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It the digital world, your footprint is left by social media platforms.

It’s called your digital footprint. Just like the real thing, it’s easy to find and leaves hard evidence of where you’ve been – even when you may not realise.

It the digital world, your footprint is left by social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn – a post, a comment, a video, a like. It’s difficult to erase, and when found, the impact can be profound.

In September 2017, as the debate around the same sex marriage plebiscite gathered speed, a Christian teenager was sacked by her employer for posting on Facebook ‘it’s okay to say no’. The 18-year old, who worked as a children’s entertainer, was sacked for the comments by her employer Madlin Sims. Taking to Facebook herself, Ms Sims said advocating against same-sex marriage was ‘hate speech’ and she did not want her business associated with the contractor’s opinions.

The case highlights the difficulties job seekers and employees have separating their professional and online lives – and what can happen when that separation blurs. The dilemma of whether to self-censor on social media is even more pointed for the younger generation who have been raised on social media.

So, should you make your social media presence employer friendly? Or can doing so wash out the very character traits and values that employers are looking for?

How much should you really be yourself on social media?

Deakin University academic and human resources expert Dr Kia Kashi says social media is definitely being used as screening tool by recruiters and employers, particularly once they have a pool of candidates.

‘It is extremely important to have a social media presence, but it must be aligned with what they [job seekers] have in their resume,’ Dr Kashi, from Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, says.

A recent survey of 600 organisations by the Society of Human Resource Management in the US found social media or online search engines were used by 43% of organisations to screen job candidates. Over one-third or 36% said they had disqualified a candidate in the past year for information including discrepancies with the application or illegal activity found on a public social media or online search.

Can you be honest to a fault on social media?

Dr Kashi says recruiters like using social media – especially LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – in the hiring process because of the perspective it brings when assessing candidates. The common understanding, he explains, is that on a resume candidates try to show the optimum version of themselves. But on social media there is often a less optimum version.

‘There you are constantly being reviewed by your peers and friends [on social media] so there is less need to have an optimum version of yourself,’ Dr Kashi says. ‘Not only can you be the true you, you have no choice but to be the true you.’

And students and graduates should have different approaches to different channels.

LinkedIn, Dr Kashi says, should be as public and professional as possible. Facebook more private as it is most often aimed at family and friends. He also cautions on how much students should share of their opinions, particularly on the more professional platforms of LinkedIn and Twitter.

‘As a human being you are entitled to your opinions, but maybe not everyone needs to hear about them. When it comes to these sensitive issues, you need to realise the information you share is your digital footprint, and they are going to remain there forever,’ he says.

Dr Kashi says the use of social media in the hiring process is all about fit. Most recruiting firms look at LinkedIn for qualifications and suitability for the job’s requirement and skills. Facebook is used as a measure of the match between personal and organisational values.

‘As job candidate you need to maintain a good image of yourself in terms of values and beliefs on Facebook and a good image of your abilities, accomplishments, career goals on LinkedIn,’ he says. ‘And that way you will improve your personal brand on social media.’

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