GUIDE: How Your Social Media Photos Impact Your Career (And What To Do About It)

Research shows that people look you up on social media before deciding to work with you. And the images they find directly impact their decision to hire or reject you.

From job offers to college acceptance letters, promotions to business partnerships and even first dates – images that you post and those you’re tagged in on social media influence your life.

By following this guide, you can make sure the images associated with your social media profiles are maximizing your career opportunities – not losing you business.

What you’ll learn in this guide:

  • 9 key stages of your career when you’ll be researched on social media.
  • 33 risk factors that make people less likely to work with you.
  • 50+ positive factors that make people more likely to work with you.
  • 3 tools and services you can use to maximize the effectiveness of your profiles.

PART 1: The 9 stages of your career when you’ll be researched on social media

Applying to college, applying to entry level jobs, applying to c-level jobs

Whether you like it or not, you’re being searched at every stage of your career. We live in the age of smartphones and social networks, so a quick social media stalking session is now the reality with nearly anyone you meet in a professional capacity.

You’re being searched on social media at every stage of your career:

If you think nobody’s paying attention to your photos on social media, think again. At every point in your career, somebody will be looking at your social media accounts.

Because of privacy loopholes and vulnerabilities, even a profile set to private can be cracked.

Think you’re safe?

Employers are doing deeper searches, using automated tools, getting around privacy settings and figuring out when you change your name to avoid being found.

  • Employers are using hacks and tools to get around your privacy settings. Some have complicated friending schemes, posing as someone you might know and extending a friend request so they can see your posts and photos. Some even ask for your password. Others use tools that simply bypass privacy settings completely and allow them to see every image you’ve ever posted or been tagged in.
  • Employers are using automated tools to quickly and easily find your digital dirt. From classics like GoodHire and Sterling Talent Solutions to new tools that specialize in social media activity like Fama and Social Intelligence , employers are learning about you online. At least 75% of recruiters and talent managers use some form of recruiting or applicant tracking software throughout the process (Capterra).
  • Employers are savvy to name changes and can find you anyway. By searching for secondary identifying information, they can often find your profile even if you change your first or last name to avoid being found.  
  • Searches are getting deeper: “Recruiters and HR professionals typically conduct deeper searches than most consumers are aware of. Of particular concern is the depth and breadth of information that recruiters are seeking about candidates. Traditionally, recruiters have had clear restrictions on the types of information they can ask candidates. This included restrictions on asking about their families, their affiliation to religious, political or other groups, their financial situation, medical condition, and so on. Now, recruiters can easily and anonymously collect information that they would not be permitted to ask in an interview, and the survey found that recruiters are doing just that.” (Cross Tab, Online Reputation in a Connected World)

PART 2: The 33 risk factors that make people less likely to work with you

People look for red flags on your social profiles. These shortcuts help potential partners, employers or employees instantly decide not to work with you. We’ve made it our mission to find out exactly what those risk factors are so you can minimize them.

If you’re applying to school:

BrandYourself, positive factors, collegeWhile it’s true that not every admissions officer is going to perform a deep dive on prospective students’ social media profiles, a growing number are. In researching these students during the admissions process, college admissions officers are turning to social media. And not so surprisingly, 42% percent of admissions officers who check student social media accounts have discovered information that negatively affected an applicant’s prospects. (Kaplan Test Prep Survey, 2017

Admissions officers look for these red flags on your social media profiles (according to Time, Hechinger Report, Kaplan, jobvite):

  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Illegal behavior
  • Predictors of enrollment & success/failure on campus (using big data from social media)
  • Cyberbullying
  • References to drugs, alcohol
  • Content that’s sexual in nature
  • Hostile speech and swearing
  • Weapon-related content
  • Selfies

While it may be scary to think about, one photo on Instagram could cost you your acceptance letter. In fact, in 2017 Harvard even rescinded acceptance offers to 10 incoming undergraduate students after discovering they were publishing inappropriate memes on Facebook.

Time Magazine columnist Kaitlin Mulhere sums it best: “Don’t put anything on social media that you wouldn’t submit as part of your college application.” Chances are, it’ll be found.

What other types of images can put your acceptance at risk?

One admissions officer said that pictures of a student “brandishing weapons” gave him pause when deciding whether to admit the applicant. (Kaplan, 2017)

Kaplan Test Prep’s 5 Questions to Ask Before Posting an Image

Does this photo make me look like college material? When a college admissions officer or the Kiwanis Club’s scholarship committee sees your newest Twitter pic, is it a positive reflection on you? Make sure you are appropriately attired in all your photos and that you come across as level-headed. Maintain A+ spelling and grammar when posting images with text. If you’re expressing an opinion with a photo and accompanying text, make sure it’s one that can be backed up with sound facts and intelligent analysis.


Would I do that on television? You are, in effect, broadcasting your personality on your social media accounts, so watch the language, seal up the mug shots, and mind your manners. Period. About the worst thing you can do on social media on your path to college is trash talk/gram/snap a school you’ve attended, a school you want to go to, your teachers, or your boss. Don’t share any incriminating photos and comments. Admissions officers consider this behavior a red flag.


Does this image court excessive commenting? Rethink photos that are likely to trigger a barrage of crazy or controversial comments that you’ll have to edit out of your timeline. There are much better ways to spend your time—like building your LinkedIn profile.



Is this funny? Is it offensive? Does it require too much explanation? What’s funny to one person can rub someone else the wrong way. If you think you’re going to have to explain or defend a picture, it’s probably best to pass. A potentially offensive image runs the risk of triggering that onslaught of comments you just tried to avoid—comments that are all but guaranteed to further obscure your meaning or end up putting words in your mouth.


Does everyone need to see this? If the answer is no, don’t post. It’s fine to share photos from your life outside of school or work, but choose carefully. Selfies or pictures of you holding your prized rifle may seem harmless, but they might actually hurt your acceptance chances. A great alternative to posting photos is to start a photo album, IRL. And when it comes to posting, share images online that make you and your friends look college-ready!


If you’re applying for a job:

When it comes to your career, a number of factors go into landing your next job. From your talent, demonstrated successes and experiences to who you know, the job search is a whole process. While your qualifications are important, so if the way that you present yourself. According to CareerBuilder’s newest study, 54% of employers have found content on social media that caused them not to hire a candidate. Don’t let one Facebook photo ruin your chances at landing or keeping a job.

Reasons employers decided not to hire a candidate included (combines Careerbuilder + Job-hunt):

  • Concerns about the candidate’s lifestyle: 58%
  • Inappropriate comments and text written by the candidate: 56%
  • Unsuitable photos, videos, and information: 55%
  • Comments criticizing previous employers, coworkers, or clients: 40%
    • “Tweeting or putting up posts about colleagues/bosses, indicates a need to air grievances without the gumption to take these up and resolve them in the workplace.” Radhika Vivek, Executive Director at Sheffield Haworth/Mumbai, explains how social media behavior can predict workplace behavior. (jobvite)
  • Provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information: 39%
  • Information about them drinking or using drugs: 38%
  • Membership in certain groups and networks: 35%
    • For Eric Quanstrom, CMO of Pipeliner CRM, checking social networking accounts is about learning as much about the character and makeup of the candidate as possible. In fact, who a candidate responds to and agrees with online, can be just as revealing as personal updates and comments. Quanstrom says, “I look closely at what type of network composition they have. Who influences them, who/what do they connect/friend/follow as well as Like/RT/+1 or otherwise interact with?” (jobvite)
  • Discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion: 32%
  • Lied about qualifications: 27%
  • Poor communication skills: 27%
    • Profanity, and grammar and punctuation errors trigger negative reactions among recruiters over 60% of the time (jobvite)
    • “Sometimes a candidate seems as if he might be a good fit, but red flags are raised upon further scrutiny. For example, if a candidate doesn’t take the time to proofread, or he or she fires off a blog post in anger, it can be a sign of poor judgment and execution”, says Lydia Frank, Director of Editorial and Marketing at Payscale. (jobvite)
  • Linked to criminal behavior: 26%
  • Shared confidential information from previous employers: 23%
  • Unprofessional screen name: 22%
  • Lied about an absence: 17%

And it’s not just photos you’ve published. Employers reject candidates based on other people’s photos, comments, posts and tags on candidates’ profiles, including:

  • Inappropriate comments or text written by friends and relatives: 43%
  • Inappropriate comments or text written by colleagues or work acquaintances: 40%

And recruiters are turned off by the following red flags (jobvite):

  • Profanity: 65%
  • Spelling/grammar errors: 61%
  • References to guns: 51%
  • Overly religious posts: 28%

Even if your photo doesn’t include text in it, consider the message that you’re putting out there with your imagery. Then think of the spirit of the red flags mentioned above.

Why you should clean up your profiles, not delete them entirely

It might seem easier to just delete your profiles, rather than scrub through all your photos (and friends’ photos) to make sure they portray you in a professional light.

But, having no profiles at all is also a red flag that makes employers less likely to call you in.

“57% of employers are less likely to call someone in for an interview if they can’t find a job candidate online. Of that group, 36% like to gather more information before calling in a candidate for an interview, and 25% expect candidates to have an online presence.” (CrossTab)

Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer at CareerBuilder echoes that idea. She claims, “Most workers have some sort of online presence today– and more than half of employers won’t hire those without one.”

If you’re selling a product or service:

Avoid these red flags:

Always be mature, considerate and respectful in dealing with criticism – you don’t want to make headlines for explosive customer service.

How to identify and minimize your risk factors:

Our technology automatically identifies red flags and makes it simple to delete them. We worked with hiring managers, collected deep research, manually analyzed hundreds of thousands of posts and used state of the art machine learning technology to identify the posts and images that could put your career at risk.



To scrub yourself, create an account, connect all your profiles. Review your posts, starting with high risk posts. Better safe than sorry – remove any that might be questionable.



PART 3: The 50+ positive factors that make people more likely to work with you.

People aren’t just looking for red flags. They’re also looking for positive factors to reinforce their decision to work with you. We’ve made it our mission to identify those factors so you can maximize them and accelerate your career.

If you’re applying to school:

47% of admissions officers who looked up potential applicants online say that what they found had a positive impact on students’ application efforts. (Kaplan)

These include examples of:

  • Leadership
  • Engagement on LinkedIn:
    • 80% of students who included links to this profile and were looked up by a representative from the schools where they applied were accepted (according to a small study).
  • Awards and honors
  • Extracurriculars (especially those not mentioned elsewhere on the application)

One admissions officer shared, “There’s such a negative stereotype of social media that people often forget about the positive effects of it. One student had won an award and had a picture with their principal on their personal page, and it was nice to see.”

If you’re applying to a job:

86% of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals say that positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their

decisions to a great extent. (From CrossTab’s Online Reputation in a Connected World)

More specifically, nearly half (44%) of employers have found content on a social networking site that caused them to hire the candidate.

According to CareerBuilder’s most recent study and last year’s study, of the hiring managers who searched candidates on social media, this is what they were looking for:

  • Information that supports their qualifications for the job: 61%
  • If the candidate has a professional online persona: 50%
  • Candidate’s personality came across as a good fit with company culture – 43%
    • Sabrina Baker, an HR consultant with Acacia HR Solutions puts it this way, “The resume and interviews are my indicator of whether an individual has the skill set to do the job, but online profiles can help me determine if their personality is going to fit in with the culture and environment of the job at hand. Indicators of how they are motivated, what is important to them and how they like to work all give me an idea of their personality and how it might fit in with the company.”
  • Candidate was well-rounded, showed a wide range of interests – 40%
  • What other people are posting about the candidates: 37%
  • Candidate’s background information supported their professional qualifications: 38%
  • Candidate had great communication skills: 37%
    • Erik Bowitz, a Senior Resume Expert at Resume Genius: “Before we even fully scrutinize an entire resume, we are usually already Googling the applicant’s name, because what we find online will tell us much more about them in terms of their writing style than what is presented on their resume.”
  • Candidate had a professional image: 36%
  • Creativity: 35%

And two other studies provide additional factors recruiters like to see on social media profiles:

  • Mentions of volunteerism or charity donations: 65%
  • Professional memberships and affiliations: 4 out of 5

“Recruiters look for professional experience, tenure, hard skills, industry-related voice and cultural fit as part of the hiring process.” (jobvite)

If you’re freelancer or consultant here’s what clients look for:

  • According to a 2013 research report from Tower Lane Consulting:
    • 75% of companies surveyed use freelancers because they need a wide range of specialized skill sets at different times.
    • Companies surveyed noted that identifying appropriate talent was the number one freelancer-related challenge they faced.
    • 68% of companies surveyed expressed a “strong” or “very strong” interest in a tool that would enable easier and quicker hiring and onboarding.

Are the photos and images that you share addressing each of the needs mentioned above? If not, consider how the images you post can quickly identify and reinforce your skills and strengths.

  • According to a 2016 report from contently:
    • 65% of freelancers have social media profiles that they update and use regularly for their work, and more freelancers gave social media a 10 (on a 0–10 scale) for importance to their work than any other number.
  • Other suggestions from industry experts:
    • Illustrator Sabrina Smelko cites social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Behance and Dribble as the source of 25% of her clients. “I personally think anyone trying to make it as a freelancer should be present on social media,” she said. (

If you’re a medical professional, a financial advisor, or an attorney here’s what potential clients look for:


Amanda Mauck, Interactive Marketing Specialist for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, thinks engaging with patients via social media is a great way to empathize with those who need comfort, not just provide relevant health news. She claims, “Our users love photos and [success] stories, [especially those] that showcase our team’s compassion and ability to go above and beyond for a family”. (Digitaltrends)

  • According to 72% of consumers : Provider reputation and personal experience are the top drivers of provider choice (PWC, 2012)
  • 73% of patients surveyed would welcome social media-based tools like make an appointment, or ask a question. (PWC, 2012 & Whitecoat marketing )


According to the Financial Planning Association and LinkedIn:

  • Over 75% of clients say they look to their adviser to provide expertise and to help them make informed decisions.
  • When asked: “To what extent do you agree or disagree that your adviser provides you with education related to the market, investments or other financial topics?”
    • 69% of those who responded “completely agree” are defined as engaged clients: 5/5 satisfied with their advisor, and provided a referral within the past year.

As you can see above, what you post on your social media profiles should share valuable information with your clients (current and potential). It should also showcase the fact that you have a good reputation. Considering the fact that:

  • Over 40% of potential clients aged 18-44 say an adviser’s online profile is “important” or “critical” to their decision-making process. (Putnam)

By responding quickly to prospect needs and behaviors, high growth advisors are more likely to do the following than their low-growth counterparts  (FPA):

  • Offer educational events
  • Leverage professional networks on LinkedIn
  • Focus on thought leadership activities


  • According to the practicing attorneys who responded to the ABA 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report:
    • 76% of respondents individually use or maintain a presence on one or more social networks for professional purposes.
      • Of these respondents:
        • 73% do so for career development and networking
        • 51% do so for client development
        • 35% do so for education and current awareness
      • Of those respondents who do personally use or maintain a presence in a social network:
        • 25% report that they have had a client retain their legal services directly or via referral as a result
  • 34% of solo attorneys are most likely to report having a client retain their legal services directly or via referral as a result of their social media use (Blogging and Social Media: ABA TECHREPORT 2016)

When it comes to social media connecting clients and lawyers, 45% of all traffic to law firm websites is driven by LinkedIn. (Law Firm Suites)

  • When potential clients seek out lawyers via social media, one survey found these key insights about the top 5 most important qualities in the lawyer:
    • More than 4 out of 5 participants (81%) in the study said that the years of experience was important.
    • 76% of participants said price/rates/fee structure was important.
    • Nearly 2/3 of participants (66%) said that past case result history would impact their decision.
    • Nearly ½ listed “client testimonial” as one of the top 5 most important factors.
    • 26 out of 400 participants listed social media activity as a top 5 factor for choosing a lawyer.
    • 15% listed awards and memberships

As an attorney looking to attract new and retain steady business ties, reinforce these kinds of factors through the photos and images that you choose to share on your profiles.

If you’re a CEO, executive or business owner:

  • 77% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company whose CEO and leadership team engage on social media.
  • 82% of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose CEO and leadership team engage on social media.

“Global executives estimate that nearly one half of a company’s market value is attributable to its CEO, [and] they have entered a golden age of opportunity in which to tell their company stories. They are far less dependent on traditional media to profile their biographies and echo their future strategies. CEOs can now take their storytelling content directly to stakeholders without negotiating with the media.” (From Weber Shandwick’s CEO Reputation Premium report).

Additional benefits of engaging on social media as a CEO include (Weber Shandwick):

  • Positive impact on company’s reputation: 78%
  • Helps build relationships with news media: 75%
  • Makes executives on your team feel inspired (52%), technologically advanced (46%) and proud (41%).
  • You’re more likely to be seen as a good communicator than if you don’t post on social media (55% vs. 38%, respectively).

If you are selling a product or service:

According to an MDG Infographic (with data from: The National Retail Federation, BrightLocal, PR Newswire, Skyword, Web Liquid, Alexa, & The New York Times):

  • 67% of consumers say that the quality of a product image is “very important” in selecting and purchasing a product.
  • Content featuring compelling images averages 94% more total views than content without images.

While images typically gather more social engagement than their text counterparts , it’s important to note that positive factors can change by platform.

For example:  

Curalate’s research on Pinterest, explored the types of photos that attract the most pins, repins and likes. (Curalate and Forbes)

Some key findings include:

  • Reddish-orange images received 2x as many repins as blue images.
  • Images with multiple dominant colors have 3.25 times more repins than images with a single dominant color.
  • Images with medium lightness are repinned 20 times more than very dark images.
  • Images with a smooth texture are repinned 17 times more than images with a rough texture.
  • Brand images without faces in the picture receive 23% more repins.

According to Curalate’s research, popular images on Pinterest won’t necessarily attract consumer engagement on Instagram. They studied 8 million Instagram photos to see which characteristics perform best. Here’s some of what their research uncovered:

  • Images with high lightness generate 24% more likes than dark images.
  • Images with blue as the dominant color generate 24% more likes than images that are predominantly red.
  • Duck-face selfies generate 1,124% more likes than traditional selfies.
  • Images with low saturation generate 18% more likes than those with vibrant colors.
  • Images with a single dominant color generate 17% more likes than images with multiple dominant colors.

While these findings may or may not be relevant to your audience, this data highlights the fact that small adjustments in the images that you choose can have significant effects on the level of audience engagement. So test to see what kinds of images your audience responds to.

How to maximize your positive factors.

A. Use tools that make it easy and walk you through the process.

Our technology helps make sure you’re regularly posting the positive content to maximize your opportunities.

Connect your accounts, and we’ll remind you when you need to log in and update them. We’ll also provide suggestions of what you should post.


B. Learn from the top players in your industry who are doing it right.

Chris Brogan: Chris Brogan is a highly sought-after expert in social media marketing and CEO of Owner Media Group. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he excels at his own personal branding. If you join his 353K Twitter followers, you can expect everything from tips on growing your business to clips from the latest episode of Lip Sync Battle.


Kimberly Bryant: Kimberly Bryant is a prominent electrical engineer, entrepreneur and speaker. She is the visionary Founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE. Black Girls CODE aims to bridge the STEM divide by empowering girls of color to become innovators in these fields. Bryant attracts over 100K followers (between her and Black Girls Code) on Twitter alone. The images she shares on social media are most often directly related to her work.


Cindy Gallop: Cindy Gallop is an accomplished entrepreneur, speaker, founder and branding consultant who first made her splash in advertising. Gallop’s professional focus on micro loans, sex tech and push for women’s pay equality is regularly reflected in her online presence, and images on social media.



You can easily find influencers by doing a little bit of research.

If you don’t already know who they are, look on Forbes, or do an internet search to find the most successful people in your field.

Do both broad and very specific searches. Find out where they are most active online, and follow them.

From here you can join the conversation by reacting to things that they post with your own carefully crafted posts, connect with other people in your industry, and emulate these idols. Look at their most successful posts. What can you learn from their branding strategies?



C. Create a strategy for maximizing your positive factors:

  • Schedule: Those who reap the most benefit share images multiple times daily. While you don’t have to do it that often, the more you post valuable/relevant/thoughtful content, the better. This also helps your profiles rank higher in Google, because search engines prefer showing content that’s recently updated in results.
  • Content: Be a proactive, contributing member of your field online. When it comes to sharing images, you have all kinds of content to choose from. Whether it’s a picture of you at a conference or a statistic on a simple background – share photos and images that are interesting to you, and will likely be interesting to others. Know your audience, know your platform, create engaging content, use data to your advantage, and have a clear call to action. To learn more, check out this infographic or check out our other articles for more ideas including 8 quick ideas for Linkedin posts.

PART 4: The 3 tools and services you can use to easily implement all the advice in this guide.

Now you know what can help and hurt your career on social media. So let’s recap the tools and services that will save you time and make it as easy as possible to ensure your profiles are helping you earn the income you deserve.  


A. If you want to do it yourself, our DIY tool makes it easier, faster and a lot more fun. It’ll flag risk factors so you can delete them, and recommend all the actions you can take to increase your positive factors. Just follow your steps. It takes the legwork out of manually reviewing thousands of posts.  



B. If you don’t want to do it yourself, we can do it for you with our Managed Services. For example, here’s how we helped Jill OmbrelloJill owns and operates a family dentist office. Her patients loved her, but with a minimal online presence, she was missing tons of opportunities.



When partnering with BrandYourself, Jill laid out her goals as:

  • Becoming more visible online
  • Building up a brand as a leader in her field with original, industry-specific content
  • Proactively protecting her reputation on public review sites

Throughout this campaign, Jill’s Reputation Specialist executed each strategy with these objectives in mind. And the images attached to Jill’s name on social media and in Google search results were also a key part of executing such phenomenal results.

The images currently associated with Jill are either professional pictures of her or images linked with content authored by her about dentistry. That way, when people find her online, the photos embody all of her branding goals. Today, the content (images, presentations, blogs, etc) on Ombrellos social media properties plays the largest part in the success of her Google search results.


If you’re interested in having us do the work for you, give us a call at 646-863-8226 or schedule a consultation to discuss your options.

C. And if you don’t want any help, you can always manually do it all yourself.

For deleting risk factors, set aside an afternoon and go through all your posts – ones you’ve published, and ones you’re tagged in. Keep the list of risk factors above in an open tab so you can reference it as you comb through your history. Delete any images that might raise an eyebrow.

For maximizing positive content, do the same. Set aside an afternoon and review the positive factors above. Make sure that your profiles include what people are looking for. And check out influencers in your field to see examples of posts that are increasing their career opportunities and positioning themselves more effectively than the competition.