A huge chunk of our lives take place online. Though that’s great for finding a trendy place to eat, communicating with friends and family, or shopping from the convenience of your home, it can also be troublesome when it comes time to look for a job.

There are countless cautionary tales of people sticking their foot in their mouth on social media, and sabotaging a job offer. Want to indulge in a little schadenfreude? There are plenty of stories of poor behaviour on social media to shake your head at. Don’t be like these people. Just because social media is there, doesn’t mean it’s a channel to voice your every thought and emotion, no matter how incendiary. Actions and words have consequences. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity because you didn’t think before you hit send. Here’s how to clean up your social media before looking for a job.

social media
social media

make your accounts private

Many popular social media sites have options make your account private, so the content you share can only be seen by people of your choosing. This includes Facebook and Instagram. If you don’t want to censor yourself online, making your accounts private is a safe option. This allows you to speak your mind and represent yourself however you want without putting your reputation or any potential job offers at risk.

delete questionable photos and posts

If making your accounts private isn’t an option (such as on Twitter) or not something you want to do, you can opt for a social media scrub instead. This process can be a little more intensive and involves checking your accounts for content that might be deemed offensive and removing it. Search for offensive words or phrases you might have used, grumpy rants or polarizing political views. If that sounds tedious, there are some handy tools that can speed up this process.

Remove any content that could be scandalous or inflammatory, or simply paints you in a less than flattering light. It’s up to you how safe you want to play it. Photos of you going crazy with the mohitos on vacation might be borderline. Some employers may understand, for others it could be a deal breaker. When in doubt, you’re probably better off saving your crazier antics or opinions for more private channels.

google yourself

Google the name you plan to use professionally and see what shows up. If you have a common name this may be less of a problem, but if your name is one-of-a-kind, things about you might dominate the results. Curious recruiters often use Google as a shortcut to check up on your social media, so it’s good to know what they’ll find. You might just turn up some old accounts you forgot about. Get rid of anything that no longer represents your professional brand. Aim to clean up the first page. Recruiters will rarely check beyond that. It might take Google’s algorithm a few days to update the results, so don’t forget to check back after removing content to see what’s currently showing.

deactivate accounts you don’t use

Do you have an old MySpace account that you haven’t checked in years? Or perhaps an old Twitter account that’s lay dormant for the better part of a decade? It might be time to delete those old relics. If they’re no longer relevant to your personal brand and you haven’t kept up with them, there’s no point in risking an employer finding them and judging you based on them. If you really can’t stomach deleting them, at the very least ensure that they’re not linked to your professional name.

choose a current profile photo

If you choose to keep active social media profiles linked with your professional name, choose presentable, up-to-date profile photos. They don’t have to be professional headshots of you in a suit and tie, but clear photos of you, preferably looking like an approachable person, are ideal. Ditch bathroom selfies, hard partying photos, duck-face poses or anything that might make a potential employer cringe. Also, make sure it was taken recently; you want employers to recognize you if they meet you in person!

update your headlines

Song lyrics might have been the preferred profile description in the early 2000s, but they may not be presenting you in the best light when you’re looking for a job. Instead of presenting yourself like a moody teenager who can’t get enough Green Day lyrics, opt for a meaningful description of yourself. Your profile description doesn’t have to be completely focused on your career, though sparing a line or two to what you do doesn’t hurt! Hobbies, interests and insights about you round out your profile and give potential employers a picture of who you are and whether you’d fit right into their workplace.

check your follows

Do a quick audit of your follows to eliminate questionable content you’re following. (An added bonus, now is your chance to delete all those accounts you’ve been too lazy to unfollow but are no longer interested in.) Maybe you’re following a disgraced celeb, or a friend who has a bad habit of going on twitter rants. It’s pretty unlikely employers will go so far as to judge your taste in trashy reality TV celebs. So don’t stress too much about this step.

treat others as you want to be treated

Last but certainly not least, always follow the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. From the time you were in kindergarten, this mantra was probably repeated to you by parents, teachers and other responsible adults. Put it to good use. That includes on the internet. Speak to others with respect. If a social media conversation gets out of hand, take a step back and withdraw yourself from the situation. Your reputation will thank you.

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