Special Report: Social Media Sins

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Panama City - Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have drastically improved our ability to network. They can be powerful tools when looking for a job. But the reality is, they can also cost you employment. According to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 2 out of every 5 companies research the social media sites of job candidates. What they find can make the difference between extending an offer or tossing your resume.

For the majority of college students, partying on spring break is a rite of passage. But what most of them aren't thinking about is how damaging those images could be in the hands of a recruiter or potential employer. "In the wonderful world of Google there is almost nothing you can't find these days, you can check their Facebook pages, their blogs. There are some people out there that are really oblivious to the fact that people actually look at these things and judge you by what you put on those pages," said Larry Burton of Snelling Staffing Services in Panama City.

A recruiter, Burton has seen candidates lose jobs because of old posts they had long forgotten, like the former model who wanted a church marketing position. "Some of the pictures on her site were from her modeling days and they didn't really think that some of the bikini and lingerie shots were appropriate for somebody that was going to be marketing their church. We've had other people that were stupid enough to have drink in one hand and a bong in the other and talk about how wasted they got last night. So we try to keep employers from dealing with those kinds of stupid people," said Burton.

Of course it's not just controversial photos that can get you in trouble. If you post political or religious opinions that a potential employer doesn't agree with, that too could knock you out of the running. Not considering you for a job for those reasons may be illegal, but the reality is, it's happening everyday.

Search Marketing expert Julio Fernandez says many people don't realize just how powerful social media platforms are as search engines. Even students at FSU-PC who had already purged their accounts of any questionable content were surprised at what Julio found. "It was interesting. I didn't realize that by just putting my name in quotation marks and putting my picture in Google Images it would link from account to account to account because I used the same photo" said Erin Wommack.

There are steps you can take to manage your professional reputation online. Privacy settings are key. Make sure you can control posts you get tagged in. "That is one of the settings I've done is if people tag you make sure you can see it before it goes live," said Fernandez. "The user has the power to double check their privacy settings but it's not as simple as it could be because sometimes you have to click on different menus to find the settings you want to turn on and off." You can also make your profile private.

Bottom line, in today's digital age, discretion is more important than ever. "You have to be responsible for what you are doing and don't do things that your are going to regret in a month or 3 years," said Fernandez.

Facebook's new graph search makes information you've shared even more accessible. Fernandez recommends "Googling" yourself and taking action steps to manage your professional reputation. Remember, once something is posted it's very hard, if not impossible to get rid of. For more resources to help you navigate the fast-paced world of social media click on the link provided.