Job seekers should not fear using social media
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 00:03
I recently made the decision to make my Twitter profile viewable to the public. The choice came after a week of internal debate about the merits and consequences of letting the world see my minute-to-minute thoughts about life. I’m at that precarious point before graduation where I’m applying for jobs and internships; I’m constantly hearing horror stories about “that one guy” whose job prospects were destroyed by a potential employer unearthing an album of drunken Carriage House photos or discovering a series of pejorative tweets about his professors, roommates or family. If I don’t obsessively cover up my entire Internet presence, I used to think, I’m going to end up just like him. But, in truth, I’ve come to the conclusion that these “stories” better qualify as urban legends—that hiding my name from the Internet will do me more harm than good during my job search. My fears these past few years have been, frankly, unfounded.
Many years back when social media outlets were just becoming what they are today, employers were genuinely concerned with how their employees were seen on the Internet; the majority of companies seemed to think that social media could only do harm to their carefully crafted reputations. This was, of course, before firms realized the advertising behemoth that social media would become; Youtube, Wordpress and Twitter just seemed to be havens for the bizarre and the banal at the time, and as such, job hunters went out of their way to keep their anonymity while on the Internet.
But culture and technology develop fast, and we live in different times now where the Internet is being invaded by advertisers at an unprecedented rate in order to reach our generation of consumers. Just take a look at the Twitter accounts of American Express or Starbucks (at 350,000 and 2.3 million followers, respectively) to see how well and actively the medium has been harnessed to reach individual consumers. Watch any major pop music video on YouTube from the last year and see the rampant (and eerily subliminal) product placement involved. I don’t think I even need to bring up the cash cow that is targeted Facebook advertising. Times have changed such that the ability to successfully manage different kinds of social media has transitioned from a job-killer to a bolded line on a resume. Hiding these skills from the world just ends up handicapping your job search in the long run.
We’re also working with a new generation of technology-savvy human resource departments. I’m currently handing off my resume to employers who, just a few years older than myself, “get” social media and who grew up using it. Their phase of habitual drunk-tweeting and duck-face group photos wasn’t, relatively speaking, that long ago (and may not even be over). As such, this makes them more sympathetic and tolerant. But don’t mistake that kind of understanding as an excuse to tweet excessively about how “crunk” you are at a party or to justify why you follow every soft-core porn-based Tumblr in existence. You should be aware that these mediums remain an expression of yourself and your values for the world to see.
So take advantage of that, especially if you hope to have any sort of future in business. Start a Wordpress blog about what you love; write opinion columns for popular websites; tweet occasionally; get a LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re doing and why it’s important: people are out there and listening. At the end of the day, when employers look at your resume and then search your name or find you on Facebook, they want to learn about you, so tell them—give them an opportunity to get to know what you are about better than a formal cover letter can convey. Talk about your life, be funny, be insightful, be interesting, but don’t be afraid of what you have to say. And if you’re still worried about your online persona doing you harm, don’t be; it’s a safe bet that if you can’t get through your day without saying something mean, cynical, caddy, degrading or lewd, you’re not likely to do well in an interview anyway.