Employers are scrutinising job applicants’ online profiles more closely than ever during the appointment process, and job hunters should rehabilitate their online footprint before even thinking of sending out applications, an education expert says.
“Until recently, job hunters have been advised to ensure there is no compromising content on their social media profiles which could potentially harm their prospects,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.
“But these days, it is not just likely that your online presence will be scrutinised. You can now safely take it as a certainty, and should know that your social profile will substantially shape the impression you create in a recruiter’s mind. Therefore the social media audit is no longer just something to tick off your job-hunt to-do list. It is in fact the very first step to take before you even start your search.”
But Coughlan says it is extremely difficult to cover all your bases when cleaning up your online presence, because many people use several different platforms and applications, and sometimes even forget about accounts they had years ago.
“Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences of that speech. Things you have long since forgotten about could damage your chances of landing an interview. And it is also not just what you said or shared that could influence the employer. If your entire timeline is filled with selfie after selfie and nothing much besides, it doesn’t indicate the well-roundedness that most employers are looking for.
“The best bet is to start with a clean slate, and create a professional online persona from scratch, while ensuring prospective employers are guided to that persona and not your personal social presence,” she says.
But Coughlan adds that it is not advisable to completely wipe your presence, although there are sites that will allow you to do just that.
“Killing off your online presence completely will raise more questions than it will solve problems. If someone researching your name online finds nothing, it will definitely raise a red flag about your candidacy.”
Coughlan says a job hunter’s best bet is to set stringent privacy controls over personal content, while building up a strong professional profile elsewhere, and directing prospective employers there.
A handy tool for doing so, is creating a profile on a whole new platform. For instance, the IIEMarque was recently introduced at higher education institutions including Varsity College, Rosebank College, The Business School, Vega School of Design and The Design School Southern Africa. All graduates from these institutions have an electronic verification system embedded in their certificates, which links directly to their professional profile online.
“Creating and tailoring a new, professional online identity will greatly improve a graduate’s chances in SA’s notoriously tough job market,” says Coughlan.
She says that when creating this new profile, graduates should keep in mind that they should:
1) Keep it real
“This is your opportunity to start with a clean slate, so ensure that the information you share is accurate. Add any new relevant information as you progress throughout your studies and career, so that you professional online presence steadily continues to grow. Under no circumstances should you falsely lay claim to qualifications or experience. It will come back to bite you.”
2) Highlight achievements
Coughlan says that some candidates are hesitant to sound like they are “bragging”. “This is not the time to be shy,” she says. “If you have achieved something worth noting, you would do well to highlight that. Either by positioning it higher up in your profile, or by making it stand out in another way. Remember that your online profile allows you to manoeuvre in ways that a CV on paper does not.”
3) Explain gaps in employment/studying
“It is not only about what is on your profile, but also what is not. If you took a gap year or had to interrupt your studies for some reason, note it in you profile. But also make an effort to show that it was not time wasted, and that you built skills or experience in some way.”
4) Demonstrate or provide evidence of soft skills
Employers don’t just look at your qualifications and technical proficiency. In our tough job market, you have to show that you have, for instance, been able to work successfully as part of a team, or that you can communicate well in a professional environment.
“In 2015, social media provides both a challenge and an advantage to job seekers. By taking the time and making the effort, you can put yourself well ahead of the pack by ensuring your online profile reflects a well-rounded, reliable and professional candidate,” Coughlan says.