“We invest in people…” is a phrase that entrepreneurs hear often from VCs and employees from corporations. What does it mean? Hard to know – or maybe, the actual content of the sentence depends on who is speaking.
OK, LinkedIn isn’t the whole spiel: For most people, you are your “background” and this “background” boils down to your résumé on LinkedIn. But a résumé is, by definition, limited: it is a summary. If Sergey Brin or Larry Page had sent a résumé to MSN, they would not have been asked to create the search engine of the future right away. Although they both had enrolled in the Stanford Ph.D. program, they were not “proven” yet. Who would have hired Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, or Bill Gates in key positions? The history of these iconic figures reminds us that what most people call “background” is only the foreground, a few degrees and a work experience that jump out to hiring managers and most investors. The end result is what we know: multitudes with “relevant” degrees and tons of “great” recommendations populate companies — small or big – and more often than not, these perfect recruits can’t make much happen beside ensuring business as usual and maintaining the status quo.
We all know that a great employee (or great entrepreneur) is more than a résumé. It’s a human being with a real background, whether you understand the word “background” as the software that is not displayed but is silently operating in the head and the heart of that person, or as the overall implicit or explicit setting or scenery in which a person places himself/herself and the vibes he/she transmits. This part is the fuzzy aspect of interviews — for better or worse, for both the interviewees and the interviewers, no matter how streamlined the interview process in a company may be or how well the interviewee has prepared. But how can people convey who they really are? And how can people know more about you? This takes me to a poll that I recently offered mostly via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
What do you do if you are asked to bring up your Facebook page during an interview? After fumbling for a few minutes with the wording of my poll, here is what I finally offered: “A male hiring manager asks a woman to show him her Facebook page in an interview. What should she do: Agree; Refuse and see what he says; Ask why and then decide; Walk out of the interview?”
The idea of that poll came from a comment to a post by Renee Weisman, Keeping Your Online Identity Professional (http://www.womenco.com/benefits/articles/3608-keeping-your-online-identity-professional?page=1): “A friend just told me that at the interview, her hiring manager asked her to bring up her facebook page. He wanted to see the types of things she was posting as a way to judge whether she would fit in his organization!”
Over 95% of the responses came through Twitter and the majority from the United States. After the first 100 votes, I noticed that percentages changed very little. Only a little under 12% of the respondents would immediately agree to bring up their Facebook page. I received multiple personal comments ranging from the right of having a privacy to the fact that our life is so much all over the Internet already that bringing up a Facebook doesn’t make that much of a difference. The poll was anonymous, but based on direct remarks, it is clear that people in their early twenties are the most open. One said: “Anyway, what 99% of people have on their Facebook is what 99% of the rest of the population also has. We have tons of pictures. It’s well known that other folks’ pictures are downright boring. So any hiring manager may be quickly bored as he/she goes through our galleries.” Another said. “My response would be ‘sure.’ Can you bring your page too? You want to know whom you will hire, and I want to know more about who is hiring me and for whom I’ll work.”
The fact that over 50% say that they would “ask why and then decide” (they may end up agreeing for fear of losing a job opportunity in a tight job market), that over 25% would refuse and see what the hiring manager says, and that almost 8% would walk out of the interview is all the more striking as employers increasingly screen employees’ Facebook and MySpace pages: “Forty-five percent of employers reported in a recent CareerBuilder survey that they use social networking sites to research job candidates, a big jump from 22 percent last year. Another 11 percent plan to start using social networking sites for screening. More than 2,600 hiring managers participated in the survey, which was completed in June 2009.”
My poll may not be “scientific, but if it is relevant, it’s clear that there could be a real discrepancy between the workforce’s state of mind and the companies’ hiring practices. If people feel forced to comply with corporate practices they do not like from the get-go, they might join companies only because they need a salary, not because they are sincerely motivated by the job – and strengthen a dangerous trend identified a few years ago showing that “less than half of Americans (47%) are satisfied with their jobs, according to a 2006 survey of 5,000 households (2006 survey of 5,000 households released by the Conference Board. ” Economic recoveries are not simply a financial story: employees’ enthusiasm also counts.
Additional information in the CareerBuilder survey may add to people’s reluctance about bringing up their Facebook page: While “Thirty-five percent of employers indicated that they did find information that caused them not to hire the candidate,” only “eighteen percent of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them to hire the candidate.” So, screening Facebook and MySpace pages appears to be primarily a way to exclude people. While it’s obvious that an employer will not want to hire people whose Facecebook and MySpace profiles display inappropriate pictures, drinking, drug use, or badmouthing a previous employer, personal profiles do not seem to have a huge positive influence.
The advice of many career specialists is to encourage people to maintain a squeaky clean “professional” identity. Great, but this raises other questions, such as:
– Should your Facebook profile be a copy of your Linkedin profile with just a very slight personal touch? What is a “professional” family picture? How do you tell your friends to always make sure that they only take “professional” pictures of you?
– What is “unprofessional” besides a few obvious no-nos? Could the word “unprofessional” become a tote bag for all the things that a hiring manager doesn’t like about a candidate – and may say more about a hiring manager’s potential blinkers, culture, personal tastes,or ideology than about the candidate himself/herself?
A few people asked me why my question was gender specific (A male hiring manager asks a woman to show him her Facebook page). In the poll, I did not ask respondents to indicate if they were men or women (maybe I should have). My response was that it was a real case. So think of this for example: A hiring manager cannot ask a woman if she has children, but can see it on her Facebook and can apply a still very common prejudice that this woman may not be entirely dedicated to her work. While it has become harder to openly discriminate, is it getting easier to do so tacitly?
Social media give a voice to a lot of new people – that’s obvious. Being in the Silicon Valley, I would have responded “Yes” with no hesitation to my own poll. Looking at the results, I had to think of the fact that the virtual world may also become a reproduction of the real world – eventually strengthen its shortcomings, its prejudice, but this time, under cover.
Note on the poll: To create the poll, I used ObjectiveMarketer (http://www.objectivemarketer.com). The platform enables you to create as well as analyze the exact impact of your tweets. It’s not enough to “listen to” people. You must also learn how to talk to them and understand what gets to their minds or their hearts. These tweets can also be polls! I wrote a post about the founder, Amita Paul: http://delbourg-delphis.com/2009/06/social-media-marketing-amita-paul-ceo-of-objective-marketer