Social Media and the Hiring Process

by Ken Mueller on February 13, 2012 · 25 comments

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The other day I got a call from an acquaintance of mine, asking me about someone who had applied for a job with their business. I was kind of curious because I knew that there was no way the individual in question would have put me down as a reference for a job search. At all.

I asked the caller why they had reached out to me, and I was told that they were checking up on the applicant and saw that we had engaged on various social platforms from time to time, and since they trusted my judgement, they wanted to hear what I thought about the applicant. They didn’t want to rely solely on the “approved” references provided by the applicant. They wanted a more realistic, well-rounded group of opinions.

I have no clue who else they called, either off the record, like me, or from the “official” list of references which was provided to them, and I have no clue as to the outcome of employment or not. I just know that the process of hiring and applicant screening has changed, both for the prospective employee and the employer.

This is a sign of the times.

I’ve been on both the job-seeking and hiring ends of the equation, and references are an important part of the process. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we  have to admit that the reference portion of the job search can be rather one-sided. As applicants, we choose our references based on those whom we think will give us a good recommendation. I know I’m certainly not going to put down someone as a reference if I think they’ll trash me!

But times have changed. If you’re looking for a job, prospective employers WILL check out your online presence. You will be Googled. Your Facebook, Twitter, blog, and LinkedIn will be checked out, as much as they can be based on your privacy settings. Then of course, if you have your privacy settings locked down tight, will your prospective employer wonder why? Will they wonder if you’re trying to hide something? And they will look for anything that contradicts the facts as you present them on your résumé.

A while back I had a friend who was hiring, and had it narrowed down to two candidates. A quick Google search raised some legal red flags on one of them in a different state. It was something that had been brought up in the interview process, but the facts as they appeared online were enough to give the other candidate the edge.

While I’m not hiring right now, I know that if I were, I’d be interested in not only how you look online, but how you engage with others. Not only would I want to know how well you handle social media, but how you mishandle it. Are you who you say you are? Or do you merely “clean up well”.

In this particular case, the employer did some research, knew that I had had online dealings with the candidate, and reached out to me for an opinion, and I obliged. Employers can now check Twitter and Facebook profiles to see if you might have any friends in common. Sure, you can provide your own references, but we can find our own references (personal and professional) as well, whether you like it or not. This helps us get a much more complete picture of who you really are.

We live in an age where more employers are requiring psychological testing, background checks, drug screening, and more, as conditions for employment. We should certainly expect that our prospective employers will be checking us out online. They’ve read our resumes and heard our answers during an interview. Now they want to know if we’re capable of walking the talk, and our online presence will offer a lot of clues. They will research prospective hires the same way they research customers.

If you’re an employer: Use the tools available to you. Google your prospects. Find them on various social platforms. If you have any friends in common, contact them and ask the same questions you would ask of the references provided to you by the candidate. You are trying to hire the best possible person, and social media provides you with more channels for checking up on them. Nearly everything that appears on a résumé could be verifiable online. Taking the time to check now could save a lot of time and headaches later.

If you’re hunting for jobs: Don’t be afraid of the Internet. Have a strong social presence, but remember that what you put online, and how you behave, might be considered by employers and can either hurt you or help you. Try to avoid being negative, critical, or passive aggressive. Use your social presence to demonstrate a positive personality, as well as the skills and knowledge you tout on your resume. We now live in a time when your personal online presence should be an asset to your employer. In fact, I would say it might be good to include a list of your social profiles as part of your résumé. Hopefully it’s just a matter of being real.

Are there any other changes you’ve seen in the area of employment as the result of social media?

 Social Media and the Hiring Process
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24 comments
TheJackB
TheJackB

It is definitely something that has become a part of the job seeking and hiring process. If you are looking for a job you would be foolish not to check out your prospective employer.

At the same time there are legitimate concerns. Let's say that I start a page that says Joe Blow is a liar, a cheat and a douchebag. That is the kind of thing that a busy person might take at face value and even though it is not true it could sink your chances at being hired.,

lerosier9
lerosier9

@kmueller62 Thanks for writing this! Great insight into the importance of #SocialMedia in today's world. Going to share this article. :)

LizJostes
LizJostes

I love that you wrote about this because it's something so few people seem to think about. And I'm all about keeping it real and I'm certainly not perfect (nor do I try to be) when I tweet, etc., but I'm constantly amazed at how some people sometimes behave on social media. I also feel that it can be easy to "forget" that your tweets are public and that they are accessible for a long, long time following being tweeted.

I think some are so used to chatting back and forth with their SoMe friends that it's almost like it's their own private forum.

jonspatton
jonspatton

"You will be Googled. Your Facebook, Twitter, blog, and LinkedIn will be checked out, as much as they can be based on your privacy settings. Then of course, if you have your privacy settings locked down tight, will your prospective employer wonder why? Will they wonder if you’re trying to hide something? And they will look for anything that contradicts the facts as you present them on your résumé."

Every time I read something like this, I just have a serious WTF moment.

First, the idea that people are incapable of separating their private life from their personal life used to be taken as a given. There's a saying "Never mix business with pleasure" for a reason. At some point, people were expected to be paragons of virtue at all times in case one of their friends snaps a picture of them. This was bad enough.

Now, it seems, turning on your privacy functions so that you can maintain some level of control over your private and public lives might disqualify you for a job because that looks suspicious.

Employers should be discouraged from doing stuff like this. It's been discouraged in personal relationships and in the "real world" for years - the word for it is "stalking."

It's only a matter of time before someone gets passed over for a job because they tweeted that they voted for someone the employer doesn't like, or because they're openly gay and the employer doesn't like that, or whatever. They're called "private" lives for a reason. Shooting yourself (you = employer, not Ken) in the foot because you disagree with someone's personal actions is ridiculous. Hire them based on their past work performance. And if you can't trust the references they give you, then hire someone with references you can trust.

Shonali
Shonali

I think the interactions one has online are really telling. And thank you for the "being real" reference, because you could put a lot of effort into being "sunshiny" online, yet not coming across as real, or as someone others would want to engage more... right? And if you're job-hunting, then I think most employers would look for that quality.

Latest blog post: Getting Back on the Right Path

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer

This is a great post, Ken. And spot on. We are constantly checking people out online - not only prospective employees, but potential vendor partners, etc. And what we see online tells us a lot about you, even before we speak with you. Do you have a website? Do you blog? How's your writing? I recently was recommended to a PR pro in St. Louis but when I went to her website, I noticed a typo in the first sentence of her home page. If I'm hiring someone who writes for a living .. that gives me pause.

In any event, all great points here - thanks for sharing!

Shelly

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@LizJostes I have to say, I've personally chosen NOT to do business with certain individuals because of the fact that they come across as jerks, or act in a way that I would consider to be unprofessional. These are public platforms, for goodness sake.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jonspatton I just think this is the reality of the situation. And when you tweet, it is public and it is a reflection on who you are. If someone has a belligerent or passive aggressive or argumentative tone on Twitter, that is a reflection of who they are.

I think we are beyond the point where we can draw a neat little line between our personal and private lives. I think we tried for decades, if not longer, and it's a false dichotomy. There were always those back room dealings and understandings between people, and now they are just more out in the open.

I am kmueller62 on Twitter. I use that account for both business and pleasure. I use my Facebook, and other accounts for both as well. And i don't think I would derive any benefit at all from trying to totally separate the two.

And especially in the case I mention, the job was related to social media management. In this case it's even more important how you handle yourself online.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali I think for most folks, the way they behave online is "mostly" real. You can only put up a front so long before you let your guard down.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ShellyKramer Thanks, Shelly. We need to start thinking about how our entire online presence is really an ever-changing, living, breathing resume. And how we behave, well...it could change people's opinions about us overnight.

jonspatton
jonspatton

@KenMueller "And when you tweet, it is public and it is a reflection on who you are" Are you absolutely certain of that? Some people play characters online. Writers famously do this. Why? Because sometimes it's entertaining.

The idea that people are the same person in every forum and format is a new "problem" that didn't exist before an era when someone's various "personalities" can be viewed side by side in a browser window. I would argue people have always been like this for thousands of years and will continue to be like this because it's almost certainly a necessary part of social interaction to compartmentalize to some extent. People are complicated, usually more complicated than you'll ever get from them in person, and certainly more complicated than you can get from them by looking at their personal profile on Facebook.

I'm not talking about being duplicitous. I'm talking about assimilation and role playing. (Seriously, how many people are the same person around your parents as they are around their friends? The same person around their coworkers as their significant other?)

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

@KenMueller@jonspatton Ken - do you think it's possible to have a belligerent, passive-aggressive or argumentative tone about Ideas and Principles, rather than toward other human beings?

I try to strike a balance -- between an unapologetic attitude re: ideas or actions I see as unacceptable, and a gracious, humble and non-judgmental attitude toward others' choices or opinions.

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

@KenMueller@ShellyKramer Ken -- I really liked how @jasonkonopinski recently said he's grown tired of the platitudinous "white knight" syndrome being fraught online lately. Yes, as a job-seeker it's important to remain positive, and avoid negativity, passive-aggression or being overly critical.

On the same token, we're Human; and must always be genuine, as @Shonali's said time and again, "just Be Real."

I'm pretty aware I have a self-deprecating, irreverent, satirical tone/humor and approach to both life and my writing, and some people easily offend. But without critical thought, challenging others and getting under one another's skin within Context, would what we say matter as much? Affect/effect change? I'm not sure it would ...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jonspatton I am who I am. I take people at face value, and I've met hundreds of people in person after knowing them thru Twitter first, and my experiences, across the board, is that they are pretty much the same. I want to be the same.

I'm not saying that we don't reveal different things to different audiences, but at our core, I believe we are the same person. My wife might see a different side of me than my clients do, but I think they are seeing the same basic person. i have nothing to hide.

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

@KenMueller@jonspatton I agree. I am wary of the "lizard brain," especially because I grew up in an extremely passive-aggressive, judgmental over and undertone household. I remind myself when that begins to happen it only hurts you, not the object of such defensiveness. Appreciate the sage advice my good Man.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Byron Fernandez@KenMueller@jonspatton Well, I guess it depends upon your definition of those. I would say we can argue ideas without getting nasty or passive aggressive. In fact, getting like that weakens your argument. that's very different from being unapologetically passionate about an idea, but I think we need to be civil in our discourse at all times.

Byron Fernandez
Byron Fernandez

@jasonkonopinski@Byron Fernandez@KenMueller@ShellyKramer I'd interpret a key thing you said differently, Jason: You have not missed a single opportunity -- but Only Among Those in the Industry who Don't Judge you for being true, transparent and trustworthy professionally & personally.

So many others ask "so you would take a job at X agency" or "why can't you go work at Y."

And I never had much of a cohesive answer, b/c I didn't need one. I am Byron, embrace the Best and the Worst in who I am and my personality, and WILL NOT compromise that for those who either A) Don't share the same value set or B) Don't adhere to the same standards of performance or excellence.

In new media, PR, copywriting -- and any other industry that demanding -- you can either Sell Out, or refuse to settle for anything less than what you believe to drive and redefine golden Standard.

So I'd actually contend you've missed out on many "opportunities" -- but they weren't avenues you desired or would have ended up desiring anyway ...

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

@Byron Fernandez@KenMueller@ShellyKramer Thanks for the mention here, Byron. The take away is that it's very easy to do a quick search for any prospective employer/employee and get a pretty strong indication about their character. I've often said that I'm WYSIWYG when it comes to both my online and offline personality. Sometimes that means that a foul-mouthed tirade or a political bent. I can say without reservation that it has not cost me a single opportunity. Any online activity is done at your own risk - and I think that we, collectively, understand that risk. Of course, it's also a matter of what sort of job you're seeking. As a copywriter, I have very high standards for my work - and I absolutely judge the worth of a person based on how well they are able to articulate ideas, *especially* if they are in the communications/PR/marketing industry. If you publish to the social web, you had best be prepared to be measured vis-a-vis your content.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Byron Fernandez I'm certainly not calling for folks to be fake in any way. But we need to understand these things will be considered. Like I said, in this case, I had nothing to do with either the job being filled or the person being interviewed, other than the fact that the person hiring knew me, and knew I knew the other person. And they also had seen some troubling things online from the individual, and wanted my take on it. We can no longer expect that our resume, interview, and approved references will be the only factors considered.

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