Why Your Social Media Presence Is Like an Extra Cover Letter

You probably never thought you'd hear the words "social media" and "cover letter" together in the same sentence. But today, I hope to convince you to consider them closely related when you're looking for a new job.

A cover letter is a critical component of your job search. It's a formal letter or an email that you send to the hiring manager along with your resume. It's your personal narrative. It explains why your background makes you a perfect fit for a particular role. It is often what determines whether or not a hiring manager will bring you in for an interview.

In the same way your cover letter tells your personal story, so does your online presence. We can no longer assume our personal lives and professional lives will have clear dividing lines. Google has given employers the power to find us on every social media site we visit – and they take advantage of that power! Ask any hiring manager if they look up job candidates online. The answer will almost definitely be "yes."

Not only do employers look up candidates online, but they also make decisions about whether or not to interview candidates based on what they find. Candidates' social media presences also play significant roles in who gets hired and who doesn't.

So, what types of posts can really make a difference on social media? I often say it's good to think of job searching like going to a dinner party. A dinner party is often made up of people you don't know. Those people may have different opinions from yours on certain topics.

When it comes to work, many of those topics and views shouldn't matter. They're completely separate. A hiring decision shouldn't be made based on what religion you are or which presidential candidate you may be voting for.

Unfortunately, however, hiring managers are human. Even if unconsciously, they may judge those who have different perspectives from their own.

During the job interview, you want to be judged based on the quality of your experience and the good ideas that come out of your mouth – not on some other detail that's unrelated to your work. One way to protect yourself from this kind of judgment is to be cautious with your social media usage.

If you're searching for a new job, you may want to go easy on topics related to religion, politics, and money on your social media pages. Never post something negative about your current or past employer. Be aware of the photos you are tagged in. Avoid taking photos while intoxicated or wearing an outfit or costume you wouldn't want a respected elder to see you in.

This can be a tall order, I know, especially in today's climate. Our voice and opinions are important. If you feel strongly about sharing your views online, consider tightening your social media settings. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow you to protect your posts so that only your friends see them.

Whatever you do, keep your personal feelings off of LinkedIn. That platform in particular should be reserved for business matters only.

In today's digital age, social media serves as a critical component of your personal narrative. It's like an extra cover letter – so use it wisely.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.