How employers dish up digital dirt

Online Check

By Karalyn Brown

How clean is your online brand? Have you ever even thought about what someone googling you may think of you? What if your online namesake has some unpleasant personal habits and likes sharing them publicly on social networking sites such as Facebook?

It’s no secret that recruiters have been backgrounding people online ever since google became a verb. But you may be surprised about how common this is.

Chandlee Bryan is founder of Best Fit Forward, a New York-based job search strategy firm and co-author of the Twitter Job Search Guide. She cites findings by ExecuNet, a provider of recruitment resources, that says about 90 per cent of recruiters google candidates as part of the hiring process and 44 per cent have eliminated candidates based on what they have found online.

Effectively this means the paper resume you’ve spent hours carefully crafting forms only one piece of the puzzle when a recruiter assesses you.

Bryan suggests some steps for jobseekers wishing to manage their online brands: know what is being said about you; establish a presence on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn; and, as the online landscape changes so rapidly, stay vigilant and set up a Google alert so you’ll be notified whenever you appear online.

Jorgen Sundberg, founder of Personal Branding UK, helps executives, entrepreneurs and salespeople manage their personal brands.

Sundberg says professional networking sites have been a recruiter’s best friend for the past five years or so.

It’s an environment where Bryan recommends jobseekers get active.

"You may not be able to maintain control over all the information that is available online," she says. "But you can proactively seed sites that do have high traffic, so that less flattering information about you is buried further down on search results."

Sundberg has seen many mistakes jobseekers make online without even realising it. He suggests anyone serious about managing their profile needs to show some consistency and be savvy about their privacy settings. The party pictures you have on Facebook may be completely at odds with your pristine LinkedIn profile.

"You need one professional photo and a personal brand statement," he says. "Have a biography available everywhere online, and if jobseekers are really serious, then they should think seriously about blogging."

Your online presence can tell stories about you that you’ll never even think about. Networking sites can show how well you network, while you are not actively networking.

John Ortner is chief executive of the Manhattan Group, which specialises in hospitality recruitment. With a shopfront Second Life, a blog live website Twitter feeds, and a fan club on Facebook, his group has actively embraced social media technology.

"The way a LinkedIn profile is written speaks volumes about a candidate," says Ortner. He looks beyond that, though, checking out the quality of jobseeker’s contacts, the number and quality of recommendations they have and the groups they belong to. There are some things you just can’t fake, he says.

Take, for example, belonging to groups like Cornell University. You can only have that badged on your LinkedIn profile if you’ve actually studied there.

Perhaps recruiters making judgments based on their personal bias is no different from the way they may have reviewed a resume in the past. What is different, however, is how quickly they can access information about you.

And, again, it may not just be what you actually write about yourself that sends the strongest message. It can be the way you interact online.

Expect to see astute recruiters review studies such as the University of Texas study, Personality Impression Based on Facebook Profiles, which found Facebook could provide strong clues about a person’s offline personality, particularly with extroverts.

One key message for anyone using online networks is to understand the community they interact with, Ortner says. The popular sentiment is that Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for professional networking, and nobody has quite figured out the full benefit of Twitter.

Clever jobseekers, however, can use each network to take advantage of the unexpected.

Looking up and approaching an employer or recruiter on Facebook may yield a result when an email in an overcrowded inbox may be ignored, suggests Sundberg.

Some worry that the opportunities for online networking will just favour the narcissist, or the jobseekers who will always be in demand as they have the intuitive networking skills and techno-confidence to manage their online presence. Perhaps, though, big and exciting opportunities will open up for jobseekers who have struggled to get through gatekeeper recruiters, as many more realise they can manage their own sales pitch.

As an early embracer, Ortner confidently predicts a very limited life span for the long dominating job boards. The number of professional style blogs burgeoning all over the world supports his theory. There are sites such as Brazen Careerist, which allows people to create opportunities based on their ideas, not their experience. Groups on LinkedIn fulfil a similar purpose.

Bryan is not as emphatic as Ortner about the demise of traditional ways of recruiting. "I think many of the traditional job boards… will continue to change their business models based on the rise in social media recruiting,” she says. Her forecast is that job boards will provide options for employers to offer one-click listings on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Bryan doesn’t think executive recruitment firms will go away, they’ll just survey, source and evaluate talent as "information curators".

So where will this all leave us? The fascinating thing about online networking is that the online community dictates the direction; and that direction can take unexpected turns. So the only reliable answer may just be: who knows?

Article from The Australian, July, 2010.

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