Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Your social media presence and your PR job hunt

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Ask (almost) anyone in PR these days whether you should have an active presence on social media if you're looking for a job in the industry, and they'll say "yes."

While not every PR job uses social media at this point, most employers want to hire people who keep up with advances in the ways people communicate. After all, if and when their audiences "get there," they want to be ready.

So, get online -- that's the message.

But how much does it matter what you say?

More than you might think.

I've had a couple of interesting conversations recently with people who've discussed this topic with other people, whose position is that they should be able to say whatever's on their mind on social media.

"I shouldn't have to edit myself -- social media is for expressing yourself."

"An employer has no right to hold my opinions against me if I'm otherwise qualified for a job."

Strictly speaking, that's true (within reason). But it's important to remember the importance of context.

It's a fact that we all have the right to free speech (as long as it isn't hate speech). But it's also a fact that most hiring managers do online searches of job candidates -- and that they make judgments based on what they find.

Just as an employer may decide you're not cut out for her corporate office if you show up for your interview dressed for a nightclub, she may make assumptions about your professionalism based on what she finds in your social media footprint.

The online search doesn't take much time -- and if the employer finds you posting things she feels reflect poor personal judgment (e.g. trash-talking current or former employers or clients; expressing discriminatory opinions; appearing to prioritize drinking/drug use over professionalism, etc.), she might just save herself the effort of going any further with the application.

This doesn't usually extend to expressing yourself politically: most employers (unless they are political parties or affiliated organizations) are unlikely to decide against hiring the right person because of their leanings to the right or to the left. (And if they are, you might want to consider carefully whether you want to work for them anyway.)

But if your social media "brand" communicates "I'm a loose cannon" or "I value partying over anything else" or "I discriminate against people for [insert reason here]," that says something to an employer.

It says "I'm going to be difficult to manage, and I may create problems for the organization both internally and externally."

Think before you post

Just remember: anything you post to social media is "out there" and can be found by a potential employer.

Do you have a right to express yourself? Yes, you do.

Does the employer have the right to choose job candidates based on her own judgement? You bet she does.

If you're looking for work (in PR or anywhere), what the employer perceives trumps everything else. It won't matter what the circumstances were behind that series of tweets or Facebook messages or blog posts -- you may never be given the opportunity to explain the context for a posting that casts you in an undesirable professional light.

You might send joking tweets which your friends know to be sarcastic -- but if a potential employer sees those tweets without knowing the context, they could lead to incorrect conclusions about your values and professionalism.

Those incorrect conclusions could cost you a job interview... and you might never know what put you out of the running for a job you wanted.