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Social Media Branding and Your Career

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When you sit down for a job interview today, the odds are pretty high that the hiring manager knows more about you than just the bullet points on your resume. According to a recent survey of 200 hiring managers done by Vizify, a nameplate website designed to help people reign in their online information, 96 percent of hiring managers will search for your name online before even inviting you to an interview.

For many employers, this goes beyond just typing your name into Google. In fact, 37 percent of companies actively use social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to investigate job candidates. This figure comes from an April 2012 survey of over 2,000 hiring managers conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder. Of those not currently using social media for background checks, an additional 11 percent said they planned to start using it in the near future. Only 15 percent say their company policy prohibits using social media for background checks.

Of those using social media to research job candidates, 65 percent go to Facebook and 63 percent use LinkedIn. Only 16 percent use Twitter.

What Are They Finding?

The CareerBuilder survey showed that a third of those who have used social media to screen job candidates actually did discover information online that caused them not to offer someone a job. Nearly half of the time this happened, it was because of "inappropriate content" being discovered, or clues pointing to drug or alcohol abuse. Twenty-two percent of the time, they discovered information that led the employer to determine the candidate had lied on a resume. Managers pitched a resume 28 percent of the time after discovering the candidate had posted discriminatory comments based on race, religion or gender. To many, these may seem like obvious reasons to delete a resume.

What may not be so obvious is things like bad grammar on your Facebook profile could also cost you a job. About a third of the time, hiring managers put down the phone and deleted a resume because they felt the candidate simply showed "poor communication skills" on their social media websites. Another third were due to the candidate speaking badly of a previous employer online. (Obviously, if you add up the numbers, there was often more than one transgression found for each candidate.)

The Good News

While some people may lose a chance at a new job because of their social media brand, nearly as many are offered a job because of it. The same survey showed that 29 percent of hiring managers did indeed discover information on these social media sites that inspired them to hire a candidate.

More than half the time the decision to hire was based on just a good overall impression of the candidate's online personality. This includes things like a sense of professionalism, a well-rounded range of interests and information that supported the qualifications listed on the candidate's resume. Forty-nine percent of the time, it was because of the candidate's online communication skills, and 44 percent of the time it was because the candidate demonstrated creativity online. A third of the time, the decision to hire was based on references and endorsements posted online. (Again, there would be multiple factors involved for some candidates.)

How to Take Control

There are a number of ways to take control of your online brand. First, of course, you could delete your social media accounts. If no one can find you online, you won't have to worry about your brand.

Secondly, you can change your security settings to allow content to be seen only by specific people. This is an option for both Facebook and LinkedIn. On Twitter, you can make your profile private, meaning people need your permission to see your posts or your profile.

The first two options may keep you out of hot water, but they won't help you turn your social media presence into an asset. A third option is to simply keep in mind that whatever you post online can follow you down the road, for months and even years. Posting photos and comments that you wouldn't mind your mother seeing can be a good rule of thumb in keeping your online brand in control.

Using a nameplate service or personal landing page like about.me or Vizify can be an inviting way to let employers get to see your online persona.

What About Your Friends?

Because social media is social, there is little to prevent someone from browsing some of your friends as well and perhaps judging you by the company you keep.

For this reason, one Facebook user who is currently looking for an entry-level technical position chose to use a nickname on his Facebook account, in addition to strict privacy settings. His worry, he said, was not about himself, but about being judged by the company he keeps. More precisely, the company he used to keep before graduating from high school.

"I'm not at all worried about what I say on there," he explained, "but my friends get pretty wild. People tag you in pictures you're not even in, just to make sure you're going to see it. I don't need that coming back on me. I don't want to have to explain that kind of stuff. Yeah, sure, they put my name on there, but I wasn't at that party. I was studying that night!"

An alternative to an online pseudonym is to fine-tune your privacy settings. Facebook does include an option to limit people from seeing your list of friends. You can also specify in your privacy options that no one can tag you in a Facebook photo without your authorization.

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