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Aspiring Docs Diaries

Harvard Medical School student Elorm F. Avakame with his parents

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How Do I... Make Sure Social Media Doesn't Hurt My Chances?


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Before an interview, you probably spend a lot of time (and money) picking out the perfect outfit. You want to look the part—poised, confident, and professional. How people see you when you stand before them is important, but what about how people see you when you don’t see them? When people search for you online, read your comments, or view your Facebook page, what are you revealing or telling them? More than you might imagine.

Do admissions committees and employers really look at applicants’ pages and posts?
Some do search for applicants online. According to Scott M. Rodgers, M.D., associate dean for medical student affairs at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, “Every student should assume that admissions committees DO look up applicants online and sometimes come across information about people that can either hurt or help a candidate.”

Barbara Fuller, M.P.H., director of admissions at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University agrees. “Students on the admissions committee are more tech savvy and actually have been responsible for presenting information on candidates—acquired through Internet searches—that changed an acceptance to a rejection. As an applicant, you are responsible for the ‘public face’ that the connected world sees,” Fuller says.

Can information about me online be considered in the admission or job application process?
Yes. Researching a candidate online is like an informal background check. It’s legal, and any information found can become another factor to consider in an admissions decision.

However, according to Rodgers, “An applicant should not make the assumption that everything online is necessarily bad and should be removed. For example, if a student led a major service activity at his or her university, and a story about it appeared in the online university newspaper, that is a very good thing!”

How do I find out what’s out there about me?
Do Web searches of your name and see what comes up. You may be surprised or a little unnerved to see how much of your personal information is visible. In addition to your social media profiles, you may find links to news articles, phone book listings of your address, petitions you’ve signed electronically, and comments you’ve left on Web sites. You may even find people with the same or similar names. It’s good to know what search results are found so that you can speak to them in an interview. If you wish to remove some of these items, in many cases, it is possible. Although it may be tedious, you should be able to contact sites to ask them to remove items, or adjust your privacy settings so that many of the results no longer appear publically.

What are some things that might negatively influence people?
Anything that’s illegal, shows poor judgment, or is controversial will hurt your image.

Rodgers says, “I have heard of students posting pictures of themselves drinking beer with friends and acting wild and crazy. This is not a good idea as it suggests to admissions committees that the student may be at risk for a substance use disorder in addition to unprofessional behavior. I have also heard of a student posting pictures of Confederate flags, calling it an example of ‘Southern pride,’ but this calls into question that student’s sensitivity to the struggles of African-Americans in this country and causes admissions committees to question the student’s judgment.”

How can I protect myself without being paranoid?
Be sure to make your social networking accounts private. Make sure you are set up to approve all tags or check-ins, and delete anything you’re not proud of, or that seems like it could be misconstrued. Rodgers sums it up best: “If students have any doubt about posting something on Facebook or any other social media site, then he or she should simply not do it. It is always best to err on the side of less rather than more.”

What if an interviewer or school asks for my password?
You should never share your password with anyone, anytime. It is not appropriate for your supervisor or anyone to ask or require your password for a social networking site or private e-mail account. For more information, see the Social Media Bill of Rights.

Social Media Best Practices

  • Make all accounts private
  • Keep pictures, statuses, and comments clean
  • Approve tags and check-ins from friends
  • Always sign out of a public or shared computer
  • Never share your password

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