Social Media and Employment—Betting the Brand

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

                                                                                            –Warren Buffett

With the ascendancy of social media in the hiring hierarchy has come the realization that these very public media have their pitfalls and payoffs for jobseekers.

The National Labor Relations Board has become involved in regulating them; huge amounts of money are being spent on them, and like it or not, social media—LinkedIn leading the way—have become important pathways to getting a job or finding the right hire. The stakes are so high that the January 20 panel discussion of social media and employment at Chicago’s Washington Library is entitled, “Social Media: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?”

“Social media have changed the game,” said Linda Wolfe, the JVS Chicago Director of Career Services who will moderate the panel on Jan. 20. “Long before social media, people posted jobs in the newspaper. Then they used CareerBuilder online and later added job listings to their company websites; and aggregators were next.  All of them were like newspapers in that they were passive. But recruiting on LinkedIn is proactively searching for candidates, which is completely different.”

Recruiters have taken to LinkedIn with a vengeance, according to a Jobvite survey that found 96 percent of recruiters are using LinkedIn to look for candidates and 92 percent to vet candidates. A majority of recruiters also use Twitter and Facebook, but not nearly at the percentage of LinkedIn, according to the Jobvite survey. Human Resources departments aren’t far behind; three quarters of them are using LinkedIn to look at candidates, according to a survey done by SHRM, an association of HR managers.

David Umlauf -US Bank (4)LinkedIn and other social media can be useful in other ways, according to K. David Umlauf, a Senior Recruiter for US Bank and one of the panelists for “Social Media: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?” He recommends that job seekers use social media to find people they know who work for companies they are interested in working for—networking being the number one method of finding work in 2015. He also recommends using social media to research companies.

“Social media will tell you what business lines the company is in,” said Umlauf.  “Large companies use Facebook or LinkedIn to send out information to the marketplace, which will give you a clue about their corporate culture, and the job openings they post on social media pages often will mention what characteristics they are looking for.”

When Umlauf’s son wanted an internship at Northwestern Mutual, he looked at the company’s postings about community service and was able to quote from them verbatim during his interview. Because other candidates hadn’t bothered to look at the postings, young Umlauf became the most attractive candidate.

Wolfe said that LinkedIn is so important that it has become a step in the hiring process.

“Before you do a phone screen, you look at the individual’s LinkedIn profile,” said Wolfe. “What does it say about her?  Recruiters want to know if a candidate will fit into the company culture, which is even more important than the skill set a person brings to a job.”

If LinkedIn is a recruiter’s best friend, how can it be a “worst enemy”?

  • Employers have to learn when and how to go to LinkedIn and other social media or risk being sued for discrimination, as the social media can reveal candidates’ race, sexual preference, age and other information that isn’t supposed to be part of the vetting process.
  • Job seekers who fail to learn how to use LinkedIn are out of the loop and might not know it.
  • Job seekers with a LinkedIn page that is “sloppy, sketchy or otherwise mysterious,” said Umlauf, are probably doing themselves more harm than good.
  • Candidates need to remember that their social media are being watched, or they can wind up like the infamous Cisco Fatty on the West Coast, who got a job offer from Cisco, then tweeted, “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.   A Cisco partner read her tweet and sarcastically offered to forward it to the company’s hiring manager. What happened next has been the subject of much Internet folklore, but we’re sure that Cisco Fatty – a grad student studying information technology at Berkeley– didn’t go to work for Cisco.

Employers and job seekers also need to realize that social media differ in how they affect job seekers and employers in each business sector.

julie-wernau (2)“We are trying to build the Tribune brand and my personal brand,” said Julie Wernau, Energy & Green Technology Reporter for the Chicago Tribune Business section and a panelist for “Social Media: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?”  “In order to do that, I have to be part of the conversation.  In the old days, you put out the story and there was silence on the other end, but today’s readers expect a conversation. We can use Facebook or Twitter to keep that conversation going.”

Because of social media, finding a job has become more of a conversation than it used to be, too.  Wernau discovered how much when her interviewer asked her about her blog, which she hadn’t mentioned on her resume.

“I wrote a blog at the time I interviewed with the Tribune,” Wernau said. “I got an email from them saying ‘why didn’t you mention that you had a hysterical blog?’ It may have helped me get the job. Employers are looking for clues about how you’ll fit in. If you’re someone who says, ‘Oh, I don’t use social media,’ that doesn’t help you.  It makes you seem out of it.”

Wolfe, while acknowledging that there will be individuals and companies that abuse data and discriminate using social media, said, “What’s way more interesting and important is the positive use of LinkedIn and Twitter to help employers and candidates connect. That’s the sweet spot. We teach our clients to responsibly use social media.”

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