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Expert: Time for a Social Media Cleanup

Five Ways to Keep Your Online Presence From Messing With Your Real-world Career

By Pablo Suarez

GIF of social media page being cleaned

Animation by Jason Keisling

Rachel Loock, a career and leadership coach, offers five tips to safeguard your reputation on social media.

Crafting resumes, writing cover letters and gathering references are mandatory entries on the job hunting to-do list. If you really want that position, though, be prepared to check off one more item: cleaning up your social media accounts.

Rachel Loock, a career and leadership coach at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, recommends that candidates operate under the assumption that employers and companies will be looking at your online presence. 

While many people try to block prying eyes by putting their various accounts into private mode, or limiting profile and post views to friends only, Loock warns that may not be enough. 

“I think it’s a common idea that if my settings are private, I’ll be fine, but that’s not the case in this world,” she says. “The information is out there, and once it is, it’s hard to pull it back. Be mindful of what you’re posting and use good judgment, particularly if you’re seeking a new job.”

Loock offers five suggestions to safeguard your reputation—both personal and professional.

Keep It Civil
According to Loock, potential red flags for employers involve online behavior that reflects poor judgment. Racist, sexist, mean-spirited or derogatory comments about various societal groups or individuals obviously fall under this category.

Watch the Company You Keep (or Get Tagged With)
Not everyone may share your standards (or has the same ideas about how widely to circulate those bachelor- or bachelorette-party snapshots). Despite your best efforts to maintain clean profiles, employers could form different perceptions of you based on how others appear to be behaving in your photos or those you are tagged in. 

“Don’t let people tag you without permission. Make sure you have that ability unless you are absolutely sure of the good intentions of all of your friends and associates,” Loock says. “Have the ability to review everything you are tagged in so that you can remove a tag if something is inappropriate.”

Go Easy on the Politics
For a multitude of reasons, Loock suggests generally avoiding heated political debates on social media. While civil conversations are normally fine, Loock cautions that they still might result in something that can be taken out of context by outsiders. 

“I think less discussion around politics is probably better,” Loock says. “It’s ultimately up to you to decide.”

Shine on LinkedIn
Recruiters generally target platforms like LinkedIn and sometimes Facebook, Loock says. Job seekers should have a professional headshot for their profile picture, especially on LinkedIn, she says. (Employers may peruse your other profiles, too, if your name is linked to those accounts.)

To show employers the kinds of things they like to see on social media, Loock recommends following certain companies in your industry, joining professional groups and sharing articles that pertain to your field.

Producing work-related content and tagging people you are connected with is another great way to establish your level of interest and knowledge in a specific area, Loock says. 

If in Doubt, Delete
For professionals ready to clean up their profiles, Loock offers this final piece of advice: Look everywhere (including that site you haven’t visited in a year) and don’t hesitate to dump potentially problematic content.

“I would do a really careful sweep of everything you’ve posted and if there’s anything you think could be or is objectionable, then delete it,” Loock says. “If you have to question it, maybe you shouldn’t be posting it anyway.”



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.