Forget your CV, it’s Facebook that employers are looking at!

There can be little debate as to how much the internet has revolutionised the employment and hiring industry over the past twenty years or so with job boards and online application procedures replacing traditional press adverts, trade publication postings and printed CVs in the mail.  While the pace of this digital shift has arguably slackened in recent years, a more subtle but nonetheless significant change in how companies hire and how individuals apply to jobs has emerged, and it’s rooted in something most people don’t necessarily associate with their careers or hiring policies:  Social Media

Harnessing the power of social media has been an increasing priority for forward-thinking businesses for a number of years now, but it’s been more the domain of sales and marketing departments – introducing new products, engaging with audiences – than functions such as HR and recruitment.  Yet it’s recently been reported that ‘65% of employers have made hires through social media.’ So what does this actually mean?  Are employers using social media to identify potential hires (only LinkedIn is really useful for that, possibly Facebook to a lesser degree) or are they using social media later in the process, as an additional phase of screening?  LinkedIn aside, which while ostensibly not an employment site is certainly used as one by recruiters, the more ‘social’ of social media channels certainly appear to have been embraced more for the latter.

A recent CareerBuilder survey concluded that over 70% of 1000 hiring managers used social networking sites to ‘research applicants,’ in other words reducing the candidate pool from a ‘possible’ long list to a ‘probable’ short list with a bit of background screening.  But is this employers’ right? And at what point does such vetting merge into outright snooping?  If social media information is in the public domain then anyone is arguably free to look, yet there seems little means of understanding or proving just how much a potential employee’s social media identity might enhance or damage an employer’s perception of them.  All we can conclude is that hiring managers’ increasing use of social channels suggests the answer is ‘a lot.’

So if you’re an active jobseeker (some people) or simply open to new opportunities (most people,) wouldn’t it be a safer bet to not use social media all together?  Far from it:  Research suggests that not being findable on social platforms is actually a put off, one statistic concluding that as many as 35% of employers are less likely to interview applicants they can’t find online!  So don’t delete your accounts, they’re free and powerful self-promotion tools which demonstrate that you are current and in touch with the modern world, but only if you manage your online reputation wisely.  With an increasing number of instances where job applicants have been ruled out through their social media activity adversely changing the minds of employers, it’s vital that you audit and, if required, prune your personal brand.

This is particularly applicable to graduates or school/college leavers whose relative lack of working experience gives employers fewer criteria to assess against:  Essentially just educational attainment and the greyer areas of aspiration, values, lifestyle, health, awareness, work ethic; all things that social media might shine a light on.  Also notable at this stage is research showing that hiring managers’ preoccupation with social media apparently varies across industry verticals:  82% of PR and marketing communications companies describe it as important as opposed to just 14% of construction employers.  Sales is another social-sensitive sector in which not being on LinkedIn, for example, roughly equates to non-existence.

Before we go into exactly how to manage your social media presence from a career standpoint, it’s important to first establish your current and desired reach in terms of privacy settings.  Most of the main social channels are a little different in this respect so you’ll need to pay close attention to what information about you exists in the public domain as opposed to what only your network of friends, connections and followers can see.  This is an important distinction as it’s arguably the dividing watershed between the personal and the professional.  On the one hand, having your privacy settings low will ensure maximum exposure but will require close content control and a relatively formal tone, while setting your privacy high will enable you to maintain your localised world of banter and high jinks but will mean that very little about you is available to anyone on the outside trying to look in.  It’s something on a conundrum and one that’s hard to get right but, as a general rule, the former position might be best adopted when actively job seeking and the latter when happily employed.

 Let’s not forget at this stage that social media is being increasingly used not only by employers vetting potential employees but also by jobseekers taking a look at employers!  Not necessarily their carefully choreographed company pages either but the individual profiles of hiring managers and/or whoever will most likely be their boss.  So all this applies just as much to employers as it does to their potential future employees who in this case might be seeking insights into ‘what’s he like’ or ‘how she comes across.’  Taking a look at a hiring manager’s LinkedIn profile prior to interview will also create a notification to that individual that the applicant has looked, creating a positive impression that he or she is well researched and prepared.  It’s too early and presumptive to send a connect request at this stage however, save that for once you’ve got the job!

So, optimising your social media presence with job hunting or recruiting in mind:  We could produce a lengthy list of DOs and DON’Ts but in reality most of these points are relatively obvious and intuitive.  Let’s start with images, for example: Your profile picture or avatar is important, more so on LinkedIn that Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in fairness, but important nonetheless.  It needn’t necessarily be passport serious or shirt-and-tie formal but it should be clearly you and ideally you doing or portraying something positive or progressive (working, running, playing sport, smiling!) as opposed to a blurry photo that might not even be you, smoking, drinking or staggering out of a nightclub for example.

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and corresponds exactly with the timeline of your CV, with particular focus on the dates of previous roles to ensure there are no overlaps or discrepancies.  Avoid particularly controversial or contentious subjects such as religion, race or gender politics.  Focus not on division but on cooperation, highlighting positives rather than negatives:   Sporting achievements, community work, charity events etc.

Ensure also that you are easily contactable, with your email address and/or contact number aligned to your profiles, not necessarily all of them but certainly for LinkedIn, which – as a manifestly  business network – should also NOT be treated like Facebook!  Understand instead the subtle differences between each site, their individual tone, formality and etiquette.  Twitter, for example is a highly politicised online environment, so be aware that your likes and retweets are normally visible and might, regardless of any ‘disclaimer’ in your bio, suggest endorsement of views or beliefs that could raise the wrong eyebrows.  Make sure as well that your privacy settings offer you full control over what images, post or comments others are able to tag you into.  Be in control!

Once you’ve got your social media presence fully dialled from an employment point of view, an effective once over is to run a quick Google search of your name to see what comes up.  Be honest and be frank:  Does anything you see or read potentially hurt your professional brand? If you’re still not certain then use a clean-up tool like to red flag anything contentious for you to either moderate or delete.

When all’s said and done, the best candidates will continue to get the best jobs.  But in a hiring market that’s growing more competitive year by year, the difference between getting the job and not getting the job has become slimmer and slimmer, so make sure that difference is made by your CV and not compromised by a carelessly curated social media history. As long as you use the internet, you’ll have a digital footprint, so before you take on the world just make sure that it’s a footprint you’re happy with 🙂

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