Before an interview, you probably spend a lot of time (and money) picking out the perfect outfit. You want to look the part—poised, confident, and professional. How people see you when you meet in person is important, but what about your digital image? When people search for you online and view your social media accounts, what are you showing them? More than you might imagine.
Do admissions committees and employers really look at applicants’ social media accounts?
Some do search for applicants online. According to Scott M. Rodgers, MD, associate dean for medical student affairs at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “Every student should assume that admissions committees DO look up applicants online and sometimes come across information about people that can either hurt or help a candidate.”
According to Luis E. Seija, a student member of the admission committee at Texas A&M College of Medicine, “Applying to professional schools serves as, well, a lesson in professionalism and the development of a professional identity. Applicants should be aware that the latter often converges with the personal on social media. Admissions committees are not in the business of actively policing online personas or necessarily want to. However, it’s not an uncommon practice to follow-up on information stated on a candidate’s application (awards, blogs, etc.) with a simple internet search.”
Can information about me online be considered in the admission or job application process?
Yes. Researching a candidate online is like an informal background check. It’s legal, and any information found can become another factor considered in an admissions decision. However, according to Rodgers, “An applicant should not make the assumption that everything online is necessarily bad and should be removed. For example, if a student led a major service activity at his or her university, and a story about it appeared in the online university newspaper, that is a very good thing!”
One positive professional account you can create is a LinkedIn. Here, you can publicly display all your coursework, projects, awards, and work experience. You can also receive recommendations and endorsements from others, search for alumni to create connections, and join groups to network. Sharing content that interests you related to science and medicine shows that you are staying up to date in the field and reflects how passionate you are. Just make sure to include a professional headshot for your profile picture and provide your email so people can contact you. You never know what opportunities this may open!
How do I find out what’s out there about me?
Do web searches of your name and see what comes up. You may be surprised or a little unnerved to see how much of your personal information is visible. In addition to your social media profiles, you may find links to news articles, listings of your address, petitions you’ve signed electronically, and comments you’ve left on websites. You may find people with the same or similar names. It’s good to know what search results are found so that you can speak to them if asked in an interview. If you wish to remove some of these items, in many cases, it is possible. Although it may be tedious, you should be able to contact sites to ask them to remove items, or adjust your privacy settings so that the results no longer appear publically.
What are some things that might negatively influence people?
Anything that’s illegal, shows poor judgment, or discriminatory comments related to race, religion, or gender can hurt your image. “I heard of a student posting pictures of Confederate flags, calling it an example of ‘Southern pride,’ but this calls into question that student’s sensitivity to the struggles of African Americans in this country and causes admissions committees to question the student’s judgment,” reports Dr. Rodgers.
Luis adds, “A level of decorum should be maintained before, during, and after the application cycle when communicating with admissions faculty and staff. Use designated lines of contact, including provided email addresses, phone numbers, and official social media accounts. Do not use social media to direct message admission officials’ personal accounts.”
How can I protect myself?
Be sure to make your personal social accounts private so you approve all friend and follower requests, and adjust your settings so that you approve all tags and check-ins. Delete anything you’re not proud of, or that seems like it could be misconstrued. Rodgers sums it up best: “If students have any doubt about posting something on Facebook or any other social media site, then he or she should simply not do it. It is always best to err on the side of less rather than more.
What if an interviewer or school asks for my password?
You should never share your password with anyone for any reason. It is not appropriate for your supervisor, an interviewer, or anyone to ask for your password for a social media or email account.
Social Media Safety: Quick Tips
- Make all personal accounts private
- Keep pictures, statuses, and comments clean
- Set tags and check-ins to need your approval
- Always sign out of a public or shared computer
- Never share your password