Personal branding: will social media come back to haunt me?

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In the age of the internet you can’t afford to forget about personal branding when job hunting. I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a really interesting statistic: apparently over 50% of employers in London openly admit to checking potential recruits’ social media activities before making hiring decisions. As I’ve subsequently discovered, that’s not exactly latest news. The Daily Telegraph reported some similar statistics way back in 2010.

When job hunting you do have to be acutely aware of your personal brand – ie the image you create in the minds of others. And the key word is image. Potential employers are unlikely to get to know you in great depth even during an extended assessment process. Instead they will be seeing lots of dots and joining them up to build a picture of you.

How accurate that picture is can depend on a lot of factors. If they’ve only used interviews – and they often do – then the picture may not be very accurate at all. Research repeatedly shows that interviews are a very unreliable way of predicting future job performance.

Given interviews are so unreliable, it is perhaps not surprising employers look for other sources of information too. Years ago, the main source of that insight would have been references. However today references frequently contain little more than a confirmation of the dates you worked for someone and your last job title. Many companies decline to make any qualitative comment about the individual.

What that has done is create a vacuum of information. A vacuum that some hiring managers – with or without their employer’s knowledge – will seek to fill with information from other sources. And where else do they turn but the internet.

Now if you are lucky and have a common name – like John Smith – and live in a big city the chances are they will be so overloaded by Google “hits” that they will probably never find you. However, those of us with less common names – especially if we live in small towns or villages – will be much easier to track. If you’ve not done it recently we strongly recommend you do Google yourself so you know what others will see…

What those Google searches will often throw up are links not just to “business” sites like LinkedIn but also links to social media profiles like Facebook. And that’s where great care is required. Many employers will not make the distinction between you at work and you in the wider world. They will care about how you conduct yourself generally and may, rightly, consider some behaviours and activities to be inconsistent with their values, ethics and business brand. Many companies take the view that even when not at work their employees’ behaviours and actions reflect on them.

What will also shoot you in the foot is if you are in the habit of publicly criticising your current employer or boss on social media. Today them, tomorrow us.

So, before you start job hunting clean up your social media act. The first obvious step is to activate privacy controls so that only friends you recognise can see your photographs, stories, comments and updates. Only recently we heard of a case where someone in-advisedly checked-in on Facebook from a hotel in Spain when they were supposedly off sick… Stupid yes, career damaging definitely.

If you decide to leave your Facebook etc open to the world then you need to treat your account to a serious reality check. Or better still ask someone to do it for you. Ideally someone who is very sensitive to reputation issues and will have the courage to tell you that those hen weekend or stag night photos do your personal brand no favours at all. If in doubt, delete it.

The internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee once famously said “Imagine that everything you are typing is being read by the person you are applying to for your first job. Imagine that it’s all going to be seen by your parents and your grandparents and your grandchildren as well”.

Great advice. Don’t forget personal branding, don’t allow your social media presence to get in the way of a great job opportunity.

‘Personal branding… will social media come back to haunt me??’ was written by Ian Gooden, CEO Chiumento Consulting. If you like what you’ve read why not follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and read all our future advice and musings on the world of work.

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