how should I navigate social media connections during a job search?

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A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a job at a local media organization. I’m still waiting to hear back from them, but in the past week or so, three people who were in on the interview have followed me on Twitter. I’m not concerned about that — I tweet both personal and professional stuff, but always keep my Twitter free from anything I would be embarrassed for a potential hiring manager to see. I figured since they did that, it was okay to follow them back.

But this brings up some general questions for me about social media during active job applications. It seems like culture around these things varies some by platform and industry — in my industry, lots of people tweet professionally, for example. But I sometimes get Facebook friend requests from people I only know professionally (and maybe even people I’ve never met but who work in the same field) and that always feels a little icky.

It also feels like, as the applicant, I shouldn’t go and follow everyone at an org once I’ve applied, but am I wrong about that?

And what about LinkedIn? I’ve gotten LinkedIn requests before from hiring managers, but as an applicant I would never initiate that. I usually even log out of LinkedIn before viewing a hiring manager’s profile so they can’t see that it was me.

Any rules of thumb about this stuff?

There are lots of different ways to do this appropriately, but here are some general rules:

* If you’re thinking about following an interviewer on Twitter, look first to see if their tweets are mainly professional or mainly personal. If it’s the latter, skip the follow. The same thing goes for other people in the organization you’re applying with.

* But if professional contacts (including interviewers) follow you on Twitter, it’s totally fine to follow them back.

* Facebook generally isn’t for professional use. Some people are exceptions to that and use it professionally, but unless you know for sure that someone does, default to assuming it’s personal. (I’m talking here about non-coworker contacts. It’s more common for people to connect to coworkers on Facebook — but that’s often meant as a warm social gesture, not professional networking. But you also don’t need to do that if you don’t want to. And if you’re a manager, you should give your employees Facebook privacy.)

* If a professional contact friend-requests you on Facebook and you don’t want to connect to them there, it’s fine to ignore it. If you’re ever asked about it, you can say, “Oh, I’m hardly ever on Facebook” or “I just use Facebook for a small group of family and friends, but I’d love to connect on LinkedIn.”

* A lot of candidates do send LinkedIn requests to their interviewers. Some interviewers will accept and some won’t. With those who won’t, it’s usually because they reserve LinkedIn for people they’ve worked with or otherwise know better than they know a job applicant. But it’s not a faux pas to send the request. (Personally, though, I’d wait until after the interview when they’re more likely to feel rapport with you or interest in staying in touch.)

* I wouldn’t worry too much about hiring managers seeing that you’ve viewed their LinkedIn profile. That’s a normal and non-creepy thing to do before you interview with someone. (But it’s also fine to keep logging out first if you’d still rather be covert about it.)

how should I navigate social media connections during a job search? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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