Social media screening impacts your career

Social Media Screening has a substantial impact on the interview process for C-Suite Executives

This is going to be the year of change. You only have to pick up the papers or switch on the TV. Everything is swirling about. We are in Year 3 of the pandemic. Should we vaxx – or not? Are we sheeple for listening to the government, wearing masks and keeping out of crowded spaces – or are we concerned and committed citizens?

Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has just released his second instalment of the gargantuan three-part report that bears his name into State Capture, the question is are you a New Dawn-ist or an RET-ista? Was the commission a waste of money or is it just a witch-hunt? What about Eskom? The municipal services where you live? Who should be next president?

Are you a New Dawn-ist or an RET-ista? Was the commission a waste of money or is it just a witch-hunt? What about Eskom? The municipal services where you live? Who should be next president?

You’re entitled to your views on all of these. But you have to be aware of the consequences of sharing them. Most of us have forgotten the worst excesses of expressing your opinions on social media; like Penny Sparrow, Adam Katzavelos, Vicky Momberg or Velaphi Khumalo, but Google certainly hasn’t. The last thing one wants is to end up as trending news on social media.

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They are the obvious ones. Their opinions weren’t just awful, they broke the law. The problem for most people is that you might not break the law with your social media posts, but you will pay a very steep price for them. Social media, whether micro blogging sites like Twitter, Facebook or even Instagram are designed to lure you in, to get you to share everything from your inner most secrets and desires all the way to what you had for breakfast or a silly effort at making a Tiktok video.

Unless you’re someone with the social media savvy of Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus – who manged to prove that white men do have (a little bit of rhythm), diss the haters and make a brand new legion of fans fall in love with him when he was supposed to be banished – don’t. Everyone’s got technology these days and access to it now. The ease with which you can post is matched only by the ease with which people can find what you’ve posted, which is wonderful, until the day you find yourself before a panel for your dream C-suite job.

Every recruitment company worth their salt will go through a rigorous social media screening process by specialists who are paid to trawl, not troll, your virtual persona, forensically picking apart your likes, dislikes and loyalties, whether Chiefs or Pirates. In the process, they’ll find out if you are high risk or low risk or have multiple risks.

That’s what’s going to determine whether you get past the first weed out of submitted CVs and onto the short list for the panel interview. When you get there, you’ll probably have to do it on Zoom or Teams. You’ll be nervous but putting your best foot forward (virtually). You won’t be able to see the panel, none of whom will probably even be in the same room because they’ll be working remotely too.

What you can’t see is them trawling you in real time as you ask someone else’s question while trying to keep to the script you prepared in your head before you logged on. All of a sudden, a voice will ask “so what do you think about ethics and accountability”” You’ll give your stock answer. There’ll be a pause and then the voice will come back: “so what did you mean when you published on (whatever date) this comment?”

Unless you can answer the question right there and then and take control of the narrative by giving a compelling and reasoned answer, you’re a dead (wo)man walking. There’s no context on social media. No one cares how you were feeling that day, the pressures you’d felt or anything else. There’s just a snapshot of you or your avatar and the words you posted. Some people can come back from something like this and turn a vice into a virtue – about the same number of people who can write a best-selling book and sell the rights to Hollywood. For the rest of us it’s career suicide because flubbing a question like that colours (pun intended) the rest of the interview.

If you can gather yourself, which most interviewees can’t because all the other questions morph into sludge when you realise the pit you’ve just dug yourself, you’ve lost at least half the panel who are only thinking about what you’ve just been accused of.
So how do you avoid this? Managing your online presence is pivotal. Be aware of what you are posting; in jest or in anger and either stop doing it when you are tired and emotional or get off the platform altogether. Scrub your own digital persona, take down posts that might have been desperately funny in the moment but are now hopelessly inappropriate.

Even then, it might be too late. If it is, be aware that there will be a social media screening process  and be prepared for those awkward questions to come up in the interview and own them and the consequences and hope you can control the narrative. If it isn’t, make sure you don’t go down the well-travelled digital path to shame and ruin:  Keep your social media banal, inoffensive and neutral, and do your level best to sanitise your professional persona. Use social media for what it was actually intended for, to keep in touch with other people, not to peacock among your imagined friends.

Remember the cardinal rule:if there’s something you would do in private, but not in public, don’t do it on social media, because it literally is the virtual equivalent of exposing yourself in public – for eternity. If you are one of the few who have managed so far to resist the allure of social media and the lemming like urge to share the latest thought in your head – don’t start.

Good luck with that interview.

  • Lucia Mabasa is managing director of pinpoint one human resources, a Johannesburg based executive search firm. Visit for more information.
lucia mabasa
lucia mabasa - managing director of pinpoint one human resources