How Employers Use a Candidate's Online Profile
Recruiters and employers are increasingly using social networks to gather information on potential and current candidates (source, source, source, and source). Not only is this information being gathered, it is being used to make decisions. A 2011 study from Reppler and Lab42 produced some interesting findings about employer's use of social networking in the hiring process:
- 91% said they used social networking sites to screen prospective employees
- The three most popular social networking sites used by employers were (in order): Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin
- 69% said they have rejected a candidate because of what they saw on social networking sites, with the top reasons why including:
- Lied about qualifications
- Demonstrated poor communication skills
- Posted negative comments about a previous employer
- Posted inappropriate or discriminatory comments or photos
- Conversely, 68% said they hired a candidate because of what they saw about them on social networking sites. The most common reasons here including:
- Gave a positive impression on being a good fit for the role
- Profile supported their professional qualifications
- Profile showed candidate was creative
- Showed solid communication skills
Some companies are even taking this further and using tactics like asking (demanding?) candidate's usernames and passwords so they can browse all of their private information, asking or requiring that you friend them, or creating an application you must use which will give them privileged information. If you find yourself in this situation, with rare exceptions perhaps such as law enforcement, do yourself and favor and get up and walk out immediately as it is a sign that the company doesn't value its employees and is too cheap to pay for a background check.
Clearly, the majority of recruiters will look for information about candidates on social networks, so the answer here is not to shutdown your social media accounts or crank the privacy way up. Instead, you should accept that employers are looking at your online social profiles and learn how to use that to your advantage.
Rather than give detailed instructions, or insights into the inner-workings of different social networks, which will likely become outdated in a short while as these sites and the web itself evolves, I'll just introduce several different sites and give some general tips which will help you take control and build your online professional profile.
First off, it is important to distinguish between public information vs. private or privileged information. Not everything you post on social networks is public information. Most social networks provide different privacy controls. These controls are different for each site and are changing all the time. You'll have to familiarize yourself with these controls and occasionally keep up with important privacy changes sites make. Generally, information which only you can see could be termed private. Information which you share out to specific friends you have connected with could be termed privileged. While a lot of people focus on privacy on social networks, the profile you want to cultivate for recruiters is your public information. You want this information to be found and accessible by anyone.
To test what your public profile looks like, some sites have a "view my public profile" link or button. Otherwise, you'll have to log out and go to your public page. Having different browsers (e.g. IE/Firefox/Chrome) will let you view your public profile without having to log out and in all the time.
Although private or privileged information generally isn't viewable by recruiters, social networks are always redefining what is public information or accessible to 3rd parties. So I find it is best just to ask yourself, "What would an employer think about this?" before posting information. Think before you post.
Do's and Don'ts
First off, some do's and don'ts based off of the study referenced above:
- Don't use derogatory or inappropriate language. This is good life advice in general. Do your part to make the internet a better place.
- Don't ever post negative things about your current/former employer or fellow employees. Besides being mean-spirited and totally unprofessional, you'll send potential recruiters running.
- Don't overuse slang and/or internet memes. Use some discretion here.
- Don't lock down or delete your online profiles. Disappearing from the internet won't help you with recruiters. Unless you've done enough of these don'ts that you're better off just starting fresh.
- Don't post sensitive or proprietary information about your employer.
- Don't use a photo you took of yourself in the mirror of your bathroom for your profile pictures.
- Do try to use proper grammar and spelling. I know the internet is all about slang, abbreviations, and memes, but try to find a balance. This is especially important if your field of expertise is writing, public relations, politics, etc.
- Do speak as if you actually care about what you're talking about.
- Do fill in your likes and interests to reflect what you are passionate about in your career.
- Do link to your landing site (see below) and other online professional profiles you have.
- Do post public updates on what you are learning about in your field. Not only is this a good way to demonstrate that you are passionate about your field, it will help you stay current.
- Do "Like" or "Follow" prominent figures, organizations, companies, technologies in your field. Where possible, join alumni groups of companies you've worked for in the past. This fills out your profile and is another good way to stay sharp as you get updates from those sources.
- Do use a consistent quality photo of yourself for your online profiles.
It's very likely you've already joined. If you're a late to the joiner like I was, have avoided it all together, or otherwise aren't interested, simply create an account and just use it professionally. Look at it as merely a part of your online professional profile. If you're an avid Facebook user, pay attention to what employers stated they are (or are not) looking for and build your public Facebook profile accordingly.
Facebook has the concept of friend lists (thanks Google+). This can be helpful in judiciously selecting whom you send posts to. It can be easy to only post to the same restricted group of friends. Be sure to post public information which will be accessible to recruiters.
Learn more about Facebook privacy:
This site is the go-to professional social network site. Rather than just being about friends, this site is geared around resumes and professional contacts or networks. It is heavily used by recruiters and companies. It's surprising how small the world can be and what opportunities can be opened to you simply through the network of people whom you've worked with. This is why it is crucial to build strong, positive relationships with those whom you work or have worked with. Setting up your profile here can take longer since it involves importing or building your resume. See my post on resumes for tips on how to make your resume easier to upload and/or import.
For help getting started with Linkedin:
Twitter is a bit different since it is about short and quick status updates (140 characters or less). This site is a great way to follow your industry. The major exception to the above do's and don'ts is the total abandonment of grammar. With only 140 characters to cram your tweets into, you'll find people get pretty creative with their abbreviations. There can be a bit of a learning curve with becoming familiar with the tweeting style. But once you get the hang of it, you'll see how powerful tweets can be.
For guides on how to have effective tweets:
Some people feel Google+ is just a clone of Facebook. However, Google+ was, in my opinion, the reason why Facebook added friend lists. Competition is good, so I say do the same kinds of things on Google+ and keep the competition alive. Google+ also has the benefit of being run by the search giant of the internet. The potential for search-ability of your Google+ profile is high.
Here's an excellent guide to get you started:
With all of these online profiles, it can be very necessary to provide one single profile landing page which then links out to your other profiles. This way you avoid cluttering up your resume by only putting one link. For this site, it is important to let your creative side out. An aesthetically pleasing page (appropriate for your industry) can really establish a positive connection with any recruiter or company searching. If you're going to put a photo of yourself on here, go get a nice professional portrait. This photo can be different since About.me allows you to use a large, full-screen image. This kind of personal landing page can serve as a kind of online cover page.
Being a web-professional, instead of using About.me I built my own site by hand. If you are in the web industry, a custom-crafted personal site can act as a kind of portfolio piece.
Whatever you use for your profile landing page, you generally won't be coming back regularly to connect with other people or post new content. Set it up once, really nail it, and let it make great first impressions for you.
Here are some quick links to help you see what this site is all about:
- https://about.me/directory/ (great examples of about.me profiles pages)
Since these two sites were created prior to the introduction of social networking, they are a bit antiquated. These sites are mostly just a place to go upload your resume. Many recruiters and companies do pull resumes from the databases of these sites, so I say it is still worth the effort. You'll spend less time on these sites since you don't need to come back regularly to follow people or post new content.
Doing all of this and getting it "just right" can take the better part of a week or more. I've skipped over the details of how exactly to configure your profile for each site, so you'll need to read up on all of the different features available (use the resources links). By understanding how companies use social networks and using them to your advantage, you can build an online profile that will have a positive impact on your job search as well as your ongoing industry reputation.
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Next: Your Professional Network