By Laura Zera

The Seattle Times —

Looking for work? Make sure employers aren’t turned off by what they see online.

If you’re wondering whether you should bother polishing your social media accounts before a job hunt, the answer is an all-caps YES.

Many hiring managers look at a candidate’s online presence — a CareerBuilder survey of 1,000 hiring managers and HR professionals last spring found that 70 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, for example. And that number will only increase as employers have more sophisticated recruiting and search tools at their disposal, says Lora Poepping, president of Seattle-based Plum Coaching & Consulting. “Assume that every employer will check.”

Lora Poepping advises Fred Norton: People should always assume employers are going to check prospective employees’ social media accounts before a hiring decision is made, Poepping says. (Courtesy of Lora Poepping)

Unsure where to start the cleanup? Here are some tips and considerations to help you efficiently manage your personal profiles in a digital world.

1. Search yourself.

Even if you believe you have been discreet, the first step is to see what turns up about you on search engines. “Type in your name and review not only content, but images as well,” Poepping says. “Are there compromising photos? Have you posted comments that are less than professional?”

Apps and websites exist to assist you with scrubbing content you don’t want a potential or current employer to view. TweetEraser and TweetDeleter are popular nuclear options for Twitter accounts, while Scrubber provides a free report that flags questionable posts on all platforms.

2. Chose your profile images wisely.

“A clean and professional photo is a must, especially for LinkedIn,” says Alison McCarty, assistant director at the University of Washington Career & Internship Center. But even for other platforms, try to keep your profile photo consistent and professional. “Even if your profiles are private, that main photo can usually be seen by anyone,” she says.

3. Lock it down.

Don’t just look backward at your social media history, says Poepping. “Does everyone in the world have access to your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat? App settings that keep your content private are your friend,” she says.

It might seem to take away the “social” in social media, but as McCarty points out, making an account private is the best way to avoid any sort of misstep for your professional image.

If flipping the privacy switch goes against your media strategy — and yes, social media should always contain some elements of strategy — then at least aim for uniformity. According to Georgia Duffy, a TRAC Associates career transition consultant and training specialist at WorkSource Redmond, it’s critical for job seekers to ensure their personal brand is consistent across all platforms.

4. Cull the contentious.

We all know how tempting it is to blow off steam online, but this quick relief can create long-term problems. “Sometimes students will bad-mouth an employer in a social media post when they quit a job, and that’s a definite no,” McCarty says, adding that even if you had a bad experience, try your best not to speak ill of a former employer or company.

It’s an easy enough call to hide or delete party pictures and ex-employer-directed snark. But what else might be lurking that, at first glance, seems a reasonable form of expression?

“Most people overlook removing anything religious or political from their online presence,” says Duffy. She cautions that, while people have the right to personal freedom of expression on social media, it comes down to weighing the importance of presenting yourself as someone whose core values align with the companies you’re targeting for employment against your freedom to express your political and religious views.

McCarty’s position is that if you’re going to use social media as an outlet for political dialogue, be ready to answer any questions that may arise from a potential employer. “Political views can sway people, whether it’s positive or negative,” she says. “Recruiters may form opinions of you based on what political views you share on social media, before they get to know your talent, work ethic, etc.”