Social media has grown rapidly since it burst onto the scene within the last decade. Even if you don’t use social media, you’ve probably heard of the more common sites—Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Instagram, just to name a few. For most people, social media is an outlet for friends and families to exchange information and stay connected with each other.

 
What information you choose to share is up to you. Some people keep their postings vague and impersonal, whereas others share every personal experience in great detail. 
 
Most social media sites offer various levels of privacy settings, allowing you to control who has access to your information. While it can be fun to share your experiences with your friends and family, most users don’t realize that what they share on Facebook can be like posting on a billboard for the world to see. It can really hinder their ability to find a job.
 
If you’re in the market for a job, you know the application process is critical. It’s your chance to sell yourself to the employer, to prove that you can do the job better than anyone else. If your social media sites have no privacy settings, you can’t prevent the hiring company from viewing your information. Your potential employer can see what you did last weekend, complete with pictures, or read the 300-word tirade you posted about your former employer. These postings definitely will not help your chances of receiving a job offer.
 
Some employers have gone so far as to ask candidates for their social media passwords as a means of screening potential employees. Or they may ask the applicant to “friend” someone within the company so the company can see the applicant’s profile. 
 
Social media users should be aware that what they assumed was private can be anything but. Conversely, employers must respect a candidate’s privacy, and although available, social media information must be off limits when considering an applicant’s qualifications for employment.
 
A potential employer can obtain a substantial amount of personal information from social media. They may learn an applicant’s ethnicity, marital status, religious preferences, political tendencies, hobbies, even weekend social habits. Such information is off limits during the hiring process, as it could cause an employer to unintentionally discriminate against a potential employee.
 
Information posted on social media can be misleading or inaccurate as well. Some people use social media to convey how they want to be seen rather than how they really are. They may stretch the truth or add details to a posting that aren’t completely accurate. A quiet and introverted person may portray themselves as a fun-loving and outgoing person. Or vice versa. Remember—you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
 
If potential employers had access to the passwords of candidates, the repercussions with respect to security could be serious. The hiring company could use the password to post or link to something in a malicious manner. Or perhaps the candidate uses the password for multiple logins, such as bank accounts or email. In addition, the hiring company would have the means to change user settings. While these scenarios are unlikely, they are a risk that candidates should not have to take.
 
A good rule of thumb for everyone, especially those who may be looking for a job in the near future, is to keep your postings clean and respectable. Make sure your photos are appropriate and your profile photo is professional. Even if you think your postings are private, social media sites are continually changing their settings. 
 
In the end, it’s up to you to protect your social media reputation.