Monday, November 22, 2010

Social Media Searches are Becoming Mainstream in the Interview Process: Tips & Watch outs for both Employers and Job Seekers

 Multiple personalities online: what does your Google search results, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter & LinkedIn (etc) profile say about you? As a potential candidate, what are some cautions to be aware of? As a perspective employer, how can you use these sites to check out candidates before forwarding that final offer letter? Read on to find out!

Our social media profiles each have a voice or an indication of the personality behind the profile. The implication of living our lives in online spaces is that the internet is permanent. Even if you press delete, that information has been stored on a server and is never truly GONE. What does this mean for potential employers or job seekers?

Young adults (25+), who are social media savvy, are tending to use twitter to make plans/update their networks versus sending SMS/text messages or emails. Relationships tend to be more open than ever before.  In this, there are consequences that conversations between 2 individuals are now available for the world to see. For job seekers, this has strong implications as you are no longer controlling all of the information that an employer can use to make a hiring decision. Previously, perspective candidates told the story they wanted shared by writing a cover letter, formatting a resume of their experience & engaging their potential employer in an interview. Now many companies include social media searches in their job decisions before formalizing an offer letter.  What do you need to know as a candidate to ensure you don’t lose that hire offer when you had an amazing interview but they turn up information online that makes them worry you might be a bit of a loose cannon!?

Below are my thoughts for you job seekers on what these sites tell employers about you as a potential candidate. As an employer, I have also given tips to using these sites to check out potential employees. One big lesson for employers is don’t use social media searches as a deciding factor. Good employers balance social media insights with a candidate’s CV & interview. They use social media sites to gauge liability/culture fit and see if the candidate is as button down as that interview suggested! Below I will review the mainstream sites being Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and LinkedIn providing a brief summary of what might be out there and some cautions to both candidates and employers in order of least to most important sites:
·     Most employers at the very least complete a Google Search on potential candidates. Have you ever Googled your own name to see what comes up? Lesson #1 - Know what’s out there! Employers - using a name to do a Google search is not a guaranteed match as unless there is a photo or other clear identifying data, you don’t know that the found information is actually attached to your particular “Jane Smith.” This is one of the least indicative ways to see your candidate in their online life. The more senior the candidate, the more relevant this space is especially if they claim to be an “expert” in a given field and thus should have speaking engagements promoted online.
·     As a candidate, Foursquare lets people know your neighborhood/places you spend time, which tells them how you live your life and the things that are important to you. This site is really about someone’s personal life versus their professional persona. If you are hiring someone who claims to be a real networker/a mover & shaker, this site can give you a great indication of where they might be spending time. Getting access to someone’s foursquare updates is tricky; however, most users allow foursquare to connect to their twitter and twitter is 99% an open network so the information can be found there.
·     As a candidate, Facebook is typically about your personal life - photos and visits with friends. This is where you probably really let loose. As a candidate, have a VERY STRONG privacy setting on this site to continue to live your life with only chosen “friends” having access to your photos of the party last weekend! Make smart decisions about your profile photo as most people can see it without being connected on Facebook – ensure that it isn’t a photo of you draped over a bottle of booze – as a candidate, is this the image you want to project? Most employers do a quick search on Facebook now-a-days; however, as a smart candidate don’t allow them much access. As an employer, understand this is a personal site about chosen “friends” and respect that your candidate has strong work-life separation!
·     I think that Twitter starts getting into a great social indicator of a potential candidate and their cultural fit. Not all candidates are on twitter so your search may create a big zero in the results department. For those active in this space, twitter is almost an entirely open network where people don’t protect their tweets so finding candidates is easy. Those who use it tend to balance the personal and professional and twitter becomes a bit of a bridge between Facebook & LinkedIn. As an employer, see what your candidate is into. As more and more companies are hiring people who claim to be “social media gurus” ensure they are! See how many followers they have & who they are (ensure they aren’t just spam accounts) and see who they are following. See if all they do is RT (retweet) or are they a content generator? See if they are in influencer – do others retweet them or are they mentioned?  Do they follow the social media rules of showing personality, creating transparency and authenticity and is their information relevant and timely? For potential candidates checking out a company, this is the best way to see the company’s culture & see if you might fit in with your potential colleagues!
·     LinkedIn = as professional as they come. This essentially is an online resume. I love doing searches on LinkedIn for potential hires because of the “recommendation” feature where previously clients, colleagues and managers can write up a reference through the site. This is a great way to see candidate’s perspective experience & how others worked for them. As a candidate, really work this website to get your profile to the 100% complete stage by listing all previous experience & asking some key contacts for recommendations highlighting specific skills or experiences that are relevant in your job search.

As a job seeking candidate, especially those in the millennial group (born 1986+) my major lessons are to “think before you post” and never “drink and post.” Nothing good ever comes of posts/updates done in the wee hours of the morning when your internal screening/filters are permanently in the “off” position!  As an employer, ensure you use social media sites as a temperature check but not the official hire decision. Balance the results with the CV and interview results. Gauge how important a social media search is based on the role you are hiring for.

Did this post help you as a potential employer on understanding how to find information on candidates? Candidates, did this tell you a few cautionary tales of where employers are seeking information & how to guard some (like Facebook) and showcase others (like LinkedIn). Do you think it’s fair that employers use social media searches in their job hunts?


  1. Great article Chelsea. Gave me a nice excuse to do a quick check of the consistency, messaging and appropriate use of all my social media fronts. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for reading Steven! We are living our lives online in such a major way in today's day and age but need to be careful about which information is OPEN and which is more protected to create a boundary between work/personal in how much we share!

  3. Great article, Chelsea! I especially like your advice for Twitter. You were instrumental in helping me understand the importance of not just taking a Twitter account at face value. It says something about the person to see how many followers they have, and more importantly, how actively they participate in the Twitterverse. There is more of a strategy to Twitter than simply following hundreds of people and/or following everyone who follows you.

    Thanks for this great reminder!

  4. Thanks Chelsea. Great reminder and article! I've just recently started to use twitter myself and I'm slowly starting to learn about the benefits of using this particular media source to pitch myself. Hope you're doing well in T.O. friend.

  5. Thanks for the comments Kendra & Patrick! This article got a lot of hits via twitter so social media must be working!!!