You’ve heard rumors of an employer looking through an applicant’s social media sites for background about what he or she is “really” like, but maybe you still don’t believe it’s common practice. Whether you’re just out of school or a professional looking to change jobs or even careers, you need to know the truth about how employers consider your online presence as part of the application process. We talked to experts around the country to find out what employers look at in a candidate’s online profile—and how it can help or hurt your chances of success.
Do employers look at job candidates’ online presence? If so, what are the best ways for applicants to shine online?
The majority of recruiters are actively looking at applicants’ social media presence
Vince Smith, OutMatch, @OutmatchHCM
Everybody now has some sort of a online presence, and nothing is private. Anything you post online through any kind of platform lives forever out there, and it turns out that employers are actively researching this information to really get some more well-rounded information about a particular kid.
Many use it for the forces of good, to find out if you’re going to be a good fit with their company. But there’s also a lot of evidence that they’re looking to screen out people if they find things that aren’t to their liking. BuzzFeed put out an infographic showing 76 percent of recruiters are actively looking at a person’s online presence when they’re considering them for a job—and about 70 percent have used that information to dismiss candidates from the process, with the top reasons being provocative or inappropriate photos and commentary about drinking and drugs. The other negative that comes up is slandering colleagues or your employer. So if you get into a heated argument with people you work with and vent about it on one of your social media channels, guess what? Employers are looking at that, and they’re dismissing you from the application process when they find that information.
On the positive side, there are active steps you can take to build a positive cyber footprint. There are a lot of social media platforms out there, but LinkedIn is the most used by recruiters, and there are a lot of discussions, forums and groups on LinkedIn. People post questions about different topics within their line of work. So I recommend people go on there and join the groups, participate in those conversations, and have something to add. That immediately brings you up a notch in the minds of recruiters. If you’re familiar with the app Quora, go onto that, too. If you can answer a question on Quora that relates to your particular industry, that’s the kind of thing that gets read, and you will get caught doing something positive in the sphere that you’re in. Still another one I like a lot is an app called Medium. It’s really just a place for people to write, but if you write about things you love and are passionate about, others will find and read it, and you’ll be noticed. So it is pretty easy these days to make yourself highly visible about the things you’re passionate about and the work you want to do. That’s how you’re going to get “caught” in a positive way.
Use social media platforms to show your expertise
Jennifer Bouley, Bouley-Mak Consulting and Coaching, @BouleyMakCoach
In Toronto, I’m really involved in HR communities, and I’ve actually found entry level professionals who are just out of university and have all these amazing ideas in what they post. One student I recently met had a blog that was so well written. They had no idea—they thought they didn’t have any talent. But when I found what they’d written on the Internet, I was really impressed.
Here are three of my best tips on how to shine online:
- Take part in activities that are meaningful to your career. Employers are consistently looking for people who want to grow and be part of the team. So you really need to show your expertise. Go to LinkedIn, go into Facebook, go into Twitter, and take part in industry conversations. You never know who is watching, and you could possibly get noticed by the right person which could lead to an opportunity
- Watch your spelling and grammar. People tend to look out for that kind of thing. It shows attention to detail
- Make sure you’re consistent, and that the things you’re talking about don’t have a conflict of interest
Be positive on social media, and employers will want you on their team
Stan Kimer, Total Engagement Consulting
When HR people are looking at people they’re going to hire, they look for the overall impression that the person gives on social media. Are they positive? Are they upbeat? Do they say supportive things to their friends? Do they support worthy causes? Does this person come across as someone who’s going to be a positive team player in their environment?
I also want to share some of the negatives that companies can look at that can disqualify a candidate. Do they exhibit sexist, racist or homophobic attitudes that could make it hard for them to work within a diverse environment? For instance, I once wrote a blog about figure skaters, because I follow figure skating and am a figure skater myself. Some people wrote nasty comments like, “Figure skating is so gay,” “What’s so difficult about prancing around in pretty clothes?” or “It’s not really a sport.” And my first thought was, I would never hire someone like that, because if they’re exhibiting homophobic attitudes, would they get along with gay co-workers in a diverse environment? Meanwhile, they’re spouting out about things they know nothing about. I’m afraid if I hired them, they might get bad information and then act like an authority on something they don’t know anything about and share that with co-workers and clients.
This is not to say you can’t disagree with people, and there are some very lively discussions on social media in terms of discussing issues. But discuss issues in a mature way, without name calling or putting people down. That’s what I look for in a job candidate’s online presence.