As a user experience designer on the hunt for an exciting new professional opportunity, you’ve no doubt taken a number of steps to land your dream role – you’ve crafted an eye-catching resume and killer cover letter, you’ve developed a memorable portfolio of your best work and you’ve likely contacted local staffing agencies to help you find the best job openings in your area. There is a good chance, however, that you’ve forgotten something very important: your social media pages.

“60 percent of employers research candidates online.”

Why does social media matter in a job hunt?
At this point you’re likely scratching your head – what does your social media presence have to do with your job search? The answer is … quite a lot. This is because, according to a 2016 CareerBuilder survey, a notable majority of employers – some 60 percent – now research candidates online, visiting their social media pages and performing searches to gather as much information as they possibly can.

It follows, therefore, that if your social media pages are littered with offensive or questionable materials and posts, it could hinder your chances of getting hired considerably. Indeed, the CareerBuilder survey noted that close to half of all surveyed hiring professionals were offended by materials found on certain candidates’ social media pages, leading them not to move forward with said candidates’ applications.

So how can you tell if your social media pages need a spring clean? What constitutes problematic or offensive material? The CareerBuilder survey complied a list of issues that hiring managers reported with regard to candidate social profiles. Some of the leading offenses include:

1. Posting photos that demonstrate excessive drinking or drug use, photos that are overtly sexual or provocative.

2. Posts displaying poor grammar and ineffective communication.

3. Comments or articles that are sexist, racist, homophobic and so on.

4. Posts that make disparaging comments about different religions, cultures and nationalities.

5. Status updates that make disparaging comments about current or former employers.

Some of the above examples are extreme – thankfully most people do not have social media pages with material that is sexist or racist, or that displays illegal behavior. But it is still possible that many people will unknowingly have material on their pages that may offend employers – think photos of college partying, or status updates with impassioned political rants that were posted during the last election cycle.

Social media spring cleaning
The key to stopping your social media pages having an adverse impact on your job prospects, therefore, is to give them a good spring clean, critically assessing material to ensure that your sites paint you in the very best light. Here are some surefire tips to help you get started:

1. View your page from an employer’s perspective
The best place to start is to view your social media pages through the eyes of a prospective employer, WiseBread explained. This means viewing your profile on a public setting, to see what other people can see when they search for your page.

Once you have accessed your public profile, adopt a critical mind frame and pretend that you are an employer. Are you able to spot anything that could cause offense or create a bad impression? If the answer is yes, delete it.

This doesn’t just pertain to images or shared videos and links. Review recent posts or discussions and check for glaring grammar mistakes or any material that may be offensive. Of course, use your best judgment. Don’t spend hours trolling through old posts – just do enough to ensure that employers taking a cursory look will glean a favorable impression.

2. Make some pages private
While some social media pages can actually be used for professional purposes – think LinkedIn and Twitter – others are perhaps best reserved for socializing. Pertinent examples include Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. It makes sense, therefore, to make these pages private, Cosmopolitan explained. With your pages on private you will be able to enjoy the freedom of posting what you like with trusted friends, with peace of mind that you aren’t hurting your employment prospects.

Social media can pose a number of threats to your job search.Social media can pose a number of threats to your job search.

3. Have at least one professional page
The above advice doesn’t mean that you should forego cultivating an online presence altogether. In fact, not having a digital footprint could actually jeopardize your job hunt, with the CareerBuilder survey reporting that as many as 41 percent of surveyed employers said not having an online presence can harm a candidate’s chance of actually getting an interview. It is important, therefore, to utilize a professional site such as LinkedIn, or Twitter, to develop a professional profile that reflects your skills and capabilities.

After all, according to Cosmopolitan, reporting on a survey from Jobvite, a vast majority of employers – some 93 percent – who screen candidates on social media head to LinkedIn. An article from Business2Community explained how Twitter can be another effective platform for cultivating a memorable professional image.

No matter the platform, be sure to keep all information about yourself informative yet concise, underscoring your career highlights while stressing the achievements that set you apart from the crowd. An article published by Forbes included an interview with vice president of Human Resources at CareerBuilder, Rosemary Haefner, who elaborated on this important point.

“If you choose to share content publicly on social media, make sure it’s working to your advantage,” she advised. “Take down or secure anything that could potentially be viewed by an employer as unprofessional and share content that highlights your accomplishments and qualifications in a positive way.”

4. Review your friends list with a critical eye
There is a chance that some of your social media “friends” could actually pose a threat to your job search. For example, as pointed out by the Harris School of Business, there is a risk of potential employers seeing inappropriate materials shared by your friends, particularly if it is posted directly on your wall, or if you comment on the materials in question.

If you have friends who routinely share offensive materials – photos of you partying maybe, or articles with crude language or jokes – ask them to change their behavior or consider limiting their ability to interact with your page. There are usually privacy settings that can facilitate this.

Cosmopolitan noted that your friends list can also pose problems. If you have thousands of friends – composed of acquaintances and friends of friends – there is a chance that a prospective employer or professional contact at your dream company may already be in your network.

This obviously means that they will see any sensitive material that you would otherwise deem unsuitable for employers to see. The best way to remedy this problem is to review your friends list, and consider removing any contacts that you do not interact with. Alternatively, as noted by Cosmopolitan, sites such as Facebook allow you to rank friends, which can help you determine which users are privy to certain kinds of posts and other information.

5. Use great photos
As stressed above, social media can actually be a great way to promote your professional achievements. One way to make a great impression, according to WiseBread, is to use updated photos that are professional in nature – so to make clear one last time, avoid photos of yourself at the bar! The source advised seeking out a photographer to take a great head shot. If that isn’t possible be sure to pick a fantastic personal photo that is inoffensive and paints you in the best light possible.