I come from a time well before the existence of social media. Times where we had to use the phone to tell someone about our lives and we had to meet for dinner to catch up with our friends. Simple times.
Then came the Internet—and then came social media. Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat. Oh, yes, and LinkedIn. These sites are not only used for regular social interaction with old friends but they are also used for business. This goes for LinkedIn, too. LinkedIn started as a business networking website, but unfortunately, of late it has become more political and social.
Social media is addictive. I get it. We feel the need to let everyone know about our lives. It is so easy and so instantaneous. And we glamourize–everything is more vibrant, more definite, more opinionated. We are bolder than we would otherwise be face to face. Some people share a completely different persona online than who they are in person. So my question to all social media users is: Would you be willing to say in an interview what you post online? If you love or hate our current administration, if you love or hate religion, would you look a potential employer in the eye and tell them your opinion? Would you have the same open and honest conversations at work that you would in a panel interview of potential work colleagues? The answers better be yes, as potential employers are looking at your social media accounts. And if you hesitated to answer yes to any of those questions, it's time to change your posting style.
Your online and social media brand is who you are. Social media sites are some of the first places possible employers look for information on you. What do you want your online/social media brand to be? Make sure what you have to say is reputable because it defines you. Do you want to be the political extremist? Do you want to share photos of your pets? You can live your life however you want on social media but be aware that people will see it and make assumptions about you.
Never assume that your potential employer isn't looking at your social media accounts. Many potential employers with savvy HR departments will check these accounts to see if there is any reason not to hire you. You may never get to the point of an interview because of the way you have represented yourself online. But if you do have that interview, be prepared to have the conversations about your posts and beliefs. I have a friend who is a small business owner and each hire he makes is a critical one for his business. When he was searching for his last employee, he sent me snapshots of one potential candidate's endless amounts of selfies, asking, "Would you hire this person?"
Decide if you want to keep some things private. There are ways to maintain a private social media presence and a separate public one. Not everything needs to be out there for the world to see. Your Friday night at happy hour should be limited to your friends and family. However, your thoughtful article on the legal profession should be seen by everyone.
I am definitely not saying don't have a view point and don't express yourself. But just think about your audience. So why am I, a legal recruiter, writing about social media? First and foremost, I am a mom, so I worry about my daughter and what she will see online—and what she will post. I am also someone whose career is based on my ability to find top attorneys who have strong judgment. So for you posters, please heed my advice.
Think before you post. The Internet is forever. Never assume that anything you post is temporary or inaccessible. You are your brand. Represent it well.
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Deborah Ben-Canaan is a Partner at Major, Lindsey & Africa and the Head of the Washington, D.C. In-House Practice Group. She is one of the firm's most experienced recruiters, placing attorneys nationwide with corporate legal departments at all levels and across all industries.