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When you’re looking for a new job, you’re likely focused on finding the right position, updating your resume, and writing the perfect cover letter. What may not be as top-of-mind is your social media presence.

70 percent of employers actively investigate social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to screen candidates during the hiring process. In addition, 43 percent of employers admit to using social media to check on their current employees.

Even more significant is that 57% of prospective employers who research using social media “found content that caused them not to hire candidates.” So, cleaning up your social media presence can be a critical part of your search for new employment.

Employers Are Actively Looking At The Social Media Profiles Of Applicants

Despite what you might expect, employers are not necessarily looking at social media activity to discover reasons to rule out an applicant. In fact, many employers are actually reviewing social media platforms to look for reasons to hire an applicant. For example, the aforementioned CareerBuilder survey showed that close to 60 percent of employers conduct social media screenings to look for information that supports an applicant’s qualifications for the position.

The good news is that most of the time candidates’ social media accounts are clean, and no cause for concern, but on occasion, recruiters encounter offensive material that affects their willingness to move a candidate forward.  The safe bet is to assume that every potential employer will look, every time, and to tailor your profiles accordingly. 

How To Clean Up Your Social Media Presence

In our digital world, it’s easy to see how your professional image and personal brand are intangibly linked to your social media presence. Everything falls under scrutiny by prospective employers and recruiters: from the posts you write or share, to the images you post or are tagged in. 

These platforms provide an unprecedented amount of information about you — and, sometimes, too much information can adversely affect your chances of getting a job. It’s always best to stay away from the “three Ps” when job hunting: Profanity, politics, and partying.

This is why knowing how to clean up your social media presence is essential for any professional who uses social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and others. Take the time to perform a little virtual spring cleaning with some focused social media cleanup activities. 

Best Ways To Keep Your Social Media Professional

1. Set your profiles to ‘private’

The first step for cleaning up social media profiles is to set all of them to ‘private’ in your account settings tabs. We’ve put together some information about how you can update your privacy settings on three of the top social media platforms:

Improve your social media presence on Facebook: If accessing Facebook from your mobile device, select the three stacked bars on the top-right corner of your mobile app and scroll down to Settings & Privacy. Select Settings and scroll down to the Privacy section. Here, you can:

  • Manage your privacy settings (who can see specific types of profile and personal information, your jobs, education history, etc.
  • Change your Face Recognition settings (allowing Facebook to recognize your face in images and enabling others to tag you in them).
  • Change your settings relating to who can post on your timeline or tag you in posts or images.
  • Manage who follows you or can comment on your public channel posts.

Improve your social media presence on Instagram: To change your privacy settings in the mobile app, select the icon of the person in your bottom-right corner to access your profile. Select the three stacked bars in the top-right corner of your screen and tap on the Settings option at the bottom. From there, select the Privacy and Security option, review the settings in each category, and move from one section to the next:

  • Account Privacy: Here, you can set your Instagram account to private.
  • Photos and Videos of You: Here, you can change your settings to allow or disallow images and videos to be automatically added to your profile.
  • Comment Controls: This section allows you to block or hide comments from specific people or that contain specific offensive terms.

Improve your social media presence on Twitter: 

Click on your image (profiles & settings) and select Settings and Privacy. On the left-hand side navigation, select Privacy and Safety. In the next window, check the box next to Tweet privacy to protect your tweets, which will only make your tweets available to select individuals. In the same window, you also can:

  • Change your settings to allow only the people you follow, or no one, to tag you in photos.
  • Change your ability to be discovered by email or phone number.
  • Deactivate location information on your tweets.
  • Hide sensitive content.

Don’t want to set your profiles entirely to private? That’s okay. Here’s how to improve your personal social media presence without removing your profiles entirely from the public eye:

2. Be selective of your images & captions

When performing your social media cleanup activities, review all of your image and photo folders to ensure that there are no inappropriate photos or videos of you. This entails removing pictures with intoxication/excessive alcohol use, drugs or other illicit substances, and images that are sexually explicit or are otherwise inappropriate.

It’s great to showcase your fun side and personality so long as you present yourself as an intelligent and respectful professional. Delete or untag yourself in any images that do not promote this professional image. While you may have had a blast doing a kegstand in college, this type of behavior does not align with the professional image you want to present to prospective employers or recruiters.

Note: It’s not enough to merely look at the images when cleaning up social media — you also need to review every image caption and comment carefully. Make sure any messages on your profile are clean and void of foul language by removing curse words or other derogatory terms.

3. Keep your LinkedIn up to date

LinkedIn is a platform that is commonly used by prospective employers and recruiters to source passive job candidates, and your profile makes a substantial impact on your professional image. According to U.S. News & World Report, your profile and the keywords you include in it play a significant role in your appeal to prospective hiring managers and recruiters:

“About 95 percent of recruiters utilize LinkedIn as a major sourcing tool to find candidates to present to their client companies seeking top-tier talent… Meanwhile, keyword searches are the most common way of finding ideal job candidates with the right skills and accomplishments, followed by searching previous employers, searching through contacts and then searching contacts of their contacts.”

Here are a few tips for how to improve your personal social media presence and professional image on LinkedIn:

  • Keep your profile information and work experience up to date: Review your LinkedIn profile to see how it looks to a prospective employer. Make sure that you include your most recent employment information (job title, employer, a description or list of responsibilities, etc.).
  • Include any relevant statistics: If you have data that you can point to, be sure to include that in your profile. For example, if you work in marketing and want to showcase your success as a marketer, be sure to include relevant statistics such as marketing email open rates, click-through rates, content offer downloads, conversions, and any sales tied to specific marketing campaigns.
  • Use a professional headshot: In many cases, your LinkedIn photo is a recruiter or prospective employer’s first view of you. Create a strong first impression by using a complimentary and professional picture.
  • Create a strong headline: Although LinkedIn automatically creates one for you, you have up to 120 characters to create a customized headline for yourself that can build on or enhance your profile.
  • Optimize your profile: When you search for jobs, see what skills, functions, relevant experience, and industries employers are looking for in prospective candidates and change your profile matches. The skills section, for example, is comprised of keywords that you included in your Skills & Endorsements section as well as other key terms you’ve included throughout your profile.

Related: How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

4. Keep your posts clean

Always be mindful of what you post. No matter the platform; whether it be a “business” site like LinkedIn, or a public site that you may associate with personal use, like Facebook or Instagram, you should post carefully and with a general audience in mind. 

A good rule of thumb is if you would not be comfortable sharing the post with your grandparents, you probably shouldn’t send it out for recruiters and hiring managers to find. This doesn’t mean you can’t post casually — you just need to make sure the content is appropriate for a variety of audiences. Simply put, keep your language clean, and avoid posting nasty, divisive or offensive content.

5. Cultivate and highlight your brand

How you sell yourself to employers is basically no different than how a business markets to potential customers. This requires taking the time to consider how you want to come across to potential employers, and then emulate that through your public posts. Make sure to keep your brand consistent across your various profiles as well.

6. Post interesting and engaging content

In addition to posting about your travels, family events, or weekend shenanigans (remember, only the parts you share with your grandparents!), you can use social media to share content that will promote yourself as a thought leader in your chosen profession. If, for example, you write blogs or publish articles on a website, consider sharing that content on your public social media pages for employers to discover. These types of posts can separate you from the field, while showing knowledge on topics that are important to you and your chosen industry.

7. Avoid over-sharing

When we say “over-sharing,” we mean using your social media platforms to complain or air personal issues in a public setting.  Your public social media feeds should not be the equivalent of an inner monologue. Occasionally sharing what your cat’s up to, or how awesome dinner was last night is fine, but avoid the temptation to take part in a passionate debate on a polarizing topic. Remember: you want your personal brand to be interesting and engaging but never offensive or negative.

8. Don’t misrepresent yourself

Being dishonest or disingenuous can have serious personal and professional ramifications, even on social media. It might feel easy to misrepresent yourself when you are hiding behind a screen, but even a seemingly innocent embellishment on your LinkedIn profile, such as inventing a more impressive title at a previous job, could quickly disqualify you from consideration by a future employer.

9. Don’t drink and tweet

This one is obvious, but a list of this nature would be incomplete if we didn’t at least mention it. If you are impaired (e.g., sleep-deprived, intoxicated, etc.) you should stay off all forms of social media. Why? Because in this state, you are at a much greater risk of saying something that could damage your personal or professional reputation, which could be discovered by a prospective employer.

The Takeaway

You should aim to maintain a respectable and engaging social media presence. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know that you are well-versed in this form of communication and are adept at managing a social media profile.  They want to see that you understand its potential for both good and bad. If you present yourself professionally, you are improving your chances of landing that highly coveted job.

Related: Do You Need a Digital Resume

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn