Should You Avoid Social Media to Protect Your Future Career?

Rob Enderle

One of the things that makes how an analyst is supposed to approach a problem different is that we are expected to anticipate the future. When we make a recommendation, it must consider the way the world will be when the recommendation is implemented and anticipate, as much as possible, unintended consequences, future risk and collateral damage. For a lot of us, this means thinking a lot about the world as it will exist in five, 10, 15, or even 25 years.

I’m seeing a trend in social media that suggests that in five to 10 years, virtually everything you have posted will be packaged, contextually referenced (but likely often not reflective of what you were actually intending at the time), and presented to the folks interviewing you for a job. Given the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) by that time, much of this will be automated and the AIs could simply conclude from your tweets that you are too much risk for the firm without ever engaging you at all.

I thought more about this after reading an article on the Washington Post about a federal judge whose appointment was at risk due to some things he posted on Twitter. The things he posted were really mild, but popped up in a comprehensive Twitter review, and they’ve evidently become a problem.

Let’s talk about how you might want to reconsider using social media.

Everyone Gets Extreme Vetting Through Social Media

As we move the operating units in the company to systems that can use increasingly intelligent AI systems that can handle mammoth amounts of data, how we are perceived, classified and positioned for advancement will massively change. We are seeing just the tip of the iceberg now because these systems aren’t in place and much of the online research is done manually still, so that much of our activity under aliases is not yet being caught.

Even so, we are up to about 45 percent of employers doing some kind of social media review (according to the National Law Review) as part of the hiring process and, as the linked piece points out, this potentially allows those firms to circumvent laws surrounding discrimination on race or whether people are likely to join a union. (You may not be allowed to ask the question, but you can see the pictures and read what was written as the hiring manager.)

In short, already, we see concerns about social media either adversely impacting a hiring process or the employee’s career because questions that a hiring manager isn’t allowed to ask can be digitally asked and answered by the report the HR system will generate.

These things don’t seem to have a statute of limitations yet, either. What you said in college could easily come up in an executive review when you are being considered for a VP job in a decade, and after spending all that money on college, having an unemployed ex-almost VP living back at home in his or her 40s would be a nasty way to live into retirement.


Extreme vetting is something VPs and higher typically get before they are approved for a job. But with these coming AI-based web systems, firms will be able to scale deep vetting so that even entry-level people will get more than VPs get today.

No Hiding Anonymously

One of the other features of these coming intelligent vetting systems is the ability to connect you to things you write by how you wrote them, not just by name. This means all those posts you’ve been making using that name you can’t repeat in front of your kids are going to be in your personnel file at some point. While these tools are a tad buggy at the moment, in 10 years, they should be hitting their stride.

This means you shouldn’t be thinking that just leaving your name off a post is keeping you safe. Chances are that in 10 years, connecting you to that snide remark you put in social media under an assumed name will be relatively trivial. I’ll bet there are more than a few folks whose user name alone would get them fired.

Wrapping Up: Social Media Effects Must Be Discussed

I really think we need to rethink this social media thing in respect to building a career and I think we really need to chat with our kids about this. The things we are posting today will be part of our file in the future and once in, we’ll likely never be able to get them out. Look back at the posts that are wrapping up the judge I spoke about in the opening. They are nothing, yet they are causing a problem with his confirmation. Granted, that is an unusually contentious process, but realize this same kind of post will be presented to people considering us for a job, promotion or award, and they won’t be reading them in the climate of today but in the climate that will exist then. Today’s innocent remark could be tomorrow’s red flag.

General advice would be stay away from controversy, politics and humor, which is kind of what we use social media for. But I wonder how many of us, and how many kids, have made posts that will make us unemployable at some future date? Might be a topic of conversation over the holidays, or put differently, this likely should be a topic of conversation over the holidays.

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+


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