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Dear Annie: A group of us on campus here at an Ivy League school have been active in Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and we’ve been pretty vocal on Facebook, Twitter, etc., about why we believe he’s the best choice for the country. It’s more about Sanders’ ideas on universal health care and other issues, not about his plan to break up the big banks (which we doubt anyone can really do, anyway).
The thing is, two of us are finance majors — not exactly raving socialists. We’re graduating in a few weeks, and we’ve got interviews with a couple of big banks and some smaller financial services firms. I know prospective employers check out job candidates on social media, but will our politics work against us? Expunging our online support for Sanders seems phony, but we want to get hired. What do you think? — Confounded in Cambridge
Dear C.C.: Interesting question. Wall Street firms and big banks are certainly no friends of Bernie’s, although there’s some evidence that smaller financial companies might actually benefit from a Sanders administration. If you were hoping to find work in Silicon Valley, you’d fit right in, since many employees of big tech companies are Sanders fans (and donors).
In worrying about how your social media image might look to employers, you’ve got plenty of company. A recent Monster.com survey of almost 2,000 working adults — of all ages, not just new grads — found that more than half (57%) feel “strongly” that their Facebook, Twitter, and other online accounts are “a liability when job hunting, rather than an asset.” The survey didn’t ask why, but it’s not hard to imagine. There’s something about social media that gives people what Dorothy Parker used to call “a bad case of the frankies,” wherein they forget they’re not just venting to their friends and say things that get them fired, or that make a prospective employer think twice. At a glance, it might seem that your online support of Sanders puts you in that second group.
But your dilemma is more complicated than that. For one thing, “employers are looking for the right cultural fit. They’re interested in your whole personality,” says Matt Anchin. A senior vice president at Monster.com, he works with employers to vet job candidates online. He says recruiters can easily spot phoniness. “They want to feel like they know you as you really are. So you should show your true self on social media, including your interests and passions.”
That’s true even if one of your passions is a particular political candidate. “Hiring managers are human beings,” Anchin points out, adding that the chemistry that makes for a great job interview is complex and, to a large degree, unpredictable. “Even being a fan of a given sports team, or its biggest rival, can make someone warm to you or not.” When you sit down with interviewers, “don’t assume they’re holding your politics against you, and don’t assume that they’re not. See where the conversation goes.”
Right now, while you’re preparing for those meetings, Anchin has a couple of suggestions. First, “don’t erase your online support of Bernie Sanders,” he says, although you could temper it by finding ways to clarify which planks of Sanders’ platform you favor (and maybe even why) and which you think are unrealistic. “But do try to balance your political stance with other things that employers care about, and that might be seen as mitigating factors. Highlight details about interesting internship projects you’ve worked on, any extra skills or credentials you’ve acquired, and anything else that makes you stand out from your peers.”
And second, Anchin notes, making the most of your social media presence “goes way beyond damage control.” He says most people graduating from college already know they should scrub the frat-party photos from Facebook pages (or change their privacy settings, or both). But he often hears from recruiters that relatively few new grads take advantage of the kinds of social media activities that can make or break a budding career.
At the very least, make sure your LinkedIn profile is as complete, and as compelling, as you can make it. Then, participate in LinkedIn groups, and on niche sites in your industry, which “give you the chance to join in discussions with people far senior to you, in your chosen field, who you’d probably never ordinarily get a chance to speak with,” Anchin notes. Likewise, following industry leaders and other influencers on Twitter, and retweeting their tweets, “is a great way to get noticed by people who might know of great opportunities for you.” Using social media wisely, he says, “you can be as sophisticated a marketer of your own ‘brand’ as you want to be.”
Talkback: If you’ve expressed political opinions on social media, do you think it affects how you’re seen at work or in a job search? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.