07 February, 2010

Don't Be Naïve: Of Course Prospective Employers Are Reading Your Blog And Your Tweets

NOTE: The editor of Campus Career Counselor, Peter Vogt, recently asked me to answer 3 questions about recent college grads’ naïveté regarding how employers use a job candidate’s online presence - e.g., Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, blogs, Tweets – to discern the difference between a candidate’s advertising (résumé, references, interview answers) and a candidate’s brand which I define as the candidate’s “advertising” plus the things the employer discovers, knows, suspects or feels about the candidate after rummaging through the candidate’s online presence. Campus Career Counselor gave me only 500 words. I have a lot more to say.


When I last checked, members of one of my LinkedIn groups had made 882 comments on the question “When making a hiring decision, is it ethical to check connections and conversations of a person on social networking sites like Linkedin, Facebook, Orkut etc?”

I didn’t post a comment in LinkedIn but I’d like to answer it here. It is both ethical and inevitable that employers will check an applicant’s online connections and conversations.

People who Tweet, blog or post on LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace have no reasonable expectation of privacy. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens on the internet goes places you can’t even imagine. Recent college grads have grown up with the internet and should know this already.

I’ll go further: I think it’s unethical for a person whose company has entrusted him with hiring authority not to use every reasonable, legal and available means to discern the difference between a candidate’s advertising and a candidate’s brand.

If you’re still unclear on the difference between advertising and brand, think Toyota. What comes to your mind? Do you think only of their ad campaigns, their past reliability ratings and traditionally high resale values or do you also think of Toyota’s recent recalls to correct problems with accelerators that have minds of their own? Just as Toyota’s brand is the sum total of all the good, the bad and the ugly that you know, think, suspect and feel about Toyota, a job seeker’s brand consists of his résumé plus the applicant’s dirty rap song on MySpace, the applicant’s spring break pictures on Facebook and the applicant’s embarrassing Tweets and blogs.

Even before Henry Ford famously asked why he had to hire a whole person when all he really wanted to hire was a pair of hands, employers have been trying to find out what comes attached to the pair of hands about which they are making a hiring decision so if you have an online presence you should expect employers to look at it and draw conclusions about you.

Am I saying that job seekers should close their Twitter, Facebook, blog and MySpace accounts? No.

As my regular readers know, I have done some headhunting in my time so let me give you a glimpse into my headhunting mind: In the year 2010 when almost everybody has some kind of online presence, I am almost as uneasy about a candidate with no LinkedIn profile as I am about a candidate who foolishly documents his youthful indiscretions on YouTube.

Does the candidate with no LinkedIn account know the importance of professional networking? Does the candidate with no Facebook account have no friends?

In the year 2010 when it’s possible for every thinking person to never have an unpublished thought, why would a job candidate not have a blog or some Tweets I can read? Is he a technophobe? A Luddite?

What’s he trying to conceal?

Unfair? You don’t get to make that judgment. Make no mistake about it, there’s nothing fair about job search. As I said in Campus Career Counselor, college may be your last exposure to meritocracy. In college, the student with the most points gets the best grade but once that student leaves college he enters a world where it is the best connected and best liked candidate, not necessarily the best qualified candidate, who gets the job, a world where a candidate with a great résumé is no match for a candidate with the right relationships.

I’ll have a lot more to say about relationships and connections in a future Higginbotham At Large.

In the next Higginbotham At Large: Why You May Not Be Getting The Whole Truth About Job Search.

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