A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

14 Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career

Don't put that dream job or promotion in jeopardy! Here's how social media affects your job opportunities—and how you can avoid some common missteps.

Using social media applications via smartphone. Vector concept
tovovan/Getty Images

Social media can make or break your career

Think those embarrassing college-party pics on Facebook or your political rant on Twitter aren’t relevant to your career? Think again. In this day and age, anyone looking for a new job or wanting to keep their current one had better pay attention to their social media accounts, both personal and professional. Curious just how much social media can affect your job opportunities? Answer: A lot.

Your social media accounts are an extension of who you are, and they’re among the first things potential employers notice. Companies can and do use your social media to look for a culture fit, check your references, confirm your credentials and more. In fact, 71% of U.S. hiring managers screen potential candidates’ social media profiles, and 55% have chosen not to hire or opted to fire someone based on information gleaned from their social media, according to a recent Harris Poll survey. On the flip side, not having social media can also adversely affect your career: 25% of respondents said they’d think twice about hiring someone with no social media at all, since it makes candidates look like they have something to hide.

“Your social media accounts reflect where you are in your career and how you present yourself to the world,” explains Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster.com. “Profiles (or lack thereof) can positively or negatively impact your status as a job seeker when an employer is trying to get a more complete picture of you as a prospective hire beyond the one-dimensional résumé.”

Employers are looking for red flags

Employers, particularly those in fields where public image, safety and discretion are important, keep a careful eye out for reasons they shouldn’t hire you. “Your [social media activity] reflects your potential inability to handle yourself professionally—this is true even when you think a comment or post is more personal than professional,” says Salemi. “Employers can see how you word a sentence, as well as get a sense of your voice.”

If you’re struggling with how social media is affecting your career or your relationships, it might be time for a digital detox. Don’t think it’s a problem for you? No matter how savvy you are, you might still be making a few mistakes. Scroll through the common missteps below to make sure your social media accounts aren’t accidentally harming your career prospects—and learn how they can help land you a job too.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more career tips, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Political Instagram Post Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Posting political rants or off-color jokes

Are you allowed to post long political diatribes or dirty jokes on your Facebook or Instagram? Sure, you are an adult and can do what you like … but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, says Alison Green., founder and author of Ask a Manager and author of the ebook How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager. What you may think is a perfectly reasonable political stance or a hilarious joke may not appear reasonable or funny to a potential (or current) employer. And, depending on your career field and position, posting any type of hot-button topics could also reflect poorly on your employer.

“Legally, your employer can decide it has a problem with what you post and tell you to stop or even fire you over it,” Green says, adding that this goes double for potential employers who may simply remove you from their list of candidates if they see something they don’t like. “That doesn’t mean they will—plenty of employers don’t care about what people do outside of work—but they could, and you have to decide if that’s a risk you want to take.”

Bottom line: If it’s one of the things you should avoid at Thanksgiving dinner, you probably shouldn’t post it anywhere that a boss, colleague or hiring manager could see.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Oversharing Instagram Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Posting too much personal info on public accounts

There’s a fine line between having a solid online presence and having too much online—and that line will vary by person and profession, says Green. For example, for people working in medicine and education, less is more, and keep it super clean. On the other hand, if you work in marketing or the media, you’ll want to demonstrate your reach and social media savvy.

The trick is to share some memorable things about yourself—like your hobbies, a favorite sports team, where you went to school, a beloved book or a family picture—without oversharing. Don’t air dirty laundry about your family, rant about friends, berate customer service workers or share intimate personal details. It may also be a good idea to avoid sharing anything that might lessen your chances of getting your desired job, like saying you’re thinking of moving out of state.

It’s not wrong to use social media to vent or talk about problems, but consider making those accounts private and keeping just one account public. But remember: Even things posted on private accounts or social media forums can still end up in the public eye, so if it’s definitely something you don’t want shared, keep it off the internet.

instagram post of a girl drinking wine
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Complaining about your job

The internet is replete with viral YouTube and TikTok videos of people ranting about their jobs—and often those people are fired, disciplined, blacklisted or even sued. Beware of complaining about your employer, co-workers, job or customers online. It’s one of the fastest ways for social media to affect your job opportunities adversely, and it’s just not worth the “likes” … even if it gets you lots!

Never post something like “This meeting is a total waste of time” or “That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.” According to Salemi, “this only shows you in a negative light and could definitely make an employer pause and think. Instead, leverage that frustration to network in a positive way and commit to applying to jobs that evening.” That said, don’t be emotional when applying for jobs—experts don’t recommend rage applying.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Innapropriate Instagram Repost Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Sharing or retweeting inappropriate memes or videos

It all started with sharing cat memes, but thanks to TikTok, YouTube shorts, Instagram Reels and “stitching” (where you embed a reaction video in another video or post), people are sharing more content from others than ever—and that’s a risk. What you share, retweet, reblog and tag says nearly as much about you as content you are writing yourself, says Green, so it’s best to keep that stuff PG-rated as well, especially when job searching.

Humor is also subjective. And potential employers may not even take the time to note that the problematic video wasn’t something you created. Your association with it still makes you look bad. Before you post a reaction video, consider whether or not you want your name linked to that video or content creator, and if the answer is no, don’t post it on your public profiles.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Multiple Post Instagram Getty Images Via Iphone
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES, via iPhone

Posting multiple times a day

Not only does this increase your risk of sharing something that a potential employer might find objectionable, but posting all day every day makes it look like you spend way too much time goofing off. After all, if you’re always online—posting pictures or chatting with followers—what are you not doing, and what does that say about your work ethic?

The solution: Aim for one post per day or less. LinkedIn is the most commonly used social media platform for both job seekers and employers, and experts recommend sticking to one to five posts per week on LinkedIn—and not posting more than 20 per month. That’s just one of the mistakes to avoid on LinkedIn, by the way.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Pda Pics Instagram Template Getty Images 3
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (3)

Sharing PDA pics or details about your sex life

One of the most common questions Green gets asked? How much employees should share about their relationships. Ideally, everyone’s relationship would be considered private and not work-related, but the reality is that these lines often get blurry, especially if you’re posting a lot of details about what you’re doing in the bedroom and with whom.

How can you tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate? “Ask yourself, If a reasonable person in my professional network saw this on my profile, is it likely to make them really uncomfortable?” advises Green. The keys here are “reasonable” (some folks will get upset about a peck on the cheek, and you can’t cater to every sensibility) and “your” network (some professions are much more conservative when it comes to these topics). Still unsure? Err on the side of safety and don’t post it. This goes double for spicy pictures!

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Friend Boss Getty Images Via Iphone
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES, via iPhone

Friending your boss

When it comes to professional connections, who to friend and which platform to do it on can be tricky. LinkedIn is the social media platform for professional connections, so you should connect with your bosses and co-workers there. Everywhere else, says Green, can be iffy. Keeping your personal and professional lives separate by never friending/following or accepting friend/follow requests from colleagues is generally the safest option.

Of course, many people do like to connect with their co-workers online, and that can be OK—as long as you’re mindful about what you post. In addition to avoiding controversial posts, be especially aware of telling little white lies. “For instance, it will raise eyebrows if you blow off a work-related event—let’s say because you said you were sick—but then attend a birthday party of a friend whose photos you’re tagged in,” says Salemi.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Instagram Comments Getty Images Via Iphone
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES, via iPhone

Engaging in online fights

When someone posts a link, photo or statement that you wholeheartedly disagree with, it can be super tempting to put them in their place. And while getting the final word might be gratifying, if you do it inappropriately or meanly, it could dissuade a possible employer from meeting with you. The rules of social media etiquette, at least in relation to work, include not starting fights, being a troll or getting dragged into online fights. None of it is worth it, and it can all make you look bad.

“Don’t post rude or offensive comments on any of the channels of social media,” advises Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of the job-search site Ladders. “As a good human being, you shouldn’t, and as a prospective employee, you should know that this is easily searchable and a representation of who you are to your future employer.”

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Bad Grammar Instagram Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Making basic grammar mistakes

Even if you’re not a professional writer or editor, there is one skill that carries through all professions: basic spelling and grammar proficiency. You might not think that using the wrong “there” on an Instagram post would attract the attention of an employer, but it absolutely can. “When I was a corporate recruiter, regardless of how sparkling a résumé was, with relevant experience and spot-on skills, if there were typos and errors, it was game over. The same applies to your social media accounts,” Salemi says. “Sure, you may share a spectacular photo of a beautiful sunset in Greece, but if there are errors in your post, employers too may think you’re not detail-oriented.”

Plus, your would-be employer may think you don’t know the basics, which could reflect poorly on you and make them wonder if you’d embarrass the company when dealing with clients. Reread what you’ve written before you post, pay attention to any grammar and spelling checks that the social media platform you’re on provides, and brush up on these skills if you struggle with them.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Company Hiring Instagram Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Not looking at their social media accounts

Interviewing for a job goes both ways, says Green. Seeing what a company posts online can give you important information about their workplace culture, reputation, accomplishments, goals and even employee satisfaction, so you can decide if that’s what you are looking for. Taking a job that isn’t a good fit because you didn’t research what you were saying “yes” to is a surefire way to derail your career progress.

Another career bonus: Many companies post their latest job openings to their social media accounts. That will give you up-to-the-minute information about which positions they’re hiring for and allow you to apply early, before hundreds of résumés flood the HR manager’s inbox. It’s also an easy way to look for a job while you still have one.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Talking About Yourself On Instagram Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Sharing information only about yourself

One way to demonstrate that you’re an expert in your field is to show your involvement in the industry. This could mean showcasing yourself as an influencer, sure, but that’s not the norm for most people. And even influencers shouldn’t be completely self-absorbed online. “Post and share articles that are helpful to other people,” Cenedella says. “This demonstrates that you understand that you are part of a community and that you are adding to the value of the platform.” Not only will you look educated and up-to-date in your field, but you’ll also come across as a team player who appreciates collaboration—a quality highly valued by many would-be employers.

Another smart idea? Commenting. “You don’t want it to be a monologue but a dialogue,” Salemi says. “Interact, have a conversation, participate in Twitter chats or comment on or regram Instagram posts.”

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Tagged Photos Instagram Getty Images 2
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES (2)

Neglecting your tagged photos

The posts and pictures you are tagged in comprise a big part of what your social media profile really says about you—yet many people forget to check where they are tagged. While your bestie may mean well posting that video of you drunk at karaoke, an employer may not be quite as impressed. In fact, Cenedella says it’s not a bad idea to let your friends know you’re job searching or up for a raise and you’d appreciate them to be more cautious.

If you find an unflattering tagged post or picture, you can untag yourself immediately. It’s also a good idea to ask your friend to delete the post entirely if possible. And for future reference, both Instagram and Facebook have settings that allow you to review and approve anything you’re tagged in before it’s posted.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Privacy Setting Instagram Getty Images Via Iphone
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES, via iPhone

Forgetting to check your privacy settings

Social media is a rapidly changing industry, and it’s hard to keep up with its near-daily transformations. But you really need to check your privacy settings regularly, staying up to date on what’s visible, what’s not and what a Google search of your name turns up.

“Remember that what is private today may not be private tomorrow based on how that platform uses your information, so be conscious about what you are sharing and posting,” Cenedella says. “Also remember that actions on public pages are visible to everyone.” He recommends reviewing your privacy settings monthly. Add a calendar reminder if you’re worried about forgetting. This is a really easy way to make sure social media doesn’t affect your job opportunities in the wrong way.

Social Media Moves That Could Completely Sabotage Your Career Friend Interviewer Instagram Getty Images Via Iphone
RD.com, GETTY IMAGES, via iPhone

Friending someone you just interviewed with

You know that feeling when you crush an interview. Not only did you answer each question with confidence, but you and your could-be boss had so many things in common and you could totally be friends in real life. Let us stop you right there. While it’s tempting to connect with them on Facebook to keep the mojo running, Salemi says to hit pause instead.

“There are certain boundaries within social media, and this is one of them,” she says of this etiquette rule. “If you connect as friends once you’re hired, it’s still a slippery slope and too soon anyway, since the relationship is just getting established. Plus, what if you don’t get the job, or what if you do and you turn it down?”

Too late? Here’s the difference between unfollowing and unfriending people and how to do each one.

Additional reporting by Lindsay Tigar.

Sources:

  • Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.com
  • The Harris Poll: “71% of Hiring Decision-Makers Agree Social Media is Effective for Screening Applicants”
  • Alison Green, founder and author of Ask a Manager and author of the ebook How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager.
  • Influencer Marketing Hub: “Best Times to Post on LinkedIn to Increase Your Engagement in 2023”
  • Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.