What Not to Tweet in a Job Search

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By Robin Madell

How significant can one tweet be? As publicist Justine Sacco's Twitter debacle​ shows, an insensitive tweet can derail your career (and in some cases, more than that). More recently, the backlash over tweets by Trevor Noah​, Jon Stewart's replacement as host of "The Daily Show," shows that it's risky to tell jokes others may view as derogatory against certain groups, even if you're a comedian.

The moral of these stories is that while Twitter can help a job search and boost business when used appropriately, failing to understand acceptable usage can cause recruiters, prospective employers and professional contacts to shun you rather than seek your services. Here are some basic tips when it comes to using Twitter for networking and looking for new career opportunities:Keep it positive. It may seem obvious to avoid negativity in your tweets, but a surprising number of people neglect to consider this general no-no. Instead, they use their Twitter feed as a forum to vent about everything from previous bosses to disillusionment with their job search. While you may think you're only tweeting to your specific followers, the nature of Twitter is public discourse, and almost all recruiters check candidates' social media presence as a matter of course. Speaking poorly of anyone on your feed – particularly in relation to work situations – can suggest an attitude problem, and that can get you screened out of opportunities before you have a foot in the door.

If you absolutely feel you must exercise your freedom of speech on Twitter in ways that others might find offensive, Kisha Mays, CEO of Just Fearless, suggests creating a separate professional Twitter account with your real name and making your personal Twitter page private, using a pseudonym. "It seems like a lot of extra work, but in the end it is worth it. You don't want to possibly have your character judged based on some random, seemingly harmless tweets," she says.

Avoid controversial topics. While you may feel passionate about subjects like politics or religion, expressing ideas that may draw a heavy emotional response or create polarized dialogue can hurt you during a job search, according to Jack Martin, CEO and founder of TechnologyJobs.nyc​. "Build a brand that states clear goals of collaboration and team building," Martin says. "Stay on topic, ask relevant questions and engage with your followers."

Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," agrees that extreme points of view are a red flag. "When you align yourself with a point of view that is not popular or may raise questions about your character, companies are less inclined to reach out to you," he says.

Insensitive remarks about any group, including sexist, racist or homophobic comments, must definitely be nixed. But when in doubt on other topics, Amanda Orson, director of communications for EngineerJobs.com, suggests using the "Thanksgiving rule" to determine whether questionable content is tweetable or not. "If you shared this at the Thanksgiving table, would it sow discord among your guests?" she asks. "If you'd avoid the topic at dinner, don't publish it on Twitter."

Skip the inane comments. If your goal is to appear professional and land the job you want, don't sabotage yourself by creating a public stream of comments that reveal "TMI" about your personal life. While some social media experts advocate giving your followers a sense of who you are with occasional tweets that show some personality, it's important to be discriminating about what you choose to share – especially while looking for work.

Megan Ingenbrandt, public relations specialist at eZanga.com, says her general rule of thumb is if you wouldn't want your boss (or future boss) to see it, then delete it. "One of the biggest mistakes people make on Twitter is thinking that what they tweet is not a reflection of who they are," she says. "However, your online presence is a representation of who you are. It's important to consider what yours says about you." Retweets count in this impression as well. Just because you aren't the originator of the comment, by passing it along, you're aligning with the viewpoint expressed by the author. With that in mind, make sure whatever you retweet is something you want to be associated with in the eyes of potential employers.

Avoid red-flag issues. While you may be accustomed to sharing what's on your mind on social media, certain types of conversations can signal red flags to employers and recruiters. "Tweeting about attending a fun event or a good restaurant, for example, is fine," says Matthew Pugh, vice president of Weiss PR. "However, tweets about medical issues, relationship woes, money problems and things of this nature are red flags for potential employers, so keep your Twitter feed clear of them."

Career consultant Tiffani Murray ​adds that over-tweeting about television shows could also be problematic. "You may want to consider having a personal Twitter account as well as one just focused on job search, particularly if your Twitter feed is full of comments and conversations regarding the latest episodes of 'Empire' or 'The Walking Dead,'" she says. "These aren't job-search-killing tweets, but if you are commenting on some very specific parts of the shows that may result in a negative impression by a recruiter, it's better to be safe than sorry."

In short, think about what message you're conveying before you tweet it.
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