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Like it or not, everyone pitching for a job today has to worry about their “backlist” – their living, breathing, constantly updated, and often out of control online CV that has come to matter far more than any interview or carefully pruned LinkedIn profile.
Recruiters and employers will easily find a candidate’s online trail – what American marketing blogger Seth Godin calls a “backlist”. He likens it to the back catalogue of a recording artist.
This highly visible history of an individual’s work and life, compiled by themselves and, more worryingly, by their connections, has a significant impact on how executives should approach their career strategy.
Hays, the recruiter, published survey results this year suggesting 45 per cent of job hunters believe past Twitter activity should never be taken into account by prospective employers.
Unfortunately, frequent surveys show that employers regularly scour social media sites to vet candidates.
However, managing a backlist is not as simple as making sure there are no compromising pictures on the internet or that a Twitter feed is cleansed of insults and complaints about work.
It is all about viewing an online life as an extension, or virtual representation, of real life, says Lewis Shields, director of digital and creative at Flagship Consulting, a public relations consultancy.
“The idea of social media is to be open, so if you’re looking for a job this doesn’t mean you have to lock down all your online accounts. Instead, just make sure that everything you’re posting is in line with how you want other people to perceive you,” he says.
He advises anyone concerned about what they might have said on Twitter, for example, to use Excel software to search for swear words and offensive material, and to delete it. “There are a number of tools such as Socioclean which, when you grant them access to your profile, will automatically go through your profiles and show up any potentially offensive content,” he adds.
Anyone regularly ranting about their job-search woes or the state of the economy might also be making themselves unattractive to employers, who will think: “If nobody else will hire them, why should I?”
But Mr Shields says it goes beyond words. “People often fall into the trap of not realising that you can tell a lot about a candidate by the people and brands they follow on social media.”
Connections can be made without an individual even being aware: searching for your name on Google can reveal who has taken an interest and what they have said. Mr Shields says: “You need then to follow the three Us: unlike (or unfollow), unfriend and unauthorise.”
Once achieved, a strong Google profile can offer an advantage over other candidates, he adds. “Don’t simply focus on LinkedIn. Instead, create a professional and personable Google+ profile. This account can be used to post links to professional articles – either your own or others – and should be used as a log-in when commenting on industry blogs and interacting with brands.
“Remember that Google prioritises Google+ over other networks. If a recruiter is reviewing a candidate’s online persona, the first page of their search should be filled with strong Google+ results that show off expertise, knowledge and personality.”
Claire Mason, managing director of Man Bites Dog, a corporate communications consultancy, says it is no longer acceptable for executives to profess ignorance of social media – because even those who avoid them are likely to build up a significant presence thanks to other people.
“You need to make sure you are visible and visibly connected,” says Ms Mason. “Devote yourself to becoming a leader in your field. Differentiate yourself from your peers by being the go-to expert in a specialist subject, or by building a reputation for your capability in a particular kind of leadership role.”
She adds: “Become a spokesperson for your company and embrace any opportunities to hone your communications skills and build your profile through the media as an articulate leader and expert commentator.”
This can be done through websites such as Expertsources.co.uk that allow experts to make themselves available to the media, or by promoting a specialist blog to connections via Twitter and other websites.
Blogs, however, present more risks: anyone promoting their blog must regularly view and edit comments, as a list of people disagreeing or pointing out errors can be embarrassing.
Anyone seriously concerned about the history they have created might need outside help. Companies such as reputation.com claim to be able to suppress negative comments from a person’s search history and help them develop and maintain positive content. Similarly, brandyourself.com allows individuals to check their search results and find out what impact their online activity is having.
Ms Mason advises everyone to look beyond their day job. She says: “Think about how you can build a fully rounded personal story, whether it’s through volunteering positions, new business opportunities or being a super-connector.”
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