A graduating senior applying for a position completed a successful phone interview and travelled to a face-to-face interview with the company. Instead of an interview, the candidate was told upon arrival that the company had discovered ‘inappropriate’ posts and behavior in his social media. The candidate was directly rebuked and dismissed without any hope of ever obtaining a position in the company.
Yes, this is a true story from a CEO, who had wished they had looked at social media earlier in the process.
Go ahead, Google yourself. Search for what can be found publicly using the web and within all of the social media tools that you use. Open a new tab on your browser and then continue reading this post.
More than knowledge, skills, and accomplishments, companies need to have employees that meet their corporate values. Employees are the corporation. They need to work together, share a similar work ethic, trust each other, and be a representative of the corporation. Resumes and applications help define an individual’s skills and accomplishments. This has long been the traditional method to identify candidates, based upon what an individual can provide an employer. Keywords and selected answers to questions on applications are used to screen all applicants to help derive a pool of candidates based upon skills and accomplishments. But resumes, cover letters and applications do not tell the whole story about an individual. These items only define ‘what’ a person has done and is capable of doing. What’s missing is the understanding of ‘who’ a person really is, to determine if they will meet their prospective employer’s values.
Interviews have traditionally been the method to identify ‘who’ a person is. Meeting an applicant in a candid atmosphere is more than a test to discover if a person really has the skills and accomplishments to do the job. An interview is also about listening, watching, and engaging individuals to understand the person, their values, and if they can work well within the company. Interviews are still an important part of the hiring process. The challenge is that interviews consume a lot of manpower and time with a low return on investment. Everyone’s time has to be scheduled. Media or transportation requirements have to be arranged. This all takes a lot of time and effort, extending the hiring process. If ten applicants are to be interviewed, with only one to be hired, that is a ten percent return on the amount of time and manpower utilized.
Today, social media can be used to identify ‘who’ fits the corporate values before the interview process. Using social media will help companies find better qualified candidates as well as reduce costs, providing a better return on investment.
Corporate recruiters are learning to “Google” an applicant and check major social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ for applicant profiles before conducting interviews. What the searches reveal about an applicant is anything, and everything, that the applicant or others share about themselves. What comes up in the search also depends upon Search Engine Optimization (SEO), as the order of the results has a lot to do with activity. Several people could have the same name, making it hard to distinguish which profile is the applicant.
Not having anything appear is just as bad as having inappropriate material. What the recruiters are looking for is, ‘who’ is this person? If they cannot find anything to support ‘who’ you are, there is less likelihood of getting an interview. Applicants that can be found and have a good social media presence are more likely to get an interview.
Think before you link
The best method for students, or any career-oriented individual, is to take ownership of their social media presence. Developing a good social media presence requires students, and all career-oriented individuals, to establish a professional persona and to maintain activity to increase SEO. This is not something students should attempt in their senior year. They should start as a freshman.
A professional persona establishes a student as a responsible, knowledgeable, and interested individual, providing a glimpse of ‘who’ they are related to their career interests. A student may already have social media accounts that have been used on a personal basis. These can be ‘locked’ down to a certain extent, but previous content that had been public may still be available to others that have already viewed it. Once something is made public online, it can never be fully taken away.
SEO can be achieved by maintaining an active presence using social media tools. In all social media accounts, including LinkedIn, activity in the site boosts SEO. This activity can be as simple as ‘liking’ another post, sharing or creating a new post, or commenting on other posts. These are all activities that can be related to a student’s classes or career ambitions.
Another simple task is to include links to the social media tools used for a professional persona on resumes, cover letters, and applications. Some companies are beginning to include links to sites in applications. As an example, a student using Twitter would include their professional handle, such as @dominele, in their resume and cover letter. Students using this simple technique have gained interviews and job offers faster than those who have not.
Nonetheless, a tool is only as good as how it is used. The lure of technology has captivated students to use social media for pleasure. Often it has not been considered a tool, but a toy. Social media is often only seen as a playground in which these toys can be used.
As the business world becomes more ‘social’, it is important for students of today to recognize that social media is not just a playground and that technology is not a toy. We must teach students to take ownership of a professional persona and to use social media wisely. Their future careers quite likely could depend on it.
Larry Domine is an IT professional and faculty member at Milwaukee Area Technical College