(BPT) - Whether you are a recent graduate or a seasoned professional, at some point you'll likely find yourself searching for a new job. And as you start your job search, it's important to understand the impact your use of social media may have on your career.
The hard truth: You can't be too cautious when it comes to participating in social media. According to a 2012 CareerBuilder.com survey, 37 percent of employers check sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter in their research of candidates. And the employer scrutiny of social media takes on a whole new dimension for many once on the job as a growing number of employers are establishing policies about the use of social media on and off the clock for their employees.
The clash between employee use of social media and employers has come to a head with the dramatic rise in the number of legal cases involving employees and their use of the Internet both on and off the job, according to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading website for free legal information.
"The photos and comments you post on social media websites can follow your career for years to come," says Solomon Gresen, an employment law attorney with the Law Offices of Rheuban & Gresen in Los Angeles. "When you start posting online, you create a digital trail that's available for all to see - including current and future employers. And, in many ways, what you post remains forever."
In one case, an employee was fired when she posted photos of herself dancing and throwing a Frisbee at a festival on her Facebook profile. Why? She was on a temporary leave and claimed she was in severe pain from an old back injury.
"I would strongly urge parents to talk to their high school- and college-age children about the importance of building a reputable online presence," adds Gresen. "One careless Facebook post or inappropriate tweet could wind up damaging your reputation and negatively impacting your career potential."
Here are some additional tips from FindLaw.com on how to avoid career-limiting social media mistakes:
Ask about your company's social media policies. With more companies adopting social media policies, educating yourself is key. If there aren't any policies at your workplace, it's best to use common sense.
Search yourself. Want to check out what your potential or current employer may see about you online? Do a search of your name on any of the leading search engines to get a snapshot of how you appear digitally to others. If you see any red flags, manage them right away - or be prepared for the situation should an employer bring it up with you.
Complete your LinkedIn profile. Many recruiters search LinkedIn for candidates. This is one place to put your best foot forward and attract employers. Don't treat it as an online resume with every career detail - just include highlights of your work history and accomplishments.
Don't lie or exaggerate your work experience. The Internet offers employers the opportunity to corroborate information you claim about yourself. Therefore, it's wise to not lie or exaggerate on your resume or LinkedIn profile.
Avoid sharing sensitive work-related information. Don't share privileged or confidential information about your company or customers. It could put your career and the company at risk.
Don't vent about work. Don't complain about your boss. Don't gripe about how boring work is. Don't play hooky and then post photos about your incredible day off. Always assume that someone from your company may be watching what you say or post.
Be careful about what photos you share. With smartphone cameras connected directly to social networks, photos can easily be posted without a second thought. Photos of you participating in inappropriate or risky behavior can quickly tarnish your professional reputation. Employers want employees who mirror company values. If they're looking for ways to quickly whittle down a large pool of candidates, this is one of them.
Be cautious about who you connect with. In the world of business you're known by the company you keep. The same rule applies to social media. Everything you like on Facebook or follow on LinkedIn or Twitter factors into your online reputation.
Use your privacy settings. Want to limit some of the problems mentioned and put space between your personal and professional life? Adjust your privacy settings. Many social media platforms have controls that allow you to fine-tune how your information and posts are displayed.
To learn more about employment law, visit FindLaw.com.