Make social media work for you (not against you)

Recruiters are looking at your social media posts. Discover ways to ensure that they like what they see and improve your hireability

You may consider your posts on Facebook or Twitter to be small doses of fun—titbits of information for your friends and followers. However, there are people who keep a close eye on the trail of your online interactions and their observations could make or break your career.

A social media background checker covers the whole gamut of sites—social networking, business networking, blogging, micro-blogging, photograph/video-sharing or other Web resources—to flag any potentially unflattering information about candidates. According to a 2014 survey by CareerBuilder India, a Gurgaon, Haryana, based job portal, 68% of employers in the country rejected potential candidates based on scans of their social media posts. And as many as 43% of employers use social media to research prospective job candidates. The survey was based on the responses of 1,200 companies. Another survey—this one by industry lobby Assocham’s Social Development Foundation in 2013—showed that 3-4% of candidates fail their background checks.

An unfavourable digital footprint

Navin Chugh, managing director and senior vice-president (India), at First Advantage, says: “The operations team gets into action to verify relevant details on address, employment, education and employment. For example, employment verification entails reaching out to previous employer(s) to verify the individual’s role, salary, tenure and references. The technology platform is at the core of the process." First Advantage is a US-headquartered background verification company that screens prospective candidates for employers. It has offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and New Delhi.

Since three out of four hiring managers (according to a 2012 survey by social-recruiting platform Jobvite) will begin by searching for a candidate’s social profiles, this is a good place for you to begin as well.

Do this: go ego-surfing

Type in your name in Google Search and see what shows up. Repeat the step with Google Images. Set up a Google Alert with your name so you can do quick damage control should any unflattering content turn up, as search engines keep indexing and adding new content. If you are not sure how to do it yourself, you can hire firms like Online Reputation India and MagnonTBWA to help you wipe your slate clean of sources that put your reputation at stake. Such companies will scour various online platforms to manage content (personal profiles, blogs, etc.), monitor sentiments to neutralize negative impressions, and promote personal brand recall by highlighting positive experiences. The charges can start from $99 (around 6,100) a month and go up to $299, based on the number of platforms covered.

For not so serious offences—such as distasteful tagged photographs—on Facebook and Twitter, try the free-to-use SimpleWash app that helps delete such junk from your feed. On the landing page, you’ll be asked to log in with either your Facebook or Twitter credentials, a decision you’ll make based on which account you want to clean up. Once in, you can choose to “Start Washing" or look for status updates, wall posts, photographs, fan pages, liked photographs and liked links with specific keywords. The results include links to such instances, and you can edit as you deem fit. To switch between platforms, click on your name on the top left of the SimpleWash page.

As far as Facebook is concerned, you can manipulate privacy settings to work in your favour. Go to Settings, and under Privacy and Who Can Look Me Up, turn off search engine links to your profile. Note here that your comments on others’ news feeds will show up, so be courteous.

Inappropriate profile information

Next, an employer (or the background-checking company they’ve hired to look on their behalf) will go through each of your social media profiles. Profile information such as photographs, interests, etc., will be screened for provocativeness, inappropriateness or unprofessionalism. A handle like “Wet n wild" or “Hotrod_92" will definitely not make the cut.

“The key areas that we focus on while screening individuals vary according to industry, job role or level, and access to sensitive information. However, the key components are personal identity, employment history, address, education and criminal record," says Chugh.

Do this: keep it real

To the extent possible, always use your real name. Customize the URL with it as well, repeating your name where appropriate. Since links are such an important part of the search algorithm, you’ll help visitors know what the links are about. Not only does it make you look professional, it also helps build your personal brand. Link to all your active social networks and use redirects where necessary.

In the same vein of coming across as transparent, invest some time and effort into completing your profile to avoid checkers wondering what you have to hide. Another benefit of doing this is that when looking for your profile, they won’t mistake you for another individual (who could possibly have a criminal background).

Your professionalism should shine through especially in your pictures. Choose an appropriate background and a well-lit, high-resolution profile picture. To take the guesswork out of knowing whether your picture makes you look smart, likeable and trustworthy—important qualities your future boss is looking for—use a free tool called PhotoFeeler. Create an account using your email address or pre-existing Facebook/LinkedIn account and sign in. Next, upload your picture to have it tested for the default traits that shine through in three categories: Business (competent, likeable, influential), Social (confident, authentic, fun) and Dating (smart, trustworthy, attractive). Pick a category and add the context in which it’s being used. Click “Save and Continue". To have your photograph tested for these traits, you’ll need 10 credits. Credits can be earned by voting on the photographs of others. There’s also the option of buying instant credits for as little as $10 for 100 credits.

As for randomly uploaded images, while settings and common sense work, if a friend has put up a questionable picture, untag yourself or ask him/her to take it down.

When what you see is not what you get

Your social media activity is also being scrutinized for stark differences between your job application and the way you are represented online. In other words, recruiters are looking for a skills match to the job you may be hired for.

Do this: showcase your skills

Engage in discussions within industry groups to ensure that your interest in the field is evident from your posts and comments. If the position you’re going for is a marketing or public relations role, then building a solid number of followers is just as important as the content you post. To build a database of followers, in addition to sharing your point of view and links, retweet articles that others have shared and, once in a while, mention them as well.

Include relevant keywords related to your transferable skills, i.e. skills picked up outside the workplace while, for example, volunteering.

Background-check service providers look for telltale signs that you’ve embellished your résumé when it comes to qualifications, certificates or job history—an important reason to update your information and obtain endorsements from former colleagues. Says Lakshmi Rai, senior manager (human resource), Exchange4media.com, one of the largest sources of media, advertising and marketing information in the country, “I wouldn’t pitch a job to a prospect till I have filtered them on the basis of past experiences, relevance of past experience to the prospective job, past stints with companies and what people have to say about him/her in recommendations." One way of gaining endorsements is by first endorsing your connections on websites like LinkedIn. They’re sure to return the favour.

Your communication skills, manners and etiquette will help make an assessment about your behaviour on the job. Comments will show how you respond to questions and criticism—rude, offensive language, including racial slurs and name-calling, will be flagged. Hiring managers should be able to see that you can handle unpleasantness with ease.

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