As professionals pursuing a second career or attempting a change of industry may have noticed, getting hired can itself be full-time work. With thousands of candidates hunting for fewer positions, it therefore bears repeating: As many job hunting guides now note, the smartest career move you can make is investing in yourself.
Enter personal branding – the practice of packaging and presenting yourself as Apple or Nike would consumer products. A necessity in today’s mile-a-minute, increasingly visual world, where first impressions are everything, you either instantly stand out or become hopelessly overlooked. Nowadays, the most important brand you’ll ever represent is yourself. Doubly so in the eyes of increasingly harried, time-strapped employers, whose perceptions it ultimately shapes.
Note that this doesn’t mean pretending to be something you’re not. Rather, it’s about realigning yourself to fit contemporary viewpoints. Want to be perceived as relevant? Let others know by keeping your skill set, experience and online footprint up to date. Following are several personal branding basics worth remembering – use them as a general job hunting guide, and you’ll instantly improve your chances of getting hired.
Get Your Story Straight - Forget the fabled 30-second “elevator pitch…” In today’s hyperkinetic age, you’ve got to summarize yourself in one sentence. Observers tend to group people into easily-sorted mental categories, so keep descriptions brief and individually crafted to suit each audience to avoid typecasting. Likewise, from your personal blog to your resume, collateral messaging should also remain consistent. Getting the cold shoulder? One problem may the language you’re using. Free services like Google Insights for Search and Google AdWords keyword tool‘ (which reveal popular online search terms) can disclose if the world’s actually looking for an “IT manager,” not “systems administrator.”
Control Your Online Presence - With employers increasingly turning online to research job candidates, search engine optimization (SEO) – tailoring web pages to rank high in online search results – is vital. Start by inserting your name into Google and see what it spits out: First-page placements are 24X likelier to influence viewer perception (and top three results drive the most traffic). Create more favorable impressions by securing a website featuring your name or a simple variation (ex. www.johnqpublic.com, www.johnquincypublic.com), then filling it with high-quality professional insights. Pursue similar strategies and placements on popular social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) or ones featuring popular keywords fitting your expertise (“/CollegeProfessor,” “/SecurityExpert,” etc.) as well. You can also use popular blogging platforms like WordPress and TypePad (dozens of sites offer eye-catching plug-and-play designs), and create posts featuring these terms to improve search results, and highlight your unique personality and perspective.
Make Your Voice Heard - Most hesitate to speak up for fear of criticism or ridicule. But with so many competing for so little nowadays, the squeaky wheels get the grease. Personal branding lets you establish yourself as a subject matter expert who brings singular, indispensable services to the table, not just another nameless drone. To this extent, you need to create platforms (websites,blogs, podcasts, self-published books/magazines, online video channels, email newsletters, etc.) that can reach large audiences, and galvanize support and discussion from professional readers/viewers. Once built, content that illustrates your expertise should be provided on a running basis, including research, analysis and opinions. All creations should be readily shareable via social media, helping you become a well-known and trusted online presence.
Participate in the Community - Doing favors for fellow job hunters, responding to reader emails and contributing as an unpaid volunteer to industry organizations may seem financially unproductive. But it helps build relationships, contacts and goodwill, while letting you have a positive impact on the professional community at large. Not only do such activities provide the perfect venue to demonstrate your skills and enthusiasm, and connect with potential mentors or advisers. With as many as eight in ten jobs going unadvertised in 2012, the connections they provide could prove essential to landing a new gig.
Join the Online Social - Numerous vehicles – submitting free bylined articles to trade publications, participating in online insider newsgroups, etc. – exist to become a strong and stable voice in your professional community. But you also have to be accessible as well: People have to know where to reach you, and that you’ll acknowledge their opinion by responding to questions and feedback as well, with conversation a two-way street. Note that the door works both ways, however, which savvy job hunters can also use to their advantage. With more employees launching corporate or personal blogs, sometimes the easiest way to get someone’s ear is simply to reach out directly and impress them through perceptive and intelligent discussion. Source: SCOTT STEINBERG for worklifegoesstrong.com
Job-search site Identified.com found that most job seekers don’t provide all the information in their online profiles that recruiters need to know. To get them to do that,Identified.com has gamified the job search.
The San Francisco-based company says that a combination of social networking andgamification — the use of game-like achievements and rewards in non-game applications — can encourage young people to provide the right information that can land them better jobs.
Identified.com is part of a growing number of companies using gamification to empower consumers in areas ranging from dating to fitness, energy use, and healthcare.
Identified.com has reached four million active users in the past six months. The average age of users is 23.5 years, and 90 percent are under 35. By contrast, 60 percent of LinkedIn’s users are 35 and over. That means it’s harder to find job candidates on LinkedIn, because many older people have established careers. Identified.com is now adding a million users a week.
Identified.com requires users to fill out their detailed professional profiles and create a short-form resume to find out their Identified Score. The average user adds 10 additional professional data points to his or her profile such as school, major, grade point average, graduation year, past employers, job titles, and other background.
The Identified Score shows a user how they are ranked by companies in terms of how desirable they are. Identified.com also offers scores for schools and companies.
By offering game-like rewards, the gamification technique gets users to fill out otherwise boring information. The scores are not just vanity points. Rather, they represent the value of key information that is currently in demand by employers. Identified.com also makes it easy to import data from a Facebook profile to its own profile system.
“Critical information that recruiters need to hire literally does not exist in one place online for young people,” said co-founder and co-chief executive Brendan Wallace. “Generation Y is nearly invisible to employers, so this technique is key.”
He added, “We constantly hear that the pain point among employers is sourcing the education and job information of the 18-29 year-old demographic, but Facebook is a great starting point.”
Engineers who attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are now in high demand across the country. Employers can find them, if the information is in the engineers’ profiles.
Recruiters say that 92 percent of Facebook profiles do not contain enough publicly available education and employment information (major, graduation year, job title) for recruiters to qualify potential candidates for jobs.
Identified found that more than 72 percent of Facebook users who come to Identified.com add new information that is not part of their Facebook profile to create “short-form resumes” online. That makes the candidates easier to recruit.
Identified.com was founded in 2010 by Wallace and Adeyemi Ajao, who conceived while doing research at Stanford University. The company now has 52 employees. It has raised $5.5 million from venture capitalists Tim Draper, Bill Draper, and others. Source: Dean Takahashi for Venturebeat.com
When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.
Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn’t see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.
Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.
In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person’s social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.
“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”
Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.
Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.
Companies that don’t ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign nondisparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.
Asking for a candidate’s password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.
Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother’s death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.
“I needed my job to feed my family. I had to,” he recalled,
After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.
“To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy,” said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland’s legislation.
Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.
And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff’s office has been one of several Illinois sheriff’s departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.
Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that “speaks well of the people we have apply.”
When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said “it depends on the situation” but could include “inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior.”
In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff’s department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.
“In the past, we’ve talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends,” said Capt. Mike Harvey. “Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them.”
Harvey said investigators look for any “derogatory” behavior that could damage the agency’s reputation.
E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book “The Twitter Job Search Guide,” said job seekers should always be aware of what’s on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.
Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it’s not violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she’s not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.
“I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you’re dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site,” she said.
More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.
Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.
Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant’s work history.
The company assumes “that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently,” she said.
Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network’s terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.
The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.
But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.
“Volunteering is coercion if you need a job,” Andrews said.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.
In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.
“I think asking for account login credentials is regressive,” he said. “If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can’t afford to stand up for your belief.” Sources: Manuel Valdes who can be reached at https://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes and Shannon McFarland who can be reached at https://twitter.com/shanmcf .