Your absence on Facebook may be holding you back

Aug. 14, 2012 at 9:41 AM ET

When it comes to Facebook and other social media, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. At least that’s some career expects are saying.

Job applicants long have known that what they post on social networks can hurt their chances of getting hired. But a lack of a social media presence also can be an obstacle.

“If you don’t have a social media page, are you now identifying yourself in a way that suggests you’re outside the mainstream?” said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm.

In today’s world, where many people are permanent job seekers, “social media presence is basically a must in managing one’s career,” he said. “Not doing sowill cause many to question why and will raise red flags about your candidacy. What do you not what people to know? What are you hiding?”

“And if you don’t have an online identity, companies can’t find you,” said Challenger.

Dennis J. Garritan, a managing partner of private equity firm Palmer Hill Capital and an adjunct professor at Harvard Business School, didn’t take quite such a hard line. He said his consideration of social media presence when assessing applicants depends in part on their age and the kind of work they do.

“Not all social media are equal,” Garritan said. “LinkedIn is required. If they are not on LinkedIn, I’m wondering why not, because that is the vehicle for professional networking.” Twitter is important, too, he said, for serious job candidates.

 “I like to get to see how people think on their feet,” Garritan said. “How they react to situations spontaneously is a highly prized commodity in the workplace.”

So he said age might be a mitigating factor.

For people 50 or older, for example, he said not tweeting is understandable, as they may be unaccustomed to the technology. If a 40-something doesn’t use social media, it would be a little worrisome, but not critical.

“But if a job candidate is a Millennial and doesn’t have Facebook, you’re wondering, is this person with it, or out of it? It’s certainly a question to ask in an interview,” Garritan said. And for people who work in marketing and public relations, “they have to be invested in social media to be state-of-the-art professionals.”

Certainly there are valid reasons for job candidates to avoid social media, said Garritan, who has a Ph.D. in organizational psychology. And, he noted, there other ways to evaluate candidates’ social skills, including old-fashioned resumes.

 “Profiling is bad science, especially when done by people from an armchair,” he said.

Surprisingly, an August 2011 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management concluded that “only a small number of organizations are using online search engines and social networking websites to screen job candidates.”

Only 18 percent of organizations indicated using social networking websites. Conversely, 71 percent have never used these websites to screen job candidates or used them in the past but no longer do so.

But Garritan and other human resource professionals were skeptical of those results.

“Every company I know does it,” said Garritan.

Accenture, the management consulting company, aggressively recruits through social networks, saidJohn Campagnino, senior director of global recruitment. But he added that if a serious job candidate has limited or no social media presence, it would in no way hurt his or her chances or being hired.

Ed Hannibal, a partner at Mercer, an international human resources management consulting firm, had a similar take. He said he couldn’t comment on company policy, but he and his immediate staff have used social media tools to recruit and prescreen prospective candidates, though he said that he is not on Facebook himself.

“I’m so connected personally,” through numerous professional groups on LinkedIn and a BlackBerry, “I didn’t feel the need.” He surmised others may feel the same way.

“There are a lot of factors why individuals may not take part in social media,” Hannibal said. In cases where there is no social media presence, he might rely more heavily on references. “It would not necessarily make or break why I interview or recruit someone,” he said.

 “I don’t necessarily think this is a red flag,” said Hannibal, referring to candidates who avoid social networking. “You can’t jump to conclusions.”  

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