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?

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