Social sites – do they hurt or help?

Q: I know, or at least, I’ve heard that a lot of employers look at social sites when considering resumes of potential new hires. My problem is that there is at least one other person out there (in the same region, no less) with my name. So while I’ve kept off the social sites in an attempt to keep my reputation clean and clear, anyone looking up my name might mistakenly think I’m this other person. Is this likely to cost me interviews? Should I be worried about it?

A: Social networking sites can both benefit and hinder a job search. You raise a very good point though – you need to use good judgment in how you use them.
On the positive side, a recruiter can find good candidates on social sites. In the old days, a recruiter would have had a much more difficult time finding candidates at specific companies. A recruiter would call (sometimes incessantly) and hope to be connected to the right person. Now, more recruiters are able to search social sites to find the person or the role at a company. My firm recently found a very strong candidate at a client’s competitor through a social site. I am not sure if we would have ever found this candidate without using the site. In short, social sites can lead to networking opportunities and job leads.
Job hunters need to use care though when sharing information on a site. Job hunters need to review their photos, the groups to which they belong and other personal details that they have shared on these sites. When I have perused these sites, I am sometimes shocked by the personal and sometimes salacious details that a person shares.
Some of these details may hurt a candidate’s chances of being contacted by a recruiter. A real-life example – a major west coast retailer hires hundreds of college grads for their management training program every year. Their college recruiting program costs hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Several years ago, instead of inviting candidates to interview onsite in California, they first began checking the most popular social sites for this demographic. This step has saved them significant dollars in time and travel expenses.
A few targeted suggestions for your situation:
– Differentiate your name. If this other person uses the name John Robert Smith and you have the same exact name, begin using John R. Smith or John R. Smith, CPA. If this person uses John Smith, think about using John Robert Smith. Recruiters know there may be many individual “out there” with the same name.
– If you are in a different industry, include this detail on any social sites as well.
– If you are a MBA, CPA, etc., highlight this detail so it differentiates you from this other individual.
– LinkedIn provides its members with a specific web address that when clicked reveals the member’s public profile. This web address might be worth considering and including on your resume. When you provide this web address, you are better managing the online research path that a recruiter may take.
– Lastly, there are a few candidates who have either developed their own website for their job search or purchased the url associated with their name.

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