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Social media, big data, and recruiters – What all job seekers need to know


DATE: 01 October, 2015

Much has been made of social media’s power for personal branding and building profile, but some still don’t see it that way. Some see it as a distraction, as nothing too serious, a thing that’s not really for them.

But an aspect that’s important to consider is that your personal view on social media may have no relevance at all in this context. How you use it or don’t, whether you like it or hate it – what’s really important to understand is how others are assessing social and social data and how that can potentially reflect on you. For instance, you might think social’s irrelevant, but do your prospective employers feel the same? Did you know that some 90% of companies now use social media for recruiting?

Jobseekers in particular need to understand that how they personally feel about social is not the only opinion that matters – it’s how those they may want to connect with approach it that’s of critical importance. Rather than only considering what you shouldn’t be sharing publicly, it’s also important to know how recruiters and hiring managers are assessing your overall social presence in order to ensure you’re best representing yourself in this evolving process.

How recruiters & hiring managers use social

The amount of data now available to recruiters is amazing, and it’s growing every day. Large corporations are already utilising this info to find candidates – even back in 2011 companies were using social data to recruit for roles with particularly niche skill-sets. The availability of targeted info is a significant advance in assessing a person’s skills and cultural fit, and one which almost all recruitment professionals are now adopting, as shown in the various stats from the recruitment industry:

The fact of the matter is recruiters are looking at your social media presence and are assessing you based on this activity.

Some have questioned the ethics of this, whether a person should be judged based on their personal activities which may not actually have any bearing on their ability to do the job, and legal experts do advise caution when making assessments of people based on such behaviour. But the core truth is recruiters assess this information because they can. Because it’s there. And you may not even be aware of how much people can find out and ascertain about you based on your social presence.

True (Social Media) Detective

So how do you manage this? How do you ensure you’re putting your best foot forward while not putting your foot in it at the same time?

In a previous post, I covered the basics of self-assessment of your online presence, but for this context, I thought it would be interesting to cover a few ways in which people can find out more about you and form an understanding of who you are based on your social activity.

  1. Analyse user profile on Twitter: Twitter is the soapbox of the social media world, where people go to voice their thoughts on issues and ideas for all to see. This makes it a great tool for developing an idea of who a person is – the information they present on Twitter is how they want to be seen, and is addressed to the audience they want to be seen by. Using a tool like Twitonomy you can get an overview of how active they are on Twitter: what topics they tweet about, what hashtags they use, users they most mention. These data points can be added to the wider image of who a person is and what they’re passionate about.
  2. Analyse tweet content: You can also go to AllMyTweets and enter in a prospects Twitter handle, the app will then display up to 3,200 of their most recent tweets, all in one page of text. You can then check the boxes to remove replies and retweets, giving you a complete list of their original tweets – put that into Wordle and you can create a word cloud of the terms they use most often, providing further context about their interests and behaviours. Granted, this is only effective if the user it relatively active on Twitter, but a thousand or so tweets can provide some insight into a person’s leanings.
  3. Analyse connections on LinkedIn: LinkedIn is obviously a huge resource for recruiters, but in forming an idea of who a person is, it’s their activities on the platform that can prove most beneficial. Checking their groups and who they’re following will help build more of the body of this person and their interests – it can be of particular interest, for example, if their Twitter and LinkedIn interests show little to no correlation. Maybe it’s indicative of them using each platform differently, but it may also suggest that they’re mis-representing their actual interests for professional purposes on LinkedIn.
  4. Check for hidden social profiles by cross-checking LinkedIn data: LinkedIn also has two other significant resources that can be used to track down further info about a prospective employee. First, you can use their contact e-mail address in an app like Pipl, which scans the web for instances of that e-mail, highlighting profiles and presences on various sites. You can do the same with their profile image – using a reverse image search app like TinEye, you can locate places on the web that that same profile image has been used, further uncovering profiles on a range of sites.
  5. Analyse use profile on Facebook: This is no doubt the biggest one, with Facebook having the largest number of users in the world. It’s also where most people go to share more intimate, personal updates, people real personalities are revealed much more readily behind the digital walls of their chosen privacy settings. The thing people need to be careful of with Facebook is how private your details actually are. Facebook Graph Search changed the game on this by enabling deeper search capacity, which sometimes moves around your own privacy settings or things you think are not publicly available. For instance, if I search for John Smith’s profile and it’s all blank, everything’s locked up behind privacy settings, then John Smith’s all covered – nothing to see here, right? But if I enter ‘Pages liked by John Smith’ into graph search, most pages are public, and I can get a full overview of the pages he likes or groups he’s affiliated with, even though this info may not be publicly available via his own page. This isn’t circumventing Facebook’s privacy rules – you can make everything you post private – but groups, pages you’ve liked, photos posted by others – these are often governed by the privacy settings of the host, so you can track this info down regardless of an individual’s privacy preferences.

By going through these processes, you’d be able to get a solid idea about the individual’s interests, weekend activities, groups, cultural views, among many other individual highlights and quirks. Your social media presence is you, everything you’ve done can be tied back to you in some form – while you can restrict it and lock down segments through privacy settings, it can be difficult to hide everything from view.

So what do you do to avoid such scrutiny? You could just delete your profiles altogether, though that, in itself, raises red flags in the minds of some. Personally, I’d find it odd if someone in communications or media aged 40 or below had no presence of any kind on any social networks.

Of course, not every recruiter is going to go to this level of detail – assessors often don’t have the time to do an in-depth analysis of every candidate, but the tools are there, they’re freely available – and by ‘freely’ I mean both in availability and in cost. If you were looking to pay a person to perform a role within your team, wouldn’t you want to know as much as you could before signing them up?

The future of big data in recruitment

The fact is, we don’t know how big a role data is going to play in the future of recruitment. The era of social media and big data is really only just beginning and we’re nowhere near understanding the full depth of how this mass of information will change how things are done.

What we do know is it will change – it’s already changing how companies go about locating and hiring the best candidates. As time passes, and the dataset grows, it will provide companies with evermore in-depth information on the types people who fit best into certain roles, their history, their affiliations, their interests. At some stage, we may have the ability to accurately predict a person’s career path based on their skills, interests and attributes. Heck, LinkedIn are already doing this, on small scale.

Far-fetched? Take a moment to consider what you’ve put on your LinkedIn profile. Now imagine that level of personal career history entered by another 300 million people – the number of users LinkedIn currently has on file. All that data, all those career progressions, that education info. It makes sense when you see innovations like LinkedIn University Finder, an app which aims to help university students pick which higher-education institution to attend based on where they want to end up working. Very soon, functions like this, programs that sort through the data to find your optimum career options, could be commonplace.

Around 84% of internet users aged 18-24 use Facebook, an adoption rate that continues to spread through to older demographic brackets over time – that’s more data, more information being shared, more people building their own digital history. In the future, you won’t need to wonder how people lived in 2014, you’ll be able to look it up, by individual person, if need be, and you’ll be able to see exactly what they were doing. We’ll also be able to track where they worked, where their skills were most in-demand, what made them good or bad employees. And all those tiny details will create accurate personas, outlines of the people who’ll best fit specific organisations and roles. Everyone’s an individual, it’s dangerous to paint each person with the same brush. But the behaviours of groups are indicative, they can reveal truths you’d never find any other way.

In the future, your social presence might do more than get you your dream job, it might lead you to your ideal life.


Andrew Hutchinson

Andrew Hutchinson is a social media consultant and freelance writer from Melbourne, Australia. He has more than 11 years experience working in media monitoring, helping clients locate, evaluate and action keyword mentions in all forms of traditional and digital media. He's an internationally published author, an award winning blogger and one of the ‘Best Thinkers' on leading social media news website Social Media Today.