“There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis / But he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you” – Lyrics by Kirsty MacColl
In pre-social media days the traditional hiring process was thus: Advert in paper, CV posted with covering letter, interview, second interview, offer negotiation and then references. Pretty linear stuff with information shared between a fairly restricted number of players and usually confined to a discussion on professional competencies and achievements.
In the past CVs could contain embellishments (or sometimes downright lies) and only the most fastidious of hiring companies and the most honest of referees would challenge any potentially dodgy data.
Stories of such hoodwinks or blags are legion and I suspect mostly apocryphal but who’s to know how many senior and successful professionals previously managed to achieve moves up the career ladder with the odd little white lie or exaggeration on their CVs?
Online profiles help transparency
Today however we expose multiple aspects of our lives across sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, Foursquare and many more. Savvy employers are able to tune in to and survey these online personalities and achieve a much more complex understanding of who are, or who we purport to be, without the need to ever read a CV.
In some circumstances this has even taken a more sinister or intrusive direction with stories of employers asking employees or prospective employees to hand over passwords to social media accounts so they could vet even the information we have chosen to remain private to certain circles of friends, connections and followers. Recently two US senators have asked for an investigation into this practice and Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, has issued a statement to users highlighting their right to refuse these requests.
Our professional profiles, which advertise our skills and experiences on sites such as LinkedIn for networking, promotional and career advancement reasons are necessarily more open than the social biased sites such as Facebook. This openness means they are there to be judged and shared online by colleagues, peers, competitors, clients and employers.
Woe betide anyone considering bending the truth or bigging up their achievements without the evidence to back it up as they can be quickly challenged and exposed. Nothing irks quite so much as someone taking undeserved credit for something and if found out the action taken against the usurper is likely to be very public and impossible to keep a lid on.
Never reveal sensitive or confidential information
The other big no-no is revealing information on profiles which others may deem sensitive or even confidential. The recent case of HR Manager John Flexman fired because of his Linkedin profile seems to hinge on two key items of contention. First that Mr Flexman was advertising himself as interested in career opportunities which is employer objected to. Second that he published company data that was deemed sensitive. I understand Mr Flexman’s court case against his employer is ongoing and many social media commentators are waiting with baited breath to see how this pans out as the repercussions may be significant.
Similarly users should avoid employing outlandish corporate gobbledygook on their profile to describe their fairly prosaic skills and services. A bit of spit, polish and marketing sparkle is perhaps fine but go too far and you run the risk of online ridicule.
Staff augmentation service?
I recently had a good chuckle at a tweet sent to over 3,000 followers by an industry voice (and then retweeted onwards by many more) raising an arched eyebrow at a recruitment agent describing their “exceptional staff augmentation service” available to clients. What was going through their mind when they wrote that particular piece of copy I have no idea but it clearly didn’t have the desired effect of accurately describing what they do but rather made them look a tad ridiculous.
The most bizarre and wrong-headed use of misinformation and deception used online that I’ve come across (so stupid I thought it was made up) are the foolish users who choose to create bogus profiles in the hope that they can solicit useful industry information from unsuspecting networkers.
For instance recruiters who hope that their false profiles will be approached with job opportunities, which they can then in turn act upon. How many flavours of stupid is that? At some point they are always “outed” and in one stroke they drag their profession through the mud, destroy what reputation they may have had and make themselves pariahs. Not to mention the distracting effort it must take to maintain the subterfuge.
Online profile guidelines
So when honing your online profile it’s probably best to stick to the following guidelines:
- Sticking to the truth is always the best policy
- Employment dates should add up, job titles should be truthful, responsibilities and achievements accurate, qualifications comprehensive
- Use a photo that is actually you; not a cartoon character, album cover or movie star (I’ve seen them all)
- Use plain English as much as possible and avoid too much corporate speak
- Be 100% sure that you’re not posting any information that your employer, past employer or clients may deem sensitive or confidential
- If your employer has a social media policy take care to ensure you abiding by it
- Be mindful of the difference between what is appropriate on a site like Facebook where your friends are and what is appropriate on a site like Linkedin which may be seen by employers, colleagues and clients
Promotion and polish to make your profile look as good as possible is fine but mendacity is not: “There ain’t nothin’ more powerful that the odor of mendacity” – Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Related: What Does Your Online Persona Say About Your Personal Brand?