Career Advice Featured stories and job trends

Social media opens gate to candidates

To say that you “don’t exist” without an online profile and a social media presence might seem something of an exaggeration, but as far as employers and career advisers are concerned, it is increasingly true.

Recruiters and search firms now expect to find you and, if appropriate, have a look at your track record on the more popular sites and platforms. If you can’t be located there, the first reaction will be one of surprise and the initial impression not so favourable.

“For business professionals, social media is now a great way to get a first introduction and build contacts,” says Joseph Palumbo, head of MBA and MSc career and professional development at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) Business School. “At its core, it is an ‘electronic handshake’, but companies are using it more and more as a tool to find candidates and check their credentials.”

Individuals need to pay close attention to which sites they use and how they present themselves. An ill-considered comment or incautious photo can have far-reaching consequences. It is vital to draw a clear distinction between professional and personal “identities” and not combine the two online.

For recruitment, it is important not to be too open or too casual, and to remember that employers will have particular interest in your claimed groups and contacts. It also makes sense to “untag” your name from other people’s photos, manage privacy settings, and eliminate any misplaced “fun” element which many seem to think is de rigueur on Facebook and the like.

“The big picture is that every one of us – student, employer, person in the workforce – is now a brand,” Palumbo says. “Social media is a global equaliser, giving us all a chance to develop a personal brand. To benefit, you need self-awareness and self-knowledge as an individual and a sense of how you can add value for a company.”

For career-related issues, Palumbo’s preferred site is LinkedIn. The basic format allows for a photo, short personal profile and career history, but can also be made “fancier” with additional information and PowerPoint slides. Jobseekers can highlight their skills, experience, ambitions and objectives, which potential employers can view and then have a chance to start a discussion.

“Previously, recruiters would only use social media after face-to-face interviews as a form of due diligence if they had detected something negative,” Palumbo says. “Now, they also use it to initiate contact and market themselves. By being proactive, they can engage with talent, build a rapport online, and reach out when a suitable job is available. It might take months or years, but social media is an easy way to stay in touch.”

He advises students to aim for 20 such online contacts a month as a prelude to a job search or switch of direction. This lets both sides have an exchange to sound each other out.

“Where people make a mistake is in thinking that social media is a replacement for formal applications and face-to-face interviews,” he adds. “The online exchange should provide insights and things to discuss. That makes the later conversation more relevant and deeper.”