Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are employers are watching your tweets?

It was once the case that a job seeker would write a covering letter, print off a résumé or CV and send it off in the post with the hope of securing a lucrative position. But with the advent of the Internet those seeking work were expected to email their application. As well as appropriate skills and qualifications, presentation is all important. Sending an email with attachments in different formats can be seen as unprofessional. Indeed some employers ask that the CV and supporting documents be converted into PDFs.

But the presentation skills employed in a job submission is only part of the story. Employers are becoming increasing selective as to how they choose potential candidates. There have always been faux pas. Some employers would discard any CV which used the full term Curriculum Vitae. Others might bin the application which stated "I have enclosed my CV for your perusal".

Indeed such quibbles are subjective and personal. But with the growth of social networking these issues are minor compared to the minefield confronting today's job seekers. Today they must learn to navigate the sometimes tricky issues of online discourse. Candidates must learn to promote themselves without giving the impression of being concerned only with oneself.

At the same time, they must be constantly vigilant about managing their online presence. Even the slightest mistake could discourage potential employers. And it is becoming a real issue. A 2008 survey carried out by found that more than one in five employers searched social networking sites to screen job candidates [Computer World].

With more people using social networking sites, it is easier for companies to vet applicants. And keeping things private may not always work. Inappropriate photographs posted on Facebook might be easily shared and redistributed.

But it is not just the drunken office party that might make the landing of that dream job impossible. The top areas of concern amongst employers include information posted about alcohol or drug use. Some 41% of managers said this was a top concern while inappropriate photos or other information posted on a candidate's page accounted for 40%. Poor communication skills posted in social media was an issue. Using emoticons and using text speak was a concern among 29% of employers.

The bad-mouthing of former employers or fellow employees and inaccurate qualifications would likely find the applicant being discarded immediately. The posting of links connected to criminal activity might be enough to remove the job seeker from the short-list. And even using unprofessional screen names could dissuade some employers from hiring.

Such concerns come on the back of comments made recently when Google's CEO suggested that some people might even need to change their name in the future. But these concerns over privacy and the snooping by employers into candidates' lives has also rattled some governments. Germany has announced it may prevent employer Facebook checks. The draft law on employee data security presented by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Wednesday is the government's latest attempt to address privacy concerns about online services

Anything posted in public would be considered fair game, such as postings on networks specifically created for business contacts like LinkedIn. In contrast, Germany is seeking to make it illegal to become a Facebook friend with an applicant in order to check out private details, de Maiziere said [AP].

Such a law might be difficult to enforce since it would be almost impossible to prove the reason why a candidate was not considered for a particular post.

Social media can of course be used to one's advantage. Though such sites can be used for frivolous activities they can be used to create meaningful relationships and promote an individual as a brand. Facebook in particular is often used as a playground. People spend hours playing Farmville or writing inane comments on their friends' wall. But it can also be used to connect with serious like-minded individuals in a similar approach to the way LinkedIn works [Penn Olson].

Twitter too can be used to brand you or sell you. Journalists have long used Twitter to source and publish information. But it can be a valuable resource to job-hunters too. Several agencies use Twitter to post new openings and there are many cases where it has paid off. In 2008, Oliver Schmid, an I.T. consultant based in Los Angeles, lost his job with a German technology company. Jumping into the job market for the first time in 20 years, Schmid did what job seekers have always done. He sent out his résumé and waited for companies to call him back. But he received no feedback. Realising he wasn't selling himself well enough, Schmid sought information on how to set up his "personal brand" online. He began to blog about his work and then to use Twitter to reach out to others in his profession.

"I was very uncoordinated at first, really stumbling a lot. I didn't know what I was doing or what to talk about," Schmid said. Over a period of a few month his writing improved, he became better at targeting his posts to the right people on Twitter and of being consistent, but not overbearing, in advertising himself.

Out of the blue a former colleague noticed his posts on Twitter and recommended Schmid for a freelance position with a Norwegian technology company. After a freelancing position with the firm he then secured a long-term contract. Without Twitter Schmid says he probably would not have found the job. "They weren't looking for me. They just spotted me online, and it worked out." [NYT]

But most people seem to be oblivious about how their online social activity can blight their reputation. And it may not be just about what an individual posts, but what others say about them and who they befriend. Just as securing a job can be about who you know, those in your friend list might be to your detriment. Even banks and financial institutions are trawling online information to help make a decision. Some banks are using services like Rapleaf to scan social networks and identify contacts connected with you that also do business with the financial institution. Based on the financial stability and credit history of your social network connections, the bank can make an assumption about what sort of credit risk you might be [Montreal Gazette].

There is also a certain amount of unwritten etiquette as to how social media should be used to promote yourself. Job-seekers should make smart use of social media to advertise themselves, conduct research about employers, and build contacts. They must be proactive and not neglect face-to-face networking. Working with online contacts when positions arise is as important ans ensuring one's online brand is consistent and up-to-date.

On the other hand, those seeking woork should not be pushy. Turning up unannounced to see employers and calling too frequently is often considered unacceptable as is the spamming companies with with applications [NBR].

Looking for work has never been easy. It is now more competitive and complicated than ever. Technology and social networking is a lot of fun for a lot of people, but as with every new technology there are things to be aware of. So be careful what you tweet, blog, post on Facebook or upload to YouTube. Etiquette also extends to the use of smartphones, but that's another story altogether [CNN].

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Anonymous said...

What does one expect. If you post something on-line, one cannot expect any privacy about it. Perhaps this will stops the louts who blast off ignorant rants from posting while drunk.

Anonymous said...

What does one expect. If you post something on-line, one cannot expect any privacy about it. Perhaps this will stops the louts who blast off ignorant rants from posting while drunk.