Mind your memes

Universities warn students that social media use could hurt their job searches

David Hutter//January 21, 2019//

Mind your memes

Universities warn students that social media use could hurt their job searches

David Hutter//January 21, 2019//

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Kyung‑Hyan (Angie) Yoo, associate professor of communication, William Paterson University.

When Margaret Bonanni Land, a career management specialist at Rutgers University–Camden, counsels students regarding their social media profiles she can recount a cautionary tale.

In a previous position Land learned that a student had posted an unflattering Facebook status update about her boss. Unbeknownst to the student, she was Facebook friends with a cousin of the boss who alerted that person to the post.

The student was promptly fired.

Career counselors at other New Jersey universities also advise their students to be professional on social media with an eye toward future employment and avoid becoming an example of what not to do.

Kyung-Hyan (Angie) Yoo, an associate professor in the Communication Department at William Paterson University, tells students to use social media responsibly and strategically. She notes most college students today have grown up with social media, having used it since they were in elementary or middle school.

Yoo teaches a Digital & Social Media Communication course mainly covering strategic uses of social media for corporate communication. She discusses the role of social media in personal branding and reputation management and social media etiquette using some real-life illustrations.

“I try to teach them in a number of different ways including case studies, lectures, and in-class activities,” Yoo said. “Personal & Professional Branding is one of the lecture topics in my Digital & Social Media Communication course.”

High-profile Twitter meltdowns

Yoo usually begins her lecture with true stories about people who posted vile comments on social media. She cites public relations professional Justine Sacco who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” while heading to South Africa in 2013. Sacco was immediately fired and became the target of outrage.

Another case involves actress Roseanne Barr’s tweet calling Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. Television network ABC cancelled Barr’s television show “Roseanne” immediately because of Barr’s comment.

Yoo developed her Digital & Social Media Communication course from 2010 to 2012. William Paterson approved it in the spring of 2013 and first offered it that fall.

“With the growing popularity of social media, it has become important for students to understand strategic approaches to using social media technology,” Yoo said. “Students are familiar with the platforms, but they often don’t know how to use them responsibly and strategically. That’s why I decided to develop the course.”

“It was not in response to one specific instance of a student posting foolish content on social media but there were some cases, e.g. Justine Sacco’s case, that professionals lose their jobs because of their social media posts,” she explained.

How social media can work well

Social media doesn’t have to be a negative in a job search. Patrick Burns and Jacob Helmeczi, both assistant directors at Stockton’s Career Center, point students toward ways of advancing their prospects with smart uses of online tools.

For example, Burns said he advises students to post content that reinforces their professional image and builds their LinkedIn account.

Helmeczi sees employers use Snapchat and Instagram in their recruitment, so he tells students to research and learn the hashtags to search for to find relevant employers and job opportunities. He recommends students use www.brandyourself.com to clean up and improve their online reputation.

“Employers will Google them, so I tell them to create a personal website with their name in the URL that is a landing page that brands them professionally in the field of their choice, with a resume [or] portfolio and links to their other (professional) social media pages,” Helmeczi said. “Put their name and job title keywords in the text of the site – this plus their name in the URL helps [search engine optimization] and the page ranks in Google so employers see it first when they Google them.”

“These cases encourage students to participate in the class discussion; students often share their own experiences and their friends’ stories,” Yoo said. “After the discussion, I give a lecture about personal-professional branding. We then do an in-class activity designed to give students a chance to reflect on their own online reputation. The activity has three parts: Personal reputation online overview, online reputation monitoring and analytics, and reflection on online reputation building.”

In general, Yoo said those reflections reveal that students hadn’t previously thought deeply about their social media presence. She said the assignment teaches them that while using social media is simple, learning how to manage and maintain a positive reputation requires awareness of how that use affects one’s brand.

Social media screening

Stockton University Career Center director Terri Carr recounts an instance in which a graduate with an excellent social media presence caught the attention of an employer that offered him his next career opportunity.

“The advice is not to avoid social media, but to use it appropriately and always with one eye on what employers will see,” Carr said. “If you post inappropriate or inflammatory content, regardless of your security settings, it can come back on you. People have and will continue to lose jobs. Be smart and use good sense when you post.”

Yoo cites studies showing that many human resources professionals use social media to screen candidates before hiring. According to Microsoft and CareerBuilder surveys, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring and 64 percent of human resources managers think it is appropriate to look at online profiles of candidates and 41 percent have rejected people as a result. A number of recent academic studies also support the growing use of social media to screen candidates.

Yoo is working on a research project with a graduate student about human resources professionals’ use of social media in screening candidates. They use a survey to understand the human resources professionals’ perceptions of using social media for recruiting and specifically the benefits and usefulness of social media as well as ethical issues.

At Rutgers-Camden, counselors have been advising students about social media since before Land was hired in 2015. She sees that students are not using Facebook privacy settings correctly and they do not understand that employers can bypass those settings.  “I am trying to get them to think long-term,” Land said. “A lot of the job search is networking with people who can help you get a job.”

Patricia Donahue, a Stockton University Career Center assistant director, recommends that students use LinkedIn to network and pursue careers. She advises against using Facebook and Instagram, regardless of their privacy settings.

“I tell them to Google search themselves and see what comes up, and then think about what that says about them professionally,” Donahue said. “I find actual news items about people who were fired for things they posted on social media slamming their bosses or their company.”

Land urges students to take stock of what they’ve posted over the years. “If a student posts a picture at a party with a solo cup, it is open to interpretation,” she said. “My advice to students is to go through social media, delete pictures and statuses that are harmful.”

Jeffrey Poulos is the career advisor for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University. He advises students to ensure their social media is consistent with their character, calling it a temperature check.

“It goes without saying that if you question something you have posted, that is probably a sign you should take it down,” Poulos said. “Employers are looking. We do not want students to lose opportunities. We advise students to look at themselves online. This is ongoing. The internet is a scary place. You want to put your best foot forward in securing a job. It is important to do a temperature check to see where you stand.”

He also advises students to use LinkedIn in addition to a resume.

“Aside from LinkedIn being a networking tool, it is superior to the resume because your content lives digitally while your resume is still one page,” Poulos said. “We use LinkedIn as a public profile address and brand it to your name. I see skills you have been endorsed for and letters of recommendation.”

Dayna DeFiore, Stockton University Career Center assistant director, advises students who use social media platforms to be cautious of written content and pictures. DeFiore recommends only posting, liking, or commenting if the poster is comfortable with anyone seeing or reading the information.