I am sure, like most of you reading this and probably most people in the world, you did what I did this morning when the alarm sounded—roll over, grab your device of choice and check Facebook or Twitter. Whose birthday is it? Did someone comment on my comment? Did my friend have anything entertaining happen on the subway ride into work this morning?
The immediacy of social media is equal parts blessing and curse. We can stay connected with friends and family no matter where on the globe we are, receive breaking news as it happens, interact with persons of similar interests and even stalk ex’s. Well, maybe we shouldn’t admit to the latter.
There is, however, a downside to all this personal information being so readily available. I am not talking about the public figure who tweets something stupid and has to backtrack and apologize, or the celebrity whose nude photos go viral. I am referring to How our presence on social media can help or hinder our chances for employment. This is something many of us have probably never given much thought to.
For the past seventeen years, I have worked in the fields of public relations and career counseling, where I have witnessed firsthand the pains and positives of a social media presence. In PR, harnessing the power of social media is crucial in establishing and maintaining brand identity, product evangelism, networking with potential markets and stakeholders, and yes, spying on the competition.
For a career counselor, social media offers a plethora of online job leads, listservs and other tools for job seekers and recruiters
You have probably heard, most likely from your mother or other parental figure, that first impressions are lasting impressions. This is especially true when dealing with potential employers where we may have 30 seconds or less to make that first impression. This includes face to face interaction, over the telephone, and yes through email or social media. How we present ourselves in these various situations can make the difference between getting an interview and being relegated to the bottom of the resume slush pile. It may seem unfair, but it is reality: especially now when employers can be extremely picky about who they choose. Employers want the best candidate, professionally and personally.
So what does all of this have to do with social media? What does what I put on Facebook, Twitter and even my email address and signature have to do with anything? Isn’t what I do in my private life, post in my private life…well…private? The answer is yes and no.
In the world of social media, there is no true privacy. Once you hit the post, Tweet, or send button, it is out there, and will be out there for a very long time.
And yes, employers do look at your profile. There are services dedicated to repairing online reputations, but the best advice is to try and avoid gaining such a reputation. So before you start actively job hunting, take stock of your social media and ask the question is there something here I don’t want a potential employer to see or hear?
Take heart though, it’s not all doom and gloom and going no mail. Social media can be an extremely effective tool for job seekers, but like any tool it needs to be used wisely.
Let’s start with something simple– email and voicemail. We like to think our email and voicemails are an extension of ourselves—a sort of vanity plate. A creative voice mail greeting, or funny email address reflecting our interests or personality. I can’t tell you how many times I have called a client and had to sit through five minutes of a song, a greeting from the cat, and the worst one of all—the dreaded hello, hello, making the caller think someone has answered the phone. Frankly, I don’t have time for this and neither do recruiters. A simple greeting with name, phone number, and a polite request to leave a message is far more professional. If you land the job, then you can celebrate with a more creative greeting if you so wish.
Emails. It’s fun to select an email address that is totally you. I have been Princess Bonnie, paseana—name of a favorite horse at email provider.com. All very innocent but not terribly professional. Other email addresses can be a little more risqué and could raise flags with potential employers. You may think of yourself as a red-hot mamma or stud muffin, but do you really want that on a resume or job application, or popping up in a potential employer’s inbox? After all, you want paid employment, not a date, right? The people you are sending your resume to don’t know you. It may be perfectly innocent. Red hot momma may refer to your love of hot foods or the band red hot chili peppers. Remember Amanda Knox? After she was arrested for the murder of her roommate, it came out that her screen name was Foxy Knoxy. The media had a field day with this even though it was a nickname given to her by her soccer teammates for her cunning on the soccer field and not a sexual reference. An extreme example, but you get the point.
I always advise clients to set up a separate email account from their personal one for job related activities. There are many free email services, and the advantage of these is all the job related correspondence are organized in one central locale. If you decide to change Internet providers, you can always keep this email address. Just remember to check it.
When signing email correspondence, less is better. If you have qualifications—MA, MFA, or Ph.D. nothing wrong with putting this after your electronic signature, but keep the quotes, jokes etc. for some other time.
Many guide dog handlers love adding the name of their four-legged companion to email correspondence. This is perfectly fine for friends, family, and guide dog related listservs, but has no place when communicating with employers. A former supervisor told me of an incident where he was reluctant to interview a job candidate because of this, because it just didn’t look or sound professional. This next section is more controversial, and I am sure will generate lots of thoughtful commentary–behavior on social media—Twitter, Facebook, and whatever other network people are using.
You are What You Tweet. Twitter is fun, fast and a great way to immediately follow news and events and publically interact with likeminded individuals. Unless you protect your tweets, anyone can see your Twitter timeline, and it is archived in the Library of Congress for posterity. Trust me, employers do look on social media sites. It isn’t hard. A Google of a candidate’s name will easily pull up their Twitter profile. Employers do look at what people Tweet, retweet, and how one interacts with others. You can also search for certain keywords on Twitter. When I worked in PR, one of my jobs was to follow what was said about the organization on social media. Sometimes it was positive, sometimes it wasn’t, which was ok, but remember if you are dissing someone or something it could reflect negatively on you. It is alright to disagree with an individual or organization. We still have free speech in this country, but be professional and try to stay away from flaming others. No one likes a troll, and I am not referring to the ones encountered on the bridge by the three billy goats.
What if I don’t use my real name on Twitter? Yes, you could do this and post a cartoon avatar of yourself, but Twitter can be useful for job seekers so wouldn’t it be easier to just have one account and be polite?
Facebook is another conversation entirely. In some ways, Facebook is more private and personal than Twitter. On Facebook, one can control what audience sees one’s posts—public, friends, and even a select group of friends. But there are risks with Facebook as well.
We like to feel Facebook is a safe haven to vent our feelings, our frustrations with friends– a private sounding board.
Who are your friends? I am not trying to imply court intrigue here, but we all add people we don’t know or don’t know well to FB. I’m not saying any of your friends have malicious intent, but again once you post something, it is out there, and they can share it, their friends can share it and so on and so on.
Here is a hypothetical example:
You interviewed for a great job with company X. The interview went well, you have made it to the final round, references checked, police background checked. You are on top of the world, victory is in your grasp. You don’t make it. It happens. For whatever reason, they have decided not to hire you. They may give you a reason, they may not, and you are understandably disappointed, furious, how could they not hire you of all people? Your first reaction is to take to Facebook or other social media and blast the company for their bad decision. Not smart. You never want to burn bridges even if you think no one from the company can see your posts. Someone could easily share your post with someone from the company. This holds true for listservs—even members only ones. People can and do forward messages. I have seen it done with very negative consequences. In the world of the Internet, perhaps the best advice is to pick up the phone and call a friend. Yes, the NSA may be listening but that’s a whole different post.
Ok, is this blog post making you want to go delete all your social media accounts? Well, that is not the purpose at all. Social media can be extremely helpful when actively seeking employment. It is a great way to get your name out there through services such as Linked In, listservs etc. If you are interested in particular jobs or companies, follow Twitter accounts or like pages related to these jobs or companies. They will notice. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. HR and PR personnel do monitor these accounts and often post jobs before they are advertised on the company website. Happy hunting, and remember it’s not just big brother anymore but everyone who is watching.