Scrub Your Online Presence: The Hampden-Sydney Man’s Guide for Social Media During the Job Search

Vince Decker, Ph.D., Associate Director of Career Education & Advising, Ferguson Career Center, Hampden-Sydney College

Social media allows us to connect with friends and family and provides a dynamic vehicle for self-expression. However, it also provides potential employers with a tool used to disqualify applicants.  According to surveys, 57% of Americans who use social media have posted something that they regret. Coincidentally, up to 57% of employers surveyed stated that social media site reviews, or other online discoveries, have caused hiring managers to discard candidate resumes, cancel interviews, withdraw offers, and in some cases terminate current employees.*

In this Ferguson Career Center blog post, I provide you with some interesting statistics about what employers are doing when checking your social media, a few anecdotal (and perhaps amusing) horror stories, and tips for scrubbing or polishing your online presence and social media content.

Employers reviewing applicants’ social medial presence are usually only seeking to confirm that a candidate is a good fit. Approximately 65% are trying to gauge a candidate’s professionalism and 45% are attempting to learn more details about a candidate’s qualifications. Employers who found content on a social networking site that caused them not to hire a job candidate listed the following primary reasons:

  • 40% to 50% of employers reject the applicant because the individual posted overly provocative (even “X-rated”) inappropriate content, photos, or videos;
  • 36% to 48% – evidence of drinking or drug use;
  • 25% to 33% declined an applicant for bad-mouthing previous employers;
  • 31% – discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.;
  • 30% – signs of criminal behavior;
  • 27% – poor communication skills;
  • 24% to 27% – evidence of lying;
  • 22% – unprofessional screen name; and
  • 20% of employers stated that the applicant was declined for sharing confidential information from previous employers.

Survey results vary, of course, but here are some statistical highlights about the impact social media has on employment practices:

  • 86% of jobseekers have at least one social network profile
  • 45% to 70% of employers review job candidates’ social networking sites during the hiring process (of these, 76% check Facebook, 48% look at Linkedin, and 53% review Twitter)
  • 33% to 57% of employers have rejected candidates based on something they found online
  • 48% of employers check up on current employees on social media
  • 34% have reprimanded or fired an employee based on content found online
  • 20% expect candidates to have some form of social media presence and 47% say they are less likely to contact an applicant for an interview when the candidate has no online presence

Horror Stories Abound

The following online behaviors exhibited by job seekers are among the more egregious: profane feuding; disclosure of confidential corporate information; plagiarizing; bragging about exploits related to sexual conquest, drug/alcohol use, illegal activities, profanity, or cyber bullying; and a wide range of activities, some as innocuous as a post containing poor grammar and spelling errors.

Twitter Tiff Leads to Lost NASA Internship

A Twitter user named Naomi tweeted about her internship offer from NASA with the following profane declaration: “EVERYONE SHUT THE @#$% UP. I GOT ACCEPTED FOR A NASA INTERNSHIP”

Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer: “Language.”

Naomi: “Suck my @#$% and #$%&* I’m working for NASA”

Hickam: “And I am on the National Space Council that oversees NASA.”

Naomi lost her internship.

Hickam did not report the rude exchange; rather, the agency noticed because Naomi and her friends used the NASA hashtag.

Confidentiality Counts

Joe landed a high-paying job. His employer asked that he not divulge confidential information outside the company. So giddy with the offer, Joe posted data and employment terms. The company social media specialist discovered Joe’s post, reported it to HR and revoked Joe’s job offer.

Plagiarism Pain

Several years ago, Will posted an article for his college’s online newspaper. Turns out that the article was a copy-and-paste job taken directly from another publication with no quotes and no citations. He forgot about his own infraction and listed the article as an example of his writing skills in his portfolio. His interview with an online political magazine was going well, but during the interview, one of the staff writers recognizes the story as hers which she wrote for a previous employer!  Plagiarism is a form of theft.

Frat House Exploits

Jackson was the big man on campus. Athlete. GPA of 3.8 in Engineering. Fraternity member. Social media “influencer.”  Partier.  Jack’s photos and posts bragging about frat house exploits while hanging out with a bong in one hand and liquor bottle in the other were easy for the engineering firm actively recruiting Jack to spot with a simple scan of Facebook and Google images. The engineering firm decided to go in another direction.

Methinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much

Complaining about a current or previous employer is a clear job interview no-no. Posting rants about managers, co-workers, and/or customers is unprofessional. Rude, malicious or insensitive comments online reflect one’s character and predict future attitude as an employee. Potential employers will naturally determine that the behavior will continue once on their payroll.

Grammar Matters

As you know from your Hampden-Sydney rhetoric training, logical and well-crafted narratives have a positive impact on your personal life and professional career. Misspelled words and twisted grammar run rampant in social media. Set yourself apart by using proper grammar and syntax, even online.

Resume Embellishment

A notorious case of falsified credential discovery occurred at Notre Dame in 2001 when George O’Leary was hired for the coveted head-coaching job. O’Leary had falsified academic and athletic credentials on his resume two decades earlier when applying for an assistant position at Syracuse University. O’Leary’s career blossomed at Syracuse and Georgia Tech, but he never bothered to correct the lies and discrepancies on his resume. He stated that he had lettered three times at the University of New Hampshire in football, when in fact, he only enrolled for two years and never actually played football. The doctored resume also laid claim to a non-existent master’s degree from New York University.

Notre Dame hired O’Leary based on his career wins and good fit with the Notre Dame culture and system. In less than a six-day span, O’Leary went from being the toast of the town to simply being toast with an embarrassing resignation…all because of unnecessary and outdated lies on his resume.

Religion and Politics

If you have overt religious and/or political content in your online presence, consider reviewing. In times of increasing polarization, strongly expressed online opinions may cause a hiring manager to eliminate candidates, despite that behavior being unfair or illegal.

Aye, There’s the Scrub

Applications and web services are available to help scrub content that you may not want a potential employer to see. For instance, Scrubber offers a report that flags questionable posts on all platforms. For Twitter, TweetDeleter and TweetEraser might scrub those offensive, controversial, and unsubstantiated opinions you may have been tweeting for the past three years.

Oh, Go Google Yourself

Google yourself using both the text (all) search and the image search. Google is where hiring managers start. Search your own name using various versions, including online aliases, and email addresses you may have used in the past. Also make use of the other popular search engines: Bing, Yahoo, Ask, etc. You might find yourself in the following: inappropriate and distasteful photos (e.g., mooning, drunkenness, flipping the bird); unflattering stories; mug shots and records of arrest; and long-forgotten social media, discussion comments, and various other online activity. Delete unsavory content if you can.

Change your privacy settings on various social media accounts if possible in an attempt to keep your private life private. Good luck.

Finish those profiles you want to keep, such as Linkedin.  Copy, paste, elaborate, and edit content from your most recent resume into the profile areas.  Replace the default images. For instance, some potential employers perceived it as a sign of laziness by when applicants have not uploaded a recent high-quality personal photo and a background shot to Linkedin.

People spend only 5.7 seconds on average scanning an online profile. Viewers quickly perceive the faux pas listed above.

Tidying up your online presence is worth the trouble.  Indeed, if the scrubbing process turns out to be very time consuming, that may be a clue that it might be wise to reassess your life priorities.

Offline Tip: Voice Mail

So, now you have cleaned up your online presence. The resume you created with the Hampden-Sydney Career Center is perfect. Your Linkedin profile looks great. You are working your plan for networking with H-SC alumni and applying for dozens of positions on Handshake, Monster, Indeed, Linkedin, and the other job sites. Your applications are impeccable and several jobs look like a perfect fit. The interviews you arranged when you answered your cell phone have gone very well. However, when you check your voice mail, the only messages you get are from your buddies…nothing from employers.  What’s going on?

1) Bad. The greeting “What’s up dude; talk to me” with a vulgar song in the background might not cut it with a potential employer who is 40 years your senior.  Record something simple: “Hello. You have reached Hampden S. Tiger. I’m sorry I missed your call. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Thank you.”

2) Full. Clean out your voicemail.

3) Non-existent: “The person you are trying to reach has not yet set up their voicemail system. Please try again later.”

Have a professional-sounding outgoing voicemail greeting and use a professional-looking email address.

Employer Reasons Social Media Does Help You Get Hired

In conclusion, employers finding candidate content online that actually supported a hiring decision, stated that they made an offer because they were able to confirm the applicant’s credentials and skills, along with evidence that the candidate was creative, conveyed a professional image, had many followers, was well-rounded, showed a wide range of interests, and had an exceptional talent for communication.

*In at-will employment states, an employer is free to make hiring and firing decisions based on virtually any reason as long as that reason does not include discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, or several other protected categories. Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas are at-will states.

References & Further Reading

Bagnato, Andrew. (2001). O’Leary resigns at Notre Dame. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from

Barger, Andrea. (n.d.). Avoid these scenarios with your voicemail during your job search. Retrieved from (2008). More than half of employers have found content on social media that caused them not to hire a candidate, according to recent CareerBuilder survey. Retrieved from

Herman, Lily. (n.d.). Career savvy. The Retrieved from

Kramer, Ariel. (2019). 7 steps to take when scrubbing your social media presence, according to branding and PR experts. Business Insider. Retrieved from The dangers of social media posts and how it could affect your hiring potential. Retrieved from

Weiss, Jacqueline. (2018). A woman lost a NASA scholarship after getting into Twitter beef with a member of NASA’s space council. Retrieved from

Zera, Laura. How to scrub your social media presence before a job search: Looking for work? Make sure employers aren’t turned off by what they see online. Retrieved from