Five Biggest Social Media Red Flags to Avoid

People standing against a wall using various electronic devices

We’ve all heard the cautionary tales. The friend whose job offer was rescinded after an HR rep found an angry rant about her current boss on Facebook. The rumor about a co-worker who was fired after posting inappropriate photos from his bachelor party on Instagram. Or the one about your sister’s boss – she missed out on that big promotion because colleagues discovered she’d tweeted about how badly they dressed.

So, why do so many of us persist in using bad judgment when it comes to our own use of social media? It’s not as if we’re immune from the repercussions of our online activities. According to Amy McDonnell, a contributor to CareerBuilder’s blog, The Hiring Site, “Sixty percent of employers use social media to screen candidates.” What’s more, says McDonnell, that percentage has increased by 500 percent in the past 10 years! But don’t panic. There are steps you can take to decrease the likelihood that your social media footprint will cause you professional harm.

Here are the five biggest social media red flags and tips on how to avoid them:

1. Posting incriminating material

Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your boss (or your grandma) to see. If you’ve already done so, try this: Pretend you’re the hiring manager. Google yourself and see what comes up. Then search yourself on all of the social media platforms you use. If you discover anything unsavory, delete it if you can. While it’s true that posts and photos on the Internet are never completely gone, there are ways to minimize the likelihood that they will be discovered. According to Stephanie Taylor Christensen, writing for’s Money, you can remove posts from Facebook by going into your activity log.

“From there,” says Christensen, “you can delete a post, hide it from your timeline or untag yourself from any questionable photos.” You can also ask friends to delete photos they’ve posted of you, adds Christensen, who notes that incriminating tweets and Instagram photos can also be deleted.

If your search uncovers regrettable photos or content on someone else’s website, try contacting the site’s webmaster and ask that the photo or content be deleted. If you’re lucky, the webmaster will do you a solid.

“For certain sensitive information, including photos, contact information, and inaccurate information, you may be able to get help removing the search results from Google,” says Jessica Merritt, editor of Requiring your approval for all tags will also prevent any unnecessary posts from finding their way into the world.

2. Blurring the line between personal and professional

In today’s 24/7 business climate, creating boundaries between our professional and personal lives is challenging. One way to strengthen the divide is by maintaining separate work and personal social media accounts. While it’s far from foolproof, having a personal and professional account for each will go a long way toward helping you manage your identity online. Keep your fingers crossed that your prospective employer finds your professional accounts and looks no further.

3. Being careless with privacy settings

According to Mark Wilson of Betanews, “Facebook is probably sharing your employment history.” And that’s not the only thing Facebook knows and is letting others know about you. Though it’s not scintillating reading, it’s worth your while to become well acquainted with Facebook’s privacy settings. Since social media platforms are changing their rules and operating procedures all the time, you’ll need to stay on top of them. When it comes to Facebook, you can determine who sees your status, photos and posts and even your political and religious views. During your job search, it's probably a good idea to restrict all permissions to 'Friends' only. This way, your first impression can be a better representation of you.

4. Not being LinkedIn

If you aren’t already using LinkedIn, create an account. If you have an account, make sure it’s updated and add relevant content on a regular basis. Join affinity groups, and engage in conversations with professionals in your industry. A strong LinkedIn profile will go a long way toward impressing prospective employers and will offset any weaknesses in your personal social media profiles.

5. Not posting at all

Although social media faux pas can lead to career setbacks, don’t let concerns about your social media footprint keep you from being engaged in digital communication platforms. Having no social media footprint can make potential employers wonder if you’re out of touch with today’s trends and may take you out of the running for some positions. So post on, but post carefully. Used wisely, social media can be a boon to your career.

What’s the worst social media faux pas you’ve ever made? Join our conversation on Facebook and Twitter. Job hunting? Visit our job board.