Social networking and graduate recruitment: manage your online reputation
Think: 'Who can access your data?' If your profile is public, your future employer could have an insight into more than just your qualifications and work experience.
Students and graduates are spending ever increasing amounts of time on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. According to the Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey 2012, half of all students spend seven hours a week or more on social networking sites. Some spend even longer than 20 hours a week; 15% in 2012, up from 6% in 2008.
Social networking sites are a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, organise events and share pictures and videos. However, while this might seem like a comfortable online environment in which to hang out with your pals, recruiters are making increasing use of these networks as a way of vetting their applicants. So how do you balance both?
Access all areas
Billions of people worldwide have access to the internet. Now it’s not very likely that many of them would be interested to see the pictures of your cousin Anne’s hen night, or care that you’ve joined the ‘we'll only pay for a state funeral for Thatcher if she's buried alive’ group on Facebook, but in theory they could find out all this and more.
Whether you're a dedicated social networker or one of the three-quarters of students who give networking sites less than ten hours a week of their time, it's worth giving some serious thought to who can access your data. Unless you’ve made the effort to change your privacy settings, your profile could be visible to any Tom, Dick or HR person and may even be searchable on google.
Joining location networks on Facebook will also open up your profile to anyone on that network, not just your friends – as many Oxford students found to their chagrin when they were fined for ‘disorderly behaviour’ after posting pictures of their post-exam celebrations. If you make use of Facebook’s checking in feature, your tutors might find out that you were in the pub or out shopping when you should have been at a lecture.
53% of employers use social networks to screen candidates according to a recent survey, while a further 12% say that they intend to start doing so. That means that if your profile is public, your future employer could have an insight into more than just your qualifications and work experience. As such, the content you place online can have a big impact on your future.
This doesn’t mean that you need to trawl the net, removing every trace of your existence, just that you need to be savvy and ensure that your online persona portrays you at your best to employers.
Manage your net rep
The easiest way to do this is to separate your personal and professional online personas and actively manage your ‘net rep’. Think about what content you are happy for anyone to see and what you feel is best saved for people you already know.
Make use of the settings Facebook has introduced to help with privacy issues. You can choose who can see particular status updates, photos and so on, depending on whether you want them to be accessible to friends, friends of friends, or to be public. So you can control which aspects of your profile a recruiter can see.
Pop your name into a search engine and see what comes up. Most social networks have a public listing that contains potted information from your profile and a link. This can be switched off by editing your privacy settings, and while you’re at it, why not switch your profile to friends only? That way, should some clued-up recruiter search on the site itself, they’ll only have access to the content that you want them to see – and not the photos of that time you got drunk and your mates sellotaped the contents of the living room to you before scrawling naughty things on your face.
Separate your personal and professional online personas and actively manage your ‘net rep’.
Don’t forget things like blogs, forum posts and other web 2.0 applications such as youtube. If you’ve ever posted anything under your real name then it could show up in a search, so if you’ve ranted about an organisation or expressed any views that are contrary to their policy, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. As such, it’s important to get this sorted before you start applying.
Think about your email address too. If you’re still using something like email@example.com you might want to think about setting up an alternative address for your applications – and don’t forget to ensure your voicemail message doesn’t just bellow 'wassuuuuuuup!’ before the beep.
Draw a line between your personal and professional presence
One option could be to use LinkedIn for your professional life and Facebook for your private life. You can used LinkedIn to provide an online CV that is readily available to employers and to join in discussions that allow you to express your professional options. LinkedIn also has a facility that enables you to add your work to your profile, so you can upload presentations, portfolio pieces or videos. Meanwhile, you could make your Facebook account completely private, so that it is not even searchable.
Make the net work for your graduate job hunt
Remember that the web isn’t just there to catch you out; it can also be your friend in the recruitment process. In fact half of the recruiters in one study said that the information they had found about a candidate online had positively influenced their decision making.
Some of the big graduate recruiters have started posting groups on social networks to make it easier for graduates to get in touch and find out about their organisations, which can be an excellent opportunity to network.
Twitter can be a good way to connect with employers you are interested in. You can use Twitter to listen to what your favoured recruiters are saying, and keep up to date with their latest news.
You could interact with an employer on Twitter or LinkedIn prior to an interview, and then refer to the exchange when you meet the recruiter face to face.
Let your competencies and skills stand out
Use the internet to your advantage by highlighting the skills and abilities that you think are most relevant to recruiters. There are several ‘professional’ social networking sites such as LinkedIn designed for business networking that allow you to post your experience and qualifications and get in touch with professionals around the world. They have the advantage of being highly rated by search engines so often appear high up the list in an online search for your moniker.
Along with these, you could also consider setting up your own website or blog. This will demonstrate initiative and, if you do it right, could be a good way of showing off your creativity and communication skills, as well as presenting a suitably professional image. You can use this space to describe your achievements more fully that an application form will allow and really sell your skills.
The web is a valuable resource and one you can have fun with, just be wary and remember that it’s a public arena. That way, with luck, it’ll be a help rather than a hindrance when it comes to finding your perfect graduate career.