Social Media Tips for Accountants

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation,” Warren Buffet once famously remarked, “and five minutes to ruin it.” Today, with the rise of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, reputations can be built and ruined in mere seconds. Here’s how you can get a handle on social media for your career.

It seems like everyone these days is hopping on the social media bandwagon. A growing number of companies are using online social media to source and recruit talent, by posting job offers and openings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like. Employers, however, are also increasingly using social media to screen candidates and conduct background checks. A recent CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers found that more than a third of the respondents review applicants’ profiles on social networking sites, as part of their recruitment process; as many as 34% of these admitted they have actually withheld a job offer from a candidate due to something that they saw on their social networks.

At the same time, 58% of the hiring managers surveyed said that social media profiles gave them a better feel for their candidates than resumes and interviews alone; almost half of them suggested that successful candidates’ profiles helped them get their jobs, by positively displaying their creativity, communication skills, and personalities.

Social media, in short, can prove both a gift and a curse for accounting job candidates. We’ve all heard horror stories about people getting in hot water at work or missing out on a job, due to some embarrassing gaffe they made on Facebook, Twitter, or another social network. We also hear, however, about how jobseekers today are using social media to their advantage in their jobhunt. If you’re an accountant looking for a job in Toronto, here are some tips that you will want to keep in mind the next time you log into Facebook or are thinking about retweeting something on Twitter.

1. Google yourself
Start by seeing what your employers see whenever they hop online in order to give you the virtual once-over. Launch a preemptive strike by regularly Googling your own name, so that you can see what about you has been shared on the Internet, whether by others or yourself. (Spoiler alert: there’s probably a lot more available than you think.)

You might also want to use alternative search engines, such as 123people and Pipl, which scrape all of the personal information about yourself that’s publicly available on the Internet, from work history and location to photos, not only from various social networks, but also other online sources, like public government documents, Amazon wishlists, and so on. Determine what kind of an overall footprint you’ve left on the web. And subscribe to Google Alerts, so that you’re notified by email whenever your search phrase (your name and current employer, for example) is entered into Google’s index. This way, you can know exactly when people are looking you up online, and what they are seeing when they do so (Internet content changes on a daily basis, after all).

Better to tame the lion by feeding it: by curating and controlling the content associated with your online persona, you can establish a strategic presence on the Internet.

2. Establish an online presence
Social media can be a powerful tool for branding yourself and helping you stand out from the rest of the crowd. If you’re not a member of any social networking sites, that can actually put your brand at a disadvantage, at least with respect to some employers. And remember: simply swearing off social media altogether is no guarantee that there won’t be any information about yourself on the Internet. It just means people other than yourself will get to shape your online persona.

Better to tame the lion by feeding it: by curating and controlling the content associated with your online persona, you can establish a strategic presence on the Internet. For example, if you find that your online reputation is worse than you thought, you can leverage social media to repair that reputation. Join popular social networks; these sites enjoy high search rankings and will be the first results returned whenever someone searches your name.

Most social networking sites will also give you more latitude and flexibility in terms of representing yourself and your career, letting you convey more of your unique individual style, creativity, and personality than traditional resumes. For example, the “about me” and “work experience” sections on most profiles aren’t usually bound by strict wordcounts. Take advantage of that extra space to say a bit more about yourself than you could in a one-page cover letter. Then include your social media contact info (your Twitter username, your LinkedIn profile URL) in your resume, so that hiring managers can go directly to these sources without having to dig around for them.

Not all social media profiles are created equal, however. While you’ll probably want to limit what, if anything, you make public from your Facebook profile (besides information about your location, work, and education perhaps), you absolutely should create and complete an up-to-date public profile on LinkedIn, which is fast becoming a standard resource for recruiters in every industry. Don’t omit any important details — current and previous work experience, education, skills and accomplishments, recommendations from former supervisors, clients, and co-workers. According to LinkedIn, users with completed profiles are up to 40 times more likely to receive job offers than those with incomplete ones. For my part, I can cite at least one instance in my career as a Toronto finance recruiter that a candidate was refused a job offer on the basis of their LinkedIn profile being left incomplete, which the client deemed evidence of negligence on the candidate’s part.

3. Use social networks to network
Another great way to build your online brand is to actually network on the social networks you’ve joined. This sounds redundant, but the fact is that not everyone fully leverages their social networking profiles to build their networks. Don’t make that mistake. Join LinkedIn and Facebook groups related to accounting and finance in general, as well as the specific industries you work in, associations you’re a member of, and certifications you hold. Contribute to the discussions and pose questions for the other members. Use these public forums to showcase your knowledge, passion, and interest in your work and your field. Discussing industry trends, offering advice to colleagues — these are all ways to charge your unique, individual brand and communicate to employers that you’re committed to learning and growing as a professional.

Don’t let your social network profiles sit completely idle. Try to maintain and build them over time. Few, if any, employers would ever pass on hiring someone because they didn’t have enough followers on Twitter or connections on LinkedIn. But just as they might frown at a profile that appears to be incomplete, they may look askance at one that you don’t seem to be actively using to build your network. Some hiring managers might misinterpret that as a lack of commitment to progressing your career.

Where social media is concerned, it’s okay to be a bit of a control freak — a megalomaniac, even. You wouldn’t let your family, friends, neighbours, or acquaintances add to your resume without your permission; don’t give them carte blanche to remake your online brand.

4. Protect your brand
There’s no point in building a brand if you’re not willing to protect it. With more and more hiring managers screening social networks to vet candidates, you need to be proactive on this front. Keep your online image clean and professional, starting with your profile picture. Make sure that any relevant personal or work information you’ve included on your resume matches whatever you’ve shared on social networks. For example, your employment history should be identical on both your CV and your LinkedIn profile; if your previous employers, titles, accomplishments, or dates don’t match up, it could raise a few eyebrows. And proofread any copy or text you’ve provided for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

It’s not just about your own web-based activity — you also need to keep a tight leash on your friends, followers, and connections. You’ve just been tagged in a questionable or unflattering photo on Facebook? Untag yourself. Someone just posted an embarrassing link on your wall or left an off-colour reply to your status update? That’s what the “delete” button is for. Don’t want your tweets to show up in Google searches? Change the settings.

Jobseekers need to work full-time as their own brand managers in order to be successful. Ramp up your account’s privacy settings, so that you, and only you, control what appears on your profile, and so that employers can only see content appropriate for professional milieus that you yourself have approved. Where social media is concerned, it’s okay to be a bit of a control freak — a megalomaniac, even. You wouldn’t let your family, friends, neighbours, or acquaintances add to your resume without your permission; don’t give them carte blanche to remake your online brand.

In many ways, social media represent a double-edged sword. By allowing you to connect with the companies you’re interested in and would love to work for, and giving you direct access to hiring agents and decision-makers, social networking sites can be great resources for finding openings and opportunities. But if you’re not mindful about how you’re presented, your social media profile and online persona more generally can also provide potential employers with reasons not to hire you. What you share and say on social networking sites can get you in hot water at your current job, or even keep you from getting your next one — but they can also give you a leg-up on your competition. Follow these tips to maximize the full power and promise of social media for your accounting career.

At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next levelWe also encourage you to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) for more tips and advice!