Hiding Your Head in the Sand

Digital presence has been a hot topic at Darden lately, coming up in several classes- in fact, @CarlosRCamacho and I will be talking to first year MBA students at Darden about building their personal brand next week.

While students are more open to social media as a means to do so, most companies (at least the banks, consultants, consumer products, pharmaceutical firms, etc. that recruit here) still aren’t fully comfortable with student’s social media profiles. While these companies have marketing & PR departments active in this sphere, those are corporate and controlled accounts; companies aren’t comfortable with individual profiles. I think they’re missing a valuable opportunity to honestly learn more about whom they’re hiring, create a positive grassroots network effect, empower employees and applicants and get ahead of the curve.

But that’s easy for me to say, since I want to work for tech start-ups that are more accepting. Regardless, I thought I’d share the 4 basic rules that I always follow- feel free to chime in if you have more/disagree.

  1. Be consistent with the lines you blur: I’m ok with expressing some personal beliefs that might be seen by colleagues/clients, but I’m consistent. For instance, I’ll mention activities I do with my family, but not items about health, finances, etc. I made a decision as to what social and political beliefs I’ll share- I’ll advocate for LGBT rights on my accounts, but won’t talk about abortion. I’ve simply made a few choices as to what I will share and am staying consistent with that. Decide what you’re comfortable with.
  2. Built a platform for integration: There are a lot of services out there; I chose what I wanted to use and integrate. I publicly blog and Twitter, and have linked those accounts to both a Google and Linked-In profile, then directed them all to a public email address. That’s on purpose. My Facebook account I keep private; you can’t access photos or posts without being my friend.
  3. Be controversial, but don’t be rude: I’ll challenge things I don’t agree with and post controversial links, but I always treat conversations online as if I’m having them in person.
  4. Know what’s out there about yourself: I’m not saying you should hire an SEO firm, but at least know what’s out there. I know what’ll come up if a potential employer Googles me; I know exactly what they’ll see. And I’ve spent some time developing the content that comes up so it shows off the skills and experience I want to emphasize. That’s just common sense.

I understand why firms would rather play it safe and how those preferences affect how MBAs look at Twitter and Blogs. And I’ve heard the execs who come to school and say “be very very careful what you put online.” I agree- be careful.

But you can’t hide your head in the sand- like it or not, you now have an online resume. We all do. And as time goes on, more content will bleed- family, clubs, high schools, colleges, hospitals, etc will all be putting info about you online, and those items will become the frontline of what people see ….unless you take control. Decide what content you want to share- be honest, don’t create false expectations- and then showcase that in a way you control. If I were hiring an MBA I’d like to see they had an understanding and control of this technology, as well as the ability to generate content and sell themselves.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on October 7, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Interesting post, Seth. In my SY coaching, I try to stress how there are many different mediums you can control through which your brand is communicated – your resume, your cover letter, small talk with recruiters, interviews, etc. For starters, it’s probably worth my including social media presence as one of those. Second, I think the best candidates honestly assess the ways in which they need to differentiate themselves, as well as the points in their background that will allow them to differentiate themselves, and decide which mediums are best to do that. For example, if I’m an aspiring consultant with an 800 GMAT and a 4.0 GPA from Harvard, do I need to go out of way at company briefings to draw attention to my abilities? Probably not – let the numbers speak for themselves. But if I’m a mechanical engineer who wants to get into marketing, could a blog where I talk about my creative side help? Absolutely.

    Reply

    • Hey Tim, thanks for the note! That’s a good point, and I don’t think everyone needs to engineer a social media approach to their resume. But I don’t think they should let anything keep them from doing it if they want to. I think it’d be cool if you talk a little bit about social media with the FYs you’re coaching- from a positive, proactive approach rather than the old-school “hide everything online.” But like you say, a lot of people don’t particularly want or care to do it, which is ok too.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Mark on October 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Great post, Seth. I like your proactive, thoughtful approach to sharing personal beliefs and integrating social media venues. Your point on the risk of the sanitized internet presence approach – with little to no self-generated content on Google/social media, one has to be more vigilant in monitoring what’s out there, because negative information will loom large – is one that I would guess many social-media-phobes don’t consider.

    Reply

    • Thanks buddy- I think it will be an interesting next couple of years as companies go through the process of switching from ‘protect ourselves’ to ‘brand ourselves.’ What they’re going to find with social media though (I think) is that you can’t only have a structured & controlled presence- you need organic content which means you need to trust your employees to some extent.

      Reply

  3. Smart and useful. I will say something to my students about it.

    Reply

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