Read all about it! The Agony Aunt looks at ‘CVs’ on social media

This week’s question for the Agony Aunt – “Do you know how to market yourself via social media?”– is made up of just 45 characters. That’s nearly 100 less than Twitter currently allows (pssst! a little birdie told me that Twitter is looking at increasing its iconic limit from a snappy 140 characters to a War and Peace-like 10,000 …)

So, in many ways, this week’s question (and my latest bit of gossip) is a perfect example of social media in action – short, relevant and shareable. I hope my question was ‘pinged’ around the Attic’s online community this week, in a digital deluge of retweets and likes.

With over 90% of employers now using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to screen applicants, I wanted to hear your stories of how tweets and posts have helped or hindered your career. Because, despite tweets sounding ‘short and sweet’, it is increasingly clear that social media has the potential to be both incredibly powerful, and incredibly damaging. Online, in the cloud and stored forever on hard drives somewhere, your professional and private lives are now searchable and visible, on PCs, Macs and mobile phones. In the same way that geofencing is becoming the new way for legal teams to put a defence or prosecution case together, social media can determine your own fate too.

The digital age is re-writing the rulebook when it comes to job applications and the paper-based, edited versions of our lives that we used to send to employers, along with a carefully crafted, handwritten letter. Anyone remember letters?

It’s hard to imagine now but there was a time – not that long ago – when people would think twice about writing ‘CV’ rather than Curriculum Vitae at the top of the sheet of A4 (that’s a piece of paper, for anyone reading this under the age of 30 …) in case it looked too informal. Now we are happy to upload photographs and videos of ourselves on social media, wide eyed and legless at a bar-be-que, dancing gangnam style at a wedding or sitting watching Britain’s Got Talent, smoking a fag, wearing a onesie. It’s very hard to look someone in the eye after they’ve seen this lot, and convince them you really are a serious professional, whose hobbies include cycling, gardening and Modern American Literature.

Now, if anyone still thinks social media is a fad, or something that doesn’t apply to them, let’s look at the data (which is now called big data, because like social media, the amount of data we leave behind is getting to be pretty massive too).

According to a recent survey, 55% of the companies who use social media to screen job applicants reject people because of what they discover online. Via sites like Twitter, Facebook, You Tube and Instagram, employers can get a good insight into who people really are, and then match this to the kind of person they want on their team. It’s fair to say, social media gives employers a window into our real world, in a way that traditional CVs do not.

It’s rare for example for someone to admit to having a drink or drug problem on their CV. Yet on social media, to capture and celebrate every moment of our lives, and to share these personal and special moments with our 1,527 best friends on Facebook, we upload photos and write posts that suddenly feel like incriminating evidence in the hands of a potential employer. 45% of companies say social media content referring to drink and drugs had put potential candidates in a bad light.  39% have rejected applicants after finding negative comments they have written on social media about their previous employers and colleagues. 38% have been put off by ‘inappropriate photographs’. I think – or should I say I hope – that refers to the mobile phone snaps of the Gangnam-style dancing, or the onesie. Heavens forbid that anyone had to walk into an interview room, only for the panel not to recognize them with their clothes on.

But this is not a new version of You’ve Been Framed (although with social media that’s often the case, by yourself …) Social media, when managed in the right way, is a serious platform for us all, on which we can build a clear and powerful presentation of who we are, what we do and what we believe in. We can use social media to connect with new groups, new companies and new people who can help our careers grow. The best advice I can give you about social media is to ignore the word ‘social’. This is media, above all – a way to communicate with the world, or a selected percentage of it. Think of social as driven by society; not sharing personal details from your social and private life. I’m sure even Andy Warhol would look at social media today and long for just 15 minutes of fame for us all.

So, how do you market yourself via social media?

  • First, register and get active on Twitter and LinkedIn if you’re not already using social media
  • Write a clear, compelling profile and keep it updated
  • Showcase your skills – your key skills. Keep all copy crisp and clear
  • Make your social media story relevant to the sector you are in, and the career you are building
  • Write at regular intervals. People will notice that you didn’t tweet or post for months at a time. Be consistent
  • Use blogs to position yourself as an expert and a voice of authority
  • Connect with new networks that are right for you and your career – LinkedIn and Twitter are especially powerful here
  • Google yourself and check what people can see and read about you
  • Use your privacy settings to give yourself maximum security
  • Upload a positive photograph of yourself
  • Always remember everything you upload, and everything you enable others to upload about you, will be visible to potential employers.

Let’s open some of the emails that you’ve sent me this week, to see if you are all following the do’s and don’ts of social media. Here are some of your stories and insights. All are dealt with anonymously.

“It pays to think of yourself as a brand when you use social media. Brands have guidelines for people to follow, about how or where the brand can be used, what the corporate colours are, and the font – and above all what the brand’s message and values are. Marketing departments and advertising agencies spend huge amounts of time and money making sure brands are always on message – so that the brand is always liked and believed in. It’s the same with anyone using Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn. These sites are like our billboards, promoting our brand. I don’t have a set of guidelines – you don’t have to be that rigid about it – but I do always look at a post or a photograph or a retweet before I press ‘submit’ and test it against who I really am, and how I want to be seen and judged by the world.”

Consultant A, Windsor

“I’m not in a position within my firm to write white papers or think-pieces on certain aspects of the legal profession, but I enjoy writing and sharing what I know and think about one-off issues or on-going topics that shape the legal sector. Social media gives me the opportunity to write, and to explore thought-leadership, with people around the world that I would never know or connect with without sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. By joining the right groups for you, and by selecting to connect with the right kind of people, you can benefit hugely from this audience. I’ve discovered statistics, insights and stories about the law via social media that have been incredibly useful to me at work. And from the replies I get, I now have an audience for the pieces I write myself. Social media is a real asset.”

Consultant B, London

“I told my senior partner on Monday morning that I got my black eye playing rugby at the weekend. He’s just seen a photograph of me on Facebook, taken on Saturday night, that shows the real story. I have a meeting with HR in 15 minutes.”

Consultant C, Birmingham

Next week’s question: “Are you being bullied at work?”