Social media and graduate recruitment: how your profiles could affect your career

Craig O'Callaghan explains why Facebook, Twitter and even Tinder could play a role in your job search
Application advice

We're sure you've heard the scare stories by now: be careful what you put on social media as your future employers might be watching.

While this is certainly true (so don't go uploading those drunken pics of you just yet), it's easy to overlook the benefits of being part of a generation comfortable with technology when it comes to looking for a graduate job.

Whereas your parents or even your older siblings may have had to rely on newspapers and word of mouth for information, everything is Google-able now. Sure, that includes you, but it also means the employers you're considering, and the people that work for them. It's now much easier to gather information and contact important people who could help you on your way to a dream career.

Of course, the first step is to make sure that your online presence is as idealised as possible. A positive social media presence can really help make a difference, for reasons we'll go into in greater depth later. For now, remember these important rules:

Anything you don't want to be found, put under a different name.

If you'd rather your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram wasn't obviously your own, think about using an altered version of your own name, and turn the privacy settings up while you're at it.

This isn't 100 per cent effective, but it's worth doing if you'd rather not be easily discovered.

Have Twitter, and use it - businesses love Twitter.

It's new(ish), fun, and gives them an easy way to reach out to people and seem more human. As a result, it's important you know how to use Twitter too.

Follow key accounts, and don't be afraid to start conversations. Twitter's not like a formal dinner where you have to be introduced to someone, so just start talking. Be polite, though.

LinkedIn is important, but don't get too sucked in.

Yes, LinkedIn is amazingly useful. And yes, they're even now working on a version specifically designed for students. But that doesn't mean you should get too carried away: it has its limits.

Use it to create a clean, professional-looking CV that closely mirrors the one you'd send to employers. But don't get bogged down in trying to get loads of recommendations or endorsements. As one employee responsible for graduate recruitment told us: "We can tell when you've just got friends and family to endorse you for everything".

The Tinder-ification of recruitment

While you're doing your best to portray yourself positively on social media, your potential employers will be scrutinising every bit of information they can find about you.

Custom internet search engines specifically designed for recruiters allow them to quickly search for any trace of you on a range of social networks and internet message boards.

What are they looking for? Well, with CVs becoming harder to distinguish from one another, some employers are relying on social characteristics to judge candidates.

In other words, they want to try and figure out your personality by looking at your social media footprint: your likes and your dislikes, your retweets and your favourites.

It may seem odd for employers to be treating you like a potential match on a dating website, but figuring out if you'll fit into the workplace environment is an important thing for them to get right, otherwise they risk training you up only for you to leave to work elsewhere. That costs money.

This is why trying to hide away your social media presence may not be the wisest move. If they have to choose between two equally well-qualified candidates, are they more likely to pick the one they've been able to learn a bit more about, or the phantom applicant who hasn't even got a Facebook account? This could potentially be regarded as discrimination, but this is difficult to prove and not always a conscious decision.

The other benefit of using social media is it allows employers to target advertising at you - if you're the type of person they're keen to hire.

For example: if a major bank wants to take on more graduate hires from a state school background, they might choose to run an advertising campaign on Facebook that's only visible to those who went to a state school.

You won't necessarily know the advert is being targeted (or why), but it's worth remembering how clever the internet is now. Nothing is shown to you by accident.

As an extreme example of this sort of targeting, consider this: there are reports of City head-hunters using Tinder to find employees for their firm.

In fact, the rise of apps such as Tinder has even led into what's been called the "gamification" of recruitment. Tinder-esque apps are available out there that allow recruiters to find employees, and vice versa. As with the dating app, it's a two-way street: only if both parties are interested are you able to contact each other.

Ready for an even more bizarre example? Introducing, Wasabi Waiter: a Snapchat-inspired game that allow recruiters to find potential employees.

There is, of course, absolutely no reason methods such as this should be more successful than the tried-and-tested paper CV in an envelope, but with so many new technologies close to hand, employers are willing to try ever-more outlandish ways to reach out to students.

Tread carefully

As mentioned earlier, the risks of employers either actively or passively discriminating against candidates as a result of using social media is worrying.

A 2013 Acas survey of employers found 50 per cent were concerned using social media in recruitment may disadvantage certain candidates. This is especially problematic if applicants who lack a social media background do so because of either socio-economic disadvantages or age.

The same survey also revealed many employers were concerned about crossing a line and invading the privacy of applicants. After all, if you're sat in an interview and someone the other side of the table makes an off-hand reference to something you've posted on Facebook, it's likely that you'll be more than a little surprised.

Given this is such a new area, employers are still testing the waters in terms of deciding how much they can try to learn about someone, without invading their privacy. No court has yet to decide that searching internet to learn about a job candidate in itself is wrong, but laws such as the Data Protection Act are meant to give you some level of protection as to what can remain "personal".

Until the rules in this area are clearer, employers are likely to remain wary about relying on social media too much.

Finally, and perhaps the most importantly, is the issue of accuracy. If you've ever tried to locate an old acquaintance or someone you've just met on a night out on Facebook, you'll know how difficult it can be to make sure you've got the right person.

This is doubly embarrassing for employers if they start to make assumptions about "JohnSmith" based on the personality traits of a different person with the same name.

Even if they do get the right profile, there is a lazy assumption that anything they find out about you via social media is likely to be more true or accurate than what you say on your CV, because your social media presence isn't designed to impress anyone.

Thing is, as any teenager could tell you, social media exists purely to impress other people. Acas's survey warns employers against making this hasty assumption for precisely this reason:

"For example, somebody might post photographs of themselves socialising and drinking alcohol at parties to showcase their gregariousness and impress their likeminded friends. However, this would not necessarily impress potential recruiters."

So why bother with using social media to get a job?

If social media is an inaccurate, potentially discriminatory, untrustworthy tool of recruitment, why are we still telling you it's so important?

For all its flaws, social media recruitment is here to stay. It's an ever-evolving process, which can make knowing what to do to stand out extremely difficult, but a basic understanding of how employers are using it should help you avoid some common mistakes.

The most important thing to remember though is that, for the foreseeable future at least, attempting to predict an applicant's personality or snooping on their Twitter feed is not going to be the main way a company tries to hire people.

Not only is it too expensive, it's also far too new for companies to be convinced it can be a success.

Until that day comes, the best thing to do is impress in interviews, have a strong CV, and get a good degree - but don't forget to hide those drunken pictures of you from your feed. You never know who might come looking.

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