If a potential employer Googles you or reads your Facebook or Twitter chatter, what will they learn of you? In Social Media, are you professional, inquisitive, informed, and smart? In addition to letting your personality shine through, do you post links to business articles and blogs? Do you demonstrate any passion for your profession or only for sports, TV, music, and socializing?
That article got some reaction from friends and peers, some in support and some who felt it unfair that employers would use a candidate's social meanderings--intended for friends and recreation--to make professional judgments. I found the feedback interesting, but in the end this really isn't a topic of opinion but of fact. Employers are judging candidates based on what they find online, and why shouldn't they? Selecting the right employee is critical, the cost of recruiting failures is high, and there's so much to learn about people on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and elsewhere.
My earlier post came to mind reading "My Blog Ate My Career" on the Boston Globe's site, Boston.com. Linda Keenan writes, "I'm perfectly qualified for a job -- just don't look me up online." The former CNN head writer and senior producer notes, "The fact is: I wouldn't hire me either. Further, I'm not sure I'd let me in the PTA, or even near my kid. An employer typically looks for someone trustworthy, helpful, courteous. My attributes, etched forever in the digital record, read like a perversion of the Boy Scout Law." Among the many offenses Linda found when she took a hard look at her own Social Media identity included her declaration that her "toddler (is) more mature" than some news anchors with whom she worked.
Another recent incident reminded me that, even though people tend to treat Social Media like some sort of private/public diary, it's still a communication medium. That means it involves a sender, a receiver, and a message--and it isn't the sender's intent that matters but the receiver's understanding.
As recounted by NPR, a "mommy blogger" who Twitters under the nickname Thordora posted a Tweet someone found alarming: "If I smother my 3 year old, who will NOT GO TO F****** SLEEP, is it REALLY a crime?" One of her followers, concerned for the wellbeing of the children, called the police and a visit to Thordora's home resulted. The Twitterer was indignant--indignant!--that someone would demonstrate such care for the safety of her children and call the cops. The emotions continued to play out on Twitter, were Thordora wrote, "Don't do any venting in public. Don't network. Don't show anything LESS than perfect bliss..." while others responded, "I would rather see someone err on the side of caution than to turn a deaf ear on what could be a cry for help."
This incident struck me as another powerful reminder that Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Media tools haven't rewritten the rules of communication. The purpose of speaking isn't to make noise but to deliver a message that is heard and understood; the purpose of Social Media musings isn't to create a personal journal but to have others know you, gain an understanding of your singularity, and learn your opinions and tastes.
Choosing to communicate in Social Media doesn't absolve you of considering how others will construe your messages, because like it or not, every listener in every communication medium retains the innate human right to interpret, judge, evaluate, catalog, retain, and act upon what they hear, read, and feel. Don't like it? Want to compare your coworkers to infants or fantasize about smothering your children? Delete your Facebook account and buy a diary.
Here's a challenge to those of you who care (or fear) what a future potential employer might think of you and your Social Media persona: Find an acquaintance--someone who knows and can be honest with you--and ask them to check out your Twitter feed or Facebook profile. Have them play the role of a recruiter and share their assessment of what they learn and how they interpret the online you.
If you become concerned about the identity you're creating online, it may be time to consider different accounts for different purposes. Some folks are creating personal Twitter and Facebook accounts for friends and different ones for professional networking.
One of the big changes and improvements I expect we'll see in Social Media tools in the next year or two is an intuitive and easy way to manage different personas and communications to different groups of people, but for now--if you have any professional goals--it would be wise to consider not what your closest friends think of your status updates but what a recruiter might think.