Think before you Tweet… about politics.

Here is a pop quiz for you: which one of these options could hurt your candidacy or cost you a job offer?

  • Sharing a picture on Facebook that shows you attending a political rally,

  • Writing a political opinion piece and sharing it on your personal blog,

  • Re-tweeting a debate quote in support of a controversial political issue, or

  • All of the above

The answer is “All of the above,” with a few possible exceptions that are driven by whether your opportunity or job is in the public or private sector, as well as what state you live in. The subject of political expression online in the context of your employment is a tricky one, and more employers are using social media to screen applications. Here's what you need to know.

If you are interviewing for a position in the private sector, understand that your prospective employer has a lot of leeway in controlling your expression of political opinion, at work and even outside. Some states offer a degree of protection from workplace retaliation for political expression (New York, California, Colorado, North Dakota and the District of Columbia are on the list). Workers who belong to unions typically have more protection than those who don't.

If you are interviewing for a government position (local, state or federal), your political opinions are for the most part protected by the First Amendment.

This brings up an interesting dilemma in the age of social media and connectivity. How does one balance the desire to share political opinions online during the election season with the pragmatic wish to get hired?

This is a highly relevant question, given that so many job candidates use social media extensively leading up to and during the job search and many employers are using social media to screen applications. In fact, research by Glassdoor shows that 79 percent of job seekers use social media in their search. On the other side of the table, 94 percent of recruiters use or plan to use social media to support their recruiting efforts. Simply ignoring social media is no longer an option.

So, let's break down the reasons why corporate recruiters flock to social media sites as they sift through resumes in search of that perfect candidate. Employers checking social media is not uncommon, so here's what you need to know.

They want to get additional details around your professional qualifications.

Alignment between your resume and your social profiles is the first obvious check. Recruiters also pay attention to small details, such as spelling and grammar usage, for cues on your attention to detail and communication skills. Posts that speak to your technical and professional interests, or highlight your qualifications and accomplishments can validate your knowledge and skills.  

They want to eliminate obvious red flags.

Employers using social media to screen applications can eliminate some candidates simply from what they find on their profiles. Inappropriate content that will raise eyebrows includes sexist or racist speech, bad mouthing your former employer or pictures that show you intoxicated or using drugs. Discriminatory comments, as well as indications of lying about qualifications, can also turn off a recruiter's interest in your candidacy.

They want to get a sense for your cultural and personality fit with the organization.

This is where personal impressions and quick judgments will determine whether you are perceived as likable and a good fit for the company. Your stance on a political issue has the potential to boost your candidacy or downgrade it, depending on who is looking at your public content and what kind of content it is. Consider what happens if you are an outspoken Bernie Sanders supporter who is looking for a job with a large investment bank. While a generalization, it gives you a sense for how a polarizing political stand can either harm or help you.

Are you confused yet as to what is the right thing to do? You are in good company. A recent survey of working adults across several age groups revealed that 57 percent of participants felt their social media accounts were a liability rather than an asset when job hunting. Interestingly, a survey from Jobvite shows that 55 percent of recruiters have reconsidered a candidate based on his or her online profiles, and 61 percent of those reconsiderations have been negative. Both statistics indicate that your online presence can influence your job search outcomes.

Here are a few pieces of advice to help you avoid sabotaging your job search during this tumultuous political season.

Make sure your social media profile is compelling and consistent with the image you are trying to project.

That includes all social media sites, but Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and a personal YouTube channel are the obvious places to start. Look through all public posts with a fresh set of eyes, scrutinizing the feed for anything that could be used to downgrade your candidacy. If you would rather not show certain posts to your parents or your boss, it may be a good idea to hide or delete them.

If a strong political stand is a key part of who you are, understand that you are taking a calculated risk by expressing it online.

Take care to clarify your position: you might support some portions of a candidate's platform but not others, and making clear distinctions can help the reader understand your stance better. As with any controversial or potentially divisive subject, be prepared that the political content you share may alienate some companies and narrow your pool of job options.

If you choose to comment on or share political content publicly, be sure you have checked the facts.

Do your research, read everything you re-post, and always check your sources (in other words, don't share click-bait just because of a catchy title). Keep the conversation civil and respectful. Don't get dragged into name-calling or accusations – as a rule of thumb, if you would not say something face-to-face, don't post it. After all, the Internet has a long memory.  

If you would not put something on your resume, don't post it on LinkedIn.  

Keep in mind that LinkedIn is used extensively by recruiters, both to identify candidates and to vet them prior to the interviews. Employers checking social media may not always check Facebook, but you better believe they'll look at your LinkedIn profile.You cannot hurt your candidacy by using this platform as an opportunity to highlight your professional experience and related interests.

And finally, remember that social media and written comments can fail to convey a lot of subtle context that you would typically share in a face-to-face conversation. Many people have had the unfortunate experience of alienating a friend or an acquaintance because of a misinterpreted comment. With your job prospects on the line, it is a good idea to be strategic about what you say and to consider what medium serves you best.

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