In a nutshell, smart companies will use as much information as they can find to make a sound hiring decision.
Employers view each hire as an investment, and they don’t want to make a mistake -- too expensive and inconvenient.
Providing them information that convinces them to hire you (versus run away from you) is always a smart choice.
Hiring managers will use any publicly available information to learn more about you.
They may never share that they learned something about you they did not like. If they have two finalists for a position, and one has a “clean social media image,” and the other complains about their current workplace….well, I think you know how this story ends.
This is not to say that you must forgo having a social media presence if you’re a job seeker. Your world practically expects you to post pictures from your trips, highlights from your kid’s soccer game, or even an occasional observation about things that aren’t quite right.
But you must think of your social media Personality as an extension of your real personality.
The good news is you can leverage social media to build your image as much as to wreck it. You can blog about positive things or suggestions on how to improve tough situations. You can share interesting articles you’ve read about your industry. You can show how extraverted or friendly you are.
Many candidates say they are a “people person.” If so, one would expect them to have pictures from gatherings, conferences, and other relevant and appropriate events. Of course, you need to use judgment in all cases to project the right image. Being a "people person" is not the same as partying all the time or drinking too much.
Consider the visibility your social media participation provides to be an opportunity to publish "marketing collateral" on YOU as the product.
Using social media, discover new and creative ways to promote yourself.
Non-requested reference checking happens, and there’s no stopping it.
In social media, there is a history, too. You can’t assume that your rants are contained to only your social media buddies, tweeps, friends, connections, followers. Also, don’t look at history as a single event (one complaint does not define you as a complainer). Think of history as a string of events or comments that build into a perception or tone you project.
The legal side is still a bit murky. There are “protected characteristics” such as gender and race—areas in which employers cannot use observations within social media to influence their hiring process.
However, statements or pictures on your profile showing some “lack of sound judgement” cannot be unseen, and do influence hiring decisions.
A recent study by CareerBuilder shared that 70% of employers screen candidates using social media. The same percentage are thought to use online search engines to research the candidates, as well. So this practice is not going to change for some time.
There are ways to make things private and keep to trusted groups, but many ignore this option and leave themselves open to scrutiny.
My viewpoint is simple. In a competitive landscape for top jobs, if it came down to a tie between you and someone else, would you want your social media image knocking you out of contention?
Companies are more and more concerned about “cultural fit” within their company. Resumes do not tell the whole story about who you are.
Resumes often do not include your interests and hobbies, your curiosities about the world around you, your interests in travel, cooking, singing, and web design. All these things can be viewed as strong positives towards your fit within a company.
Outdoor equipment sellers certainly love candidates who love the outdoors, right? Some companies I have worked with love candidates with a zany sense of humor. A candidate who moonlights at an improve comedy club might be viewed as the perfect candidate -- even if she’s short on a few technical requirements.
So companies look at candidate social profiles to find these answers. They look at your Facebook profile (if they can), they may follow you on Twitter or Instagram (or expect you to follow them). They may read your blog.
They most certainly read your LinkedIn profile (and expect very little personal material to show up there beyond hobbies, special interest, and volunteering). All in effort to get to know you.
They may even do this ahead of an interview invitation. They may do this during the interviewing process (with or without your consent).
This process can be viewed as positive. Many companies find information that encourages them to make the hire. They want to find candidate’s professional qualifications scattered throughout their profiles. Employers seek the creativity or positive images a candidate may present.
However, while the hiring team may not be looking for anything negative, half the time they do find it. Anything from lies about qualifications to posting constantly during the workday to references to illegal drugs. What they find is up to you.
I do not really rely on social media for the answers to “fit” questions. I think interviews, if conducted well, can be very telling.
But at times, if I need to learn more, I’ll ask the candidates where I can learn more about them. Or they’ll even offer it. It might be their portfolio, their tech projects, or personal blog.
Some send me “friend” requests as they want to show off their personality. Some “air their dirty laundry” with me to evaluate if it is a deal-breaker.
But not all candidates get to talk to a recruiter before being presented for a job. Many don’t even know they are being evaluated in many ways before they get granted an interview. Some companies even have you take a personality index survey online to better understand you.
As the social media landscape continues to evolve, it is becoming entwined in our personal identity. Whether it be for professional reputation or social interaction, our activity in these online worlds are viewed by many for different reasons. More now than ever. With this in mind, it makes more sense than ever to maintain your good reputation as a reliable and smart potential employee for some company that may not even exist yet.
Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz) and on GooglePlus.