Looking for footprints On the Web

March 12, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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At a lot of companies, there are employees who spend hours of company time each day looking at Facebook and other social networking websites. But that’s OK.

Those would be members of the human resources staff, looking for the details behind the résumés.

Robert Half International, the firm founded in 1948 that helps companies find professionals to add to their office staffs, speculates that traditional résumés may be going the way of the dodo and the dinosaurs. A recent OfficeTeam survey done by Robert Half indicates that more than one-third of HR managers believe resumes will eventually be replaced by profiles found on social and business networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

The survey of more than 500 HR managers at companies with 20 or more employees revealed that 28 percent think the decline of traditional résumés is “somewhat likely,” while 8 percent said “very likely.”

“We are constantly going on LinkedIn and looking individuals up, trying to gain a little bit more knowledge about what they do,” said Rebecca Westmaas, branch manager for the Robert Half office in downtown Grand Rapids. But she said it wasn’t just Robert Half doing that; it’s a general trend among HR managers.

Some recruiting companies, including Robert Half, even check out people who aren’t actively looking for a job. “We’ll pop online and see if they’re online and what their profiles have to say,” said Westmaas.

But don’t throw away that résumé just yet. The Business Journal asked if some companies no longer even look at an old-fashioned paper résumé. “I don’t think we’re at that point yet,” she replied.

However, the Internet definitely has changed the hiring process, and Westmaas offers this advice: “Most professionals need to figure out what form of social media could positively impact them and how to make that work for them.”

Westmaas said many professionals include in their résumés a link to their LinkedIn account or some other online professional profile.

“A lot of those professional profiles have things like references or testimonials on their behalf, which helps sell them to a future employer,” she said.

Professionals also need to be aware of the flip side of the Internet: what comes up when someone googles their name.

Westmaas said she is aware of an employer who was considering an individual but then found the person’s name on a social networking site that seemed to link that individual with a group of vampire enthusiasts — “You know, the goth thing,” she said.

Use of personal online photos is a major issue regarding professionals and the Internet. Westmaas said any photo that appears online should be dignified and professional if someone’s career is important to them. A friend or a relative may take a photo of someone drinking at a bar and then put it on a Facebook account linked to that person’s name.

“A picture speaks a thousand words,” said Westmaas.

If the person’s expression in the photo is a little too jolly, or someone else in the photo is appearing a little too risqué, it might be a good idea to ask that friend or relative to remove the photo. If they decline, there are regulations for use of Facebook that permit forcing its removal.

To make judgments on an individual based on a single word or photograph on the Internet may or may not be fair, said Westmaas, “but the reality is, it is a piece of information about a person’s professionalism or their character, and those things can come into play in the future.”

Westmaas recommends that professionals set up a Google alert with their name in quotes. “It will make you aware if new items are being posted out there with your name reflected in them,” she said.

Some individuals may accidentally self-destruct via social networking websites. Robert Half, in its publication “Business Etiquette: The New Rules in a Digital Age,” includes the story of a person they call Fatty Paycheck. She was offered a job by Cisco Systems Inc. and then tweeted her indecision: “Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

Someone claiming to be a Cisco employee tweeted back, asking for the name of the hiring manager and adding, “I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work.”

The “friending” phenomenon can be precarious, too. Westmaas said HR professionals advise discretion in who someone accepts as “friends.”

Half also asked 249 senior executives at the largest companies in the U.S. how they would feel about being ‘friended” online by people they manage. Only 10 percent said “very comfortable”; 27 percent said “somewhat comfortable,” and 57 percent were either “not very comfortable” or “not comfortable at all.”

There is another little landmine for would-be professionals buried in Facebook. Westmaas noted that it is possible for others to see the times and days an individual is on his or her Facebook account, updating it.

“People don’t think about that, but future employers do look at things like that. They look at it and say, ‘If this person was updating a Facebook profile during primary business hours, will they be doing that same type of non-productive work during their employment with us?’”

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