Dr. Mariann Hardey

Digitally on.

Speaker, Writer, Academic.

Durham University Lecturer.

I do stuff for the BBC.

Feminist & lovely.

Slanguage of social media

'Boozy'; 'pretty'; 'sexy'; 'weird'; 'boring' and 'nice top' - a week of locating top CVs via social media profiles

November 2015

Session One in a series of seminars I've given about social media etiquette is to go through each of the public social media profiles of the participants. We do this via a simple Google search. 

Last week, I was contacted by a 'top global recruitment agency' who promote themselves as a "above the rest". Let us call them SevenSideAlive. 

Many moons ago (BSM, Before Social Media), a London recruitment firm successfully landed me my first 'fast-track graduate' position. That company was founded in 1993 and in 2001 was already one of the Top Five PR agencies in London. To secure that position, I had to attend two interviews; conduct a 30minute presentation; and to complete a crude 'personality test'. I survived and was offered an Account Manager position with the promise of 'graduate training'. Day one, I had a portfolio of thirteen clients. By the end of month one this had increased to fifty-six clients. At the end of month six, more clients and no graduate training. I left after ten months. 

In 2001 my CV was .pdf and I had a website, but this certainly was not 'the norm'. My other online profiles I kept entirely anonymous. Funnily enough the above PR position barely features in my professional history. 

Fast-forward to 2015. SevenSideAlive wanted to conduct an 'experiment' to promote the recruitment profiles of candidates who are 'actively looking for work' using only their personal social media content. I warned this would be like looking around a zoo with a bag of sh*t and identifying which animal was the author by a scratch and sniff test. In short, this was going to be messy. 

Many of the students I teach at Durham University find themselves approached by and seeking out recruitment firms to, like me, get their first taste of a 'proper job'. The strict limit on graduate places is a competitive market I recognise, but feel relieved to be (mostly) at a distance from. Painting with broad brush-strokes, a recruitment agency doesn't strike me as a principled intermediary - though I was about to be proved very wrong. 

Over the course of a week, the recruitment firm shared the graduate names and location - those candidates who had 'volunteered' for the experiment. A swift social media search of 189 candidates bought up: 

Facebook - 99% membership; 77% active usage; 

YouTube -60% membership; 30% active usage;

Twitter - 40% membership; 18% active usage; 

LinkedIn - 36% membership; 8% active usage;

Instagram - 25% membership; 20% active usage;

Pinterest - 18% membership; 11% active usage; 

Tumblr - 5% membership; 2% active usage; 

Google+ - 4% membership; 1% active usage. 

Interesting. Bear in mind these are candidates aged 19 - 29 years young who ticked the box 'actively looking for work'. Just over one-third have a profile on LinkedIn, and significantly less an active account. The most active social media were Facebook and Instagram in terms of the % of membership against the % of active usage - i.e. these social media were closest in proportionality. 

I'm not saying that an active user account on social media makes an ideal recruitment profile, but such presence should be professionally polished and should not make any recruiter dislike the candidate. 

Out of 189 candidates, three had images revealing various private body parts; nearly half had tags that included 'drunk' or 'boozy'; and all had posted selfies. Nothing wrong with a selfie, just be careful what a pose will say about you, and what's going on in the background. One selfie had a bong and tray of roll-ups. Another included a backdrop of a room in which Dennis the Menace would be proud to spend the rest of his days. 

By the end of the week, I did notice a change in tone from some candidates - around the same time one had 'accidentally' but accurately posted the amount of shots consumed on a hen night; and another had posted a wonderful blog about his 'career defining moments'. That's more like it! Unless you're aiming for a position in a brewery or career as a drinks rep. Other candidates 'made private' Facebook pages and untagged unflattering selfies - as if they'd taken my metaphorical zoo scenario seriously.

Six days into our seven day experiment and LinkedIn usage had increased to 70%, complete with profile images in suits. Another week, and our participants would have had polished elbows and a grindstone to their shoulder. 

Social media can say a lot about a person without having to read their CV. Based on a weeks worth of personal content, I'm sure who I would have fired, hired and arrested. Crudely from our week of social media professional development, we can state that personal information conveyed via social media is a short-cut to in-jokes and gallows humour. Without some careful tweaking social media is not a fast-track to a professional contribution aimed at long-term career plans. It hardly provides enough status for a short-term temporary position. 

What is obvious is that social media are revealing. It is possible to know, with a degree of stalker accuracy, lapses in social etiquette, political alignment, educational background (with some digging) and shortest pathway to the next 'happening' social event. 

Social media profiles should not be dismissed as irrelevant, harmless or slightly amusing - "it's just Facebook fodder". No the basis of such fodder forms the basis for a stranger making judgments about you and who is very likely to be in charge of your career development for a significant period of time. Later, all the candidates in this experiment confessed 'we know this'.

We /I faced similar dilemma 10+ years ago over whether to attach a headshot to my year 2000s CV. I believe in supporting the union between the About Me section and educational background, but less for my career prospects to be influenced what I look like. Yet, when we make choices about what is most likely to strengthen our social media profile, and what would most help our recruitment changes, a headshot - a selfie - does help. We can / should raise the issue of equality, ability and the issue of self-governance of content on another post. 

To conclude, perhaps it is helpful to spread fear about the malign influence of social media on professional image. Which suggests 'actively looking for work' should not be the guiding principle after all; but rather to conserve your competency, if not have to hand a set of very polished selfies.