Category Archives: Professional Development

Building Your Brand: Social Media and Your Career

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Raleigh Convention Center as part of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Network 2019 Conference. I was one of three speakers leading a breakout session on “Building Your Brand”. I addressed how companies are using social media to evaluate candidates for employment. Below are snippets from my 10-minute TED-style talk. If you are interested in understanding how an employer might view your online presence, take a moment to google yourself and then contact me to learn how you can use social media in your career in a positive way.

In October, a Texas company publicly shamed a female candidate by sharing her bikini picture on Instagram. They said that it was a public service announcement to other candidates of what not to share on social media if you want a “professional job”. While the company rightfully received considerable backlash for how they handled this situation, there is an important lesson in here for all of us.

Prior to transitioning to career coaching, I was a recruiter for 18 years. In preparation for today, in addition to using my own experience, I reached out to several other recruiters and HR professionals to better understand the role that social media plays in how companies view and assess your candidacy. Whether the social search is part of a formal or informal hiring process or out of natural curiosity, you can be sure that someone is looking. The question is, what are the looking for?

Among the recruiters and HR professionals I connected with the level of digging ran the gamut from casual google searches out of curiosity to in-depth deep dives through like & follow history.

  • When I asked whether or not companies had formal social media policies, more often than not I found that companies do not have a formal process outlining:
    • what should be searched
    • when a search is conducted or who is responsible for conducting a search
    • what they do with the information they find
  • A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management unveiled that 57% of companies do not have a policy relating to screening potential employees’ social media.
    • If they have one, the social media review policy would define both what the employer is and is not looking for in reviewing social media. For example, a company might include a search for negative postings about past employers, material relating to alcohol or drug abuse, crime, dishonesty, etc.
  • Many in HR will not check social media until the candidate has signed off on the background check because of concerns about discrimination based on the information they now know about a candidate from seeing them online. It is illegal under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and discrimination laws to use the information found to discriminate against someone because of a protected class. If the information is related to religion, race, gender or another protected class, employers need to be careful before using it as the basis of an employment decision.
  • At the other end of the spectrum are the recruiters who said that checking is part of their MO. Recruiters in this camp will tell you that social media history is one of the most effective ways for a company to get a truly honest snapshot into who a candidate is as a person, and whether or not they are a “cultural fit” with the organization.
  • And if it’s not the recruiters, it’s hiring managers. According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers are using social media to screen candidates during the hiring process. Of those who conduct social media screening of candidates, 57% say they discovered content that caused them not to hire a candidate.

First, let’s talk about why they are looking. Several reasons:

  • It’s a great way to find candidates, especially in a competitive job market. In fact, more than 70% of the global workforce are passive candidates. It’s our job to find you. And not just on LinkedIn. One recruiter that I spoke with recently found a candidate on Instagram. She said sliding into people’s DMs is part of her job.
  • Your social media can give a recruiter a more accurate or complete picture of who you are when you aren’t trying to be perfect on your resume and in an interview.
  • They want to know if your brand matches theirs and if you’ll be an advocate for the company. When you work for a company, you become a walking piece of marketing collateral for the company and ambassadors of the brand.
  • Your posts tell me something about your judgment. Employers want to hire someone who has strong decision-making skills and good judgment and ethics. Is what you post how you will behave on the job, at a meeting or on a client’s site? Will you potentially be disruptive to the work environment or create a potential liability for the company? Do you understand what types of content are appropriate for different types of social media accounts?

Let’s dive into things that companies care about.

  • Drug use, heavy drinking, sexually offensive materials, violent imagery or anything else that reflects poorly on the applicant, especially discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion or other sensitive issues.
    • A few years ago, we did not move forward with a candidate because of an excessive number of pictures of drinking/partying on her social media. She was going to be the assistant to a senior partner and communicating with clients on his behalf. If I could easily find these pictures, so could our clients. Right or wrong, the partner did not want those images to be a reflection of him or the services provided by our company.
    • When it comes to drinking (images of taking shots, drunk on spring break, passed out), the concern is how you will conduct yourself, especially if your role involves travel for work, attending conferences or working on a client site. How will you conduct yourself in those places – will you harm the company’s reputation or hurt a relationship with a client?
    • I’ve been involved in 2 situations in which we had concerns about the safety of our employees based on the number of images of guns and gun-related violence on their social media.
  • Bad-mouthing previous employer or fellow employees.
  • Lying about qualifications.
  • Poor communication skills
    • I once passed on a candidate because of the quality of her writing on her Facebook page.
  • Links to criminal behavior.
    • This is where it can get tricky for an employer if someone googles a candidate’s name before a background check is run and/or someone outside of HR becomes aware of this information and passes judgment on a candidate before they should or in a situation where that criminal behavior may not be relevant to the job they are being hired for.
  • Sharing confidential information from previous employers.
  • Unprofessional screen name or handle – I have passed on candidates for this before.
  • Posting too frequently. Will you spend your workday posting online?

So, what do we do when we find something that concerns us?

  • In a number of situations, there’s a broader conversation between HR, recruiting and the hiring manager. From an HR perspective, we need to make sure that we are not potentially discriminating against candidates and making sure that we are treating all candidates equally (meaning a hiring manager can’t look at one finalist on Instagram but not another).
    • If the information comes up as part of a background check covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then we need to give the person a copy of the information, say it was the basis of our decision, and allow them to correct or clarify. But it does not mean that we have to hire the person.
  • Often hiring managers/recruiters will just decide not to move forward and the candidate never knows that they didn’t get the job because of something found on social media. If the information is not subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, then the employer does not need to share the information with the candidate.  
  • Sometimes, companies will ask for another interview for a candidate who is otherwise a great – this interview is focused on cultural fit.

If you think you can let your guard down once you’re employed, that’s not necessarily the case. In the CareerBuilder survey, half of employers surveyed monitor the social media activities of current employees. This has resulted in disciplinary action, either terminating or reprimanding an employee.

So, does this mean you shouldn’t have an online presence?

Absolutely not. We know that you are human and have a life outside of work. And social media can be a great way to find a job. Most of us, assuming we have a LinkedIn profile, have been approached by recruiters about job opportunities. In fact, 31% of all hires are proactively sourced. We want you to have social media so we can find you. 1 in 5 employers expect candidates to already have an online presence and nearly half of hiring managers say they are less likely to screen an applicant if they can’t find them online.

You can use social media in a positive way by:

  • Providing information that supports your qualifications
  • Showing your creativity, especially if you are working in a creative field
  • Conveying a professional image
  • Sharing your wide range of interests
  • Aligning yourself with the values of a positive company culture
  • Using strong writing skills
  • Sharing awards and accolades
  • Asking others to write recommendations for you on LinkedIn
  • Interacting with a company’s social media

The best strategy is to be vigilant about what you post online and to monitor when others are tagging you in their posts.

  • Keep it PG-rated – you don’t know how people will feel about profanity, politics, drug use (even if legal in some states), religion and guns.
  • What do you find when you google your name? Who can see your social media accounts? Are you connected to co-workers or potential future co-workers? You don’t want to share information that’s too personal or deceitful, such as photos of you living it up while you’re supposedly out of the office sick.
  • Post work-related content – with the use of technology and how it’s blurring the lines between work/life, think about how you can incorporate a positive work image into your social media such as attending conferences and participating in a company-sponsored event. These things send a positive message about how you will behave as an employee.

As long as you are purposeful and aware of what you are sharing online, you shouldn’t have to worry about your candidacy for jobs or keeping a job you enjoy.

Ripping the Band Aid off

It’s been about a week since I spoke at the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Professional Women’s Luncheon about Career Empowerment. Talk about getting out of my comfort zone. Speaking about empowerment got me fired up to keep that momentum going (vision boards, anyone?) and hopefully, the event got the attendees motivated for 2019 as well. I got so much positive feedback afterwards; these are a few points that seemed to hit close to home for people:

• “When I graduated from college, I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Not that I admitted that to anyone at the time.” I was really honest with the audience about this and a lot more. Let’s be real, we don’t always have it all figured out. But as I said, we don’t always say that out loud because we think that everyone else has it all figured out, so we should too.
“Please stop apologizing.” After sharing my own story about quitting my job to be home with my oldest daughter when she was sick as a baby, I reminded the audience stop saying sorry. Stop apologizing for taking time off to be at home with your children or for changing careers or trying the entrepreneurial life and failing; what you’re really doing is devaluing that experience. Be proud of your path.
“Tell everyone.” I could have done another TED talk on the power of your network but for this talk, I focused on the power of your network to keep you accountable. “It’s like marathons – if you tell everyone you are going to run one then you have to actually run one because everyone is going to ask you about it. My network has been unbelievable in terms of supporting me. They’ve reminded me when times have gotten tough that I could do it and they’ve had my back.”
“At some point, I had to rip the band aid off and go all in. I have never taken a bigger risk than the one I did in June when I quit my full-time job to pursue career and admissions consulting and the start-up life.” Now, here’s where my vision board comes in. For that year plus when I was working full-time while building Best You and helping build Kruted, I was mostly just keeping my head above water. Now that I’ve quit and have more time to focus on what were once my side hustles, I can do a lot more than just keep my head above water. Getting up on stage in front of 300+ people was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m already brainstorming what other goals I can conquer in 2019.

Happy Holidays! Here’s to an amazing 2019!

Let’s Get Uncomfortable

Comfort Zones. We hear about them all the time. More specifically, we are always being told that we need to get out of them. Makes sense, right? If we stick to only what we know, we get only what we’ve always gotten. So, if you want to grow, find your comfort zone. Then get out of it. Easy, right? Not so much. For starters, where exactly does your comfort zone end? How far out of it do you need to go to grow? What if we get outside of our comfort zone and it’s horrible? And most importantly, what do we hope to gain from this uncomfortable process?

The answer to the first three questions is simple: We don’t know. The answer to the final, crucial question is even simpler: More you. And a better you.

If we met today, you would likely never believe that I long had (and sometimes still have) a fear of public speaking. And I mean fear. The kind that makes me wish I were anywhere but right there at that moment, hives and all. I never liked being the center of attention. It started to become a problem in college. And by that, I mean that it started to hold me back. Suddenly, the idea of raising my hand and having all eyes in the room on me was horrifying. What if my answer was wrong or people didn’t agree with my opinion? So, I never raised my hand, even if I did know the answer. And those moments when I did get called on, I turned bright red and stumbled through the answer. I missed out on standing out to and developing relationships with professors. I missed out on being my best me in college.

And it only got worse from there. When I started working, I listened and tried never to speak. When forced to, I could feel the flush creeping up my chest, neck and face while waiting for my turn. I actively avoided opportunities that required any amount of public speaking, even if the role was a dream come true. This inability to speak up was hurting my career. And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more I avoided speaking in public, the more anxious I became when I had to. The more anxious I became, the worse it went the next time I spoke. And on the vicious cycle went.

Until I finally became sick of that feeling. I finally decided that there was absolutely no reason for this fear to continue to rule me, and prevent me from being my best self. I realized that I wasn’t “unable” to speak in public; I was unwilling to be imperfect. I have always admired people who are bold, people who weren’t afraid to be “wrong” in front of others. And I was determined to learn that skill just like they had. I started small. Speaking up more at work. Taking the lead in 1×1 conversations with peers. Then with my boss, and eventually senior management. Presenting to a small group in the office went from causing full-fledged panic attacks several days before, to only causing a minor panic attack the morning of. I realized that when I was stopped worrying about the hives, I could focus on the fact that I actually knew what I was talking about and that people were interested in my opinion. It felt like a leap of faith but I had to trust myself and realize that I was good at my job. Next came the previously unimaginable: voluntarily speaking at meetings and running small training sessions, which eventually led to the realization that I had left that fear far behind me, in a comfort zone I can barely recognize anymore.

I learned a lot about myself from pushing myself to do what was uncomfortable. I won’t tell you that I love public speaking now. I don’t. However, by pushing myself outside my comfort zone, I’ve opened the doors to new opportunities, projects, this website, this career.

After all, the world doesn’t end when I don’t know an answer, or if someone disagrees with my opinion. So, let’s push ourselves together.

For more on getting uncomfortable, check out this great HBS article. She speaks my language.

Brace Yourself: Feedback

This guest blog is written by Ted Johnson, who has been in executive recruiting for 20 years. 

Feedback has somehow transformed into a four-letter word. “Can I give you some feedback?” has never in the history of human interaction been followed by: “That was amazing! Keep doing it exactly like that.” Which makes the common response of tensing up and wanting to scream “EVERYTHING YOU ARE ABOUT TO SAY IS A LIE!” completely understandable. Sort of. After all, feedback is a form of constructive criticism; which is a form of criticism.

But your goal isn’t to avoid criticism, is it? It’s to grow personally and professionally, which you recognize requires acute awareness of your areas for development and not just focusing on your (perceived) strengths. Therefore, to stay true to your personal and professional goals, you must get comfortable with receiving feedback. That begins with understanding what it even is. And isn’t.

Feedback IS Feedback IS NOT
Neither “positive” nor “negative” A personal attack or commentary on you
Either accurate or not An instruction manual
The perspective of one person The world’s view of your flaws

Now that we better understand what it is and is not, let’s discuss some important tips which you should incorporate into any feedback conversation:

  1. Take a Deep Breath. The natural response for many, as discussed above, is for some form of the fight or flight response to kick in. It shouldn’t be, but it requires effort to retrain yourself. Feedback isn’t synonymous with confrontation so, slow down, take a deep breath and remember that this is a learning opportunity. Not an attack.
  2. Then Stop Thinking. For many, once the feedback is delivered, we will immediately start wracking our brains for examples of when we committed whatever unforgivable sin we are being accused of committing. Simultaneously, we will begin mounting a defense by scanning our memory for examples that contradict this claim. “She’s telling me I talked too fast? The horror! Wait, I definitely didn’t talk too fast because I distinctly remember telling myself to slow down at 9:52am…” By now, you’ve missed most of the feedback. And you’ve definitely missed the point.
  3. Instead, Listen. This sounds easy. Maybe it will be for you. But if you are going through the common loop outlined above, I promise that you aren’t listening.
  4. Thank Them. It may sound counterintuitive but we only give feedback to those whose development we care about. No one spends time giving feedback to and taking an interest in the growth of someone they don’t think will ever accept and apply it. And frankly, feedback isn’t easy for everyone to deliver. So, this usually shows a significant commitment to the recipient’s development and should be respected accordingly.
  5. Reflect Later. As mentioned above, in the moment, your only job is to carefully listen to the feedback being offered. Only once you are in a place to think about the message, should you reflect on the accuracy and usefulness of the feedback. This step is crucial as it requires you to be completely honest with yourself. Is this something you have heard from multiple, trusted sources? If so, it’s likely accurate whether you think it is or not. Would accepting this feedback and incorporating it into your performance have a positive impact on your growth and development? If so, it’s likely worth taking it to heart.

Applying these techniques isn’t easy. It will take time, especially steps 1 & 2. But with this basic framework, you will be better prepared to engage in any conversation in which feedback is delivered. This will allow you to recognize the value and takeaways embedded in it, and you will be one step closer to being your Best You.