What's the first thing you do when you're introduced to a new person? If you're like most people, you check them out online -- their Facebook page, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile and so on. Potential employers do the same when they're screening candidates, so it's important to make sure your online presence offers an accurate picture of your whole self before you're asked to an in-person interview.
"In this day and age, how you conduct yourself personally does reflect on how you are viewed professionally because of the advent of social media. The two inform each other much more so than they have in the past. In the spirit of full transparency, it's critically important that you represent yourself accurately online," says Jason Hanold, CEO and managing partner at Hanold Associates, an executive search firm.
For hiring managers and recruiters, it comes down to trust, especially when they must make quick decisions based on initial impressions, says Hanold. The more information a recruiter has about you, the more quickly they develop an impression and make a snap decision, sometimes in seconds, on whether or not to invite you for a phone call or an interview.
"You can't trust who you don't know; the more information you have, the better decision you feel you're making. As a job seeker, your online impression is the first and sometimes only view recruiters and hiring managers see of you, besides your formal resume, and that is what they're basing the next step on," Hanold says.
Who are you?
It's one reason Hanold spends time flying to meet candidates in person. Sometimes their online persona isn't an accurate match to how they present themselves in person. Sometimes, he says, all he has to go on when meeting them -- often within a tight timeframe, in an airport or at a hotel -- is their LinkedIn profile picture.
"I'll do day trips to meet potential candidates, and sometimes it's like, 'Uh, how old is this photo? This can't be you -- it doesn't look right!' And that skews my initial perception toward the negative. It's hard to negate a positive first impression and it's almost impossible to rebuild from a negative first impression," he says.
Style and substance
That doesn't mean you should pretend to be someone you're not -- that could be equally as detrimental if you land a position for which your "real" self isn't a good fit, culturally, says Stu Coleman, senior managing director, accounting and finance contract staffing at WinterWyman.
"You want the interview to be about substance, not style, but for some, your style is part of your substance. So, sure, put on a nice suit, cover those tattoos and take out the piercings and go have a great interview. The problem is, for some, it's akin to having a serious conversation wearing a toga. They had a name for it back when I was in high school; it was called being 'a poser.' How can your prospective new employer get to know you when you are pretending to be someone else?" Coleman says.