when heated social discourse is converging with the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, it’s more vital than ever to understand how social media activism affects your job search. Exactly how it will impact your job search depends on your approach and careful consideration of all possible outcomes. Here are some of the pros and cons of social media activism as they relate to current events.
Pros: Employers have to be very flexible in the age of coronavirus, and many are using remote workers for the first time. If you’ve been working from home or have recently set up a home office, sharing this news on social media will certainly be viewed as a positive. It shows that you are flexible and ready to take on your next career move in spite of pandemic-induced challenges.
Additionally, sharing news articles about how the pandemic specifically impacts your industry shows that you’re staying up to date on industry trends. Sharing your own insightful thoughts along with an article further highlights your critical thinking skills.
Cons: Issues surrounding the pandemic vary from how much social distancing is appropriate to whether or not masks should be required at certain establishments. Regardless of where your personal beliefs fall, remember that the entire world is contending with COVID-19, including potential employers.
Remarks that could be perceived as flippant or images of yourself at recent gatherings where social distancing was not observed could be especially offensive to a hiring manager who recently battled the disease or has even lost a loved one to COVID-19.
Black Lives Matter
Pros: It’s important to recognize that a movement centered on the value of human life, regardless of your feelings about it, should not be considered a prop in your personal job search. However, if you work in an industry that is directly impacted by the Black Lives Matter movement—whether that be policing, local government, or even human resources—sharing your insights and proposed solutions on social media could help a potential employer view you as the right candidate at this critical time.
Cons: The Black Lives Matter movement has been a divisive one for many years now. But it should go without saying that any racist sentiments, implied or explicit, are a guaranteed way to eliminate yourself as a job candidate. If you’re unsure if a post or article contains hurtful language, do not share it.
2020 Election Cycle
Pros: Showcasing your knowledge on how the candidates or proposed platforms influence your industry proves to a potential employer that you pay attention to the world outside of a specific role. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills and your ability to have discourse with someone with which you disagree. Most employers find these qualities appealing in an employee.
Cons: As previously mentioned, laws protecting applicants from discrimination based on political beliefs vary from state to state and sometimes even within a state. While this discrimination is often illegal, you could find yourself in a situation where your political beliefs are lawfully held against you in a job search.
Additionally, modern elections have proven themselves to be remarkably divisive, and the ability to hide behind a screen causes people to type things they would never say. It’s good practice to never create a social media post when you’re angry.
Though the task of navigating complex public discussions under the threat of losing a job opportunity can feel daunting, you do not have to choose between discussing issues you care deeply about and conducting a successful job search. Social media has become a part of our collective daily lives and has even secured a place for itself as a tool of employee recruitment, management, and performance evaluation.
Though social media activism will inevitably affect your job search, it’s up to you to make sure it does so in a positive way. And if you would like assistance conducting a social media review, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Casen Combs has worked for American Public University System since 2017. As Career Services Coordinator, Casen facilitated virtual events of varying size to encourage connections between students, alumni, employers, and the Department of Career Services. She also conceptualized and ran the department social media strategy from 2017 until early 2020, acting as head content creator for all platforms.
Most recently, Casen was promoted to Senior Career and Educational Resource Specialist and leads projects that produce career-related educational resources in a variety of formats. Casen received her bachelor of business administration degree with a concentration in music and entertainment marketing from Baylor University.