Social Media Job Search Caution and Employer Insights

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According to research released by a team from North Carolina State University, “Employers are increasingly using Facebook to screen job applicants and weed out candidates they think have undesirable traits.” But the new study suggests “companies may have a fundamental misunderstanding of online behavior and, as a result, may be eliminating desirable job candidates.” Of the 175 study participants the researchers measured personality traits including conscientiousness, agreeableness and extraversion and how those Facebook behaviors appeared or were linked to those traits. Let’s come back to this interesting recent survey after pointing out a few of what I feel are the top traits of smart jobseekers on social media. The study delves into an area we simply need to know more about and that’s focused on what Lori Foster Thompson, professor of psychology at N.C. State University, says is missing – a focus not so much on what job applicants are doing on Facebook but how employers are using that information.

Assess Your Brand Presence on Social Media – If you are in marketing, advertising, sales or promotions you may want to build your personal brand online strongly. Certain corporate leaders often need to be present on social media, active and engaged. Look at marketing personalities like Seth Goden or even Elon Musk from Tesla Motors. One is in marketing, an author, irreverent and branding constantly. The other, Mr. Musk, fighting New York Times battles about his electric car reviews and constantly promoting and defending Tesla seemingly daily. For both it is a part of their brand on social media. But for most of us and for many people who are managing their careers and wondering what they should do competence and caution should be the words of the day. Chit chattering about political issues when your not a politician can offend. Commenting excessively about anything can be annoying. Commenting during the day when you should be working or looking for a job can be disconcerting. Assume the people you don’t want to see you doing this are the ones watching. But posting occasional, professionally focused status updates to Linked In about your professional insights or progress may seem like a dull knife but it often adds to your core brand positioning.

Competence and Caution – For most of my professional clients working full-time and looking for their next carer opportunity they need to possess and promote their brand on Linked In, lock down their Facebook status and moderate their comments online. Defining clear details about your value proposition at your current job, connecting with industry achievers and thought leaders should be the goal on Linked In. For those who are on Facebook I often suggest clients use it and keep a very clean, locked down profile. Follow companies and information from those companies using Twitter and Facebook but don’t announce all the various details of your social and personal life. Does that sound boring? It is. Posting pictures from your last volunteer work seems boring but it’s better than posting pictures from your latest drunken wine party. The point is for anyone, executive or early career person, social media is a trap. Everybody is watching. Decide what you want them to see and assume, yes I said assume, that more people than you think will misinterpret your musings and postings.

We often recommend that most social media from a career angle be used as a listening post and observing others (target companies) and sharing a little bit less and listening more – Facebook and LinkedIn mostly. Follow your target companies or create professional status updates. Make sure it doesn’t go out as a press release but subtly increase your competence toward your target audience. How can it hurt you if no one has done it at your company? I recommend people become more boring on these sites than exciting.

Now back to the study. In a bit of an about face to the caution focused career coaches like me, Will Stoughton, 29, and an author on the N.C. State University study suggests that employers, yes employers, should use more caution when evaluating alcohol and drug looking pictures on Facebook because as that may indicate the photo poster is more of an extrovert, and may attribute of desirability for an employer.

Daniel Blustein from the Raleigh News & Observer interviewed the researchers at N.C. State University and provided his own insights into the story from his perspective. His story caught my eye today and I thought it is a great topic and wanted to continue the conversation. In my short conversation with Dan I asked if the research surprised him.

Did it surprise you that the researchers didn’t have their own Facebook accounts? Maybe they are on to something here and know something we don’t about over posting and how it affects?
I think its surprising to find anyone who doesn’t have a Facebook account but for them, it’s probably smart not to have one in terms of job prospects and privacy concerns and they’re busy researchers. They stressed that it took up a lot of time.

What other observations did you take away from the observation and study? You pointed out that employers need to assess how they are evaluating it. There’s so much more new social media and HR practices need to figure out what it all means, in terms of what they’re seeing. Seems like they are engaged – could be a plus? The researchers stressed that there needs to be more research on what activities translate into social media.

When you post a story as a person in the media, there are crazy comments and arguments. How do you handle that? As a reporter, you have to be out there and accessible. Are there any rules you follow?  In my social media, in journalism, I need to take a more professional approach so my interactions on social media are sort of directed along that line. I don’t do a lot of personal communication on social media, it’s mostly to do with science and research since that is what i report on. That aspect of my interest is what I convey in.


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