Job hunters beware - employers are increasingly checking out networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get a feel for prospective employees.
Fiona Hewitt, director of Brand YOU, says while some are just "checking out drunken photos on Facebook", savvy employers are using these sites as a recruitment tool to assess people's public persona and reputation.
And whether you're job hunting or preparing for a promotion, there's never been a better time to define your personal brand and boost your professional visibility.
In this "incredibly competitive" market in which there's plenty of uncertainty, Hewitt says you need to stand out through "working out who you are and showcasing your talents to others".
Employers want to know how you can strengthen existing client relationships, attract new clients or build new revenue streams. Having a strong personal brand helps them understand who you are and what you can do for them.
Hewitt says few people convey their value clearly and concisely in interviews and networking.
Promoting yourself online has become an increasingly important career and business management tool. Having a website in your own name that communicates crisply what you can do, lists your accomplishments and includes samples of your work is a primary way to project your brand.
If a prospective employee can refer their interviewer to their website, they will gain a competitive advantage over others and stand out instantly because few job hunters are doing this, Hewitt says.
Having a network of people who can recommend you helps your chances of bagging a job. Online professional networking platforms, such as Linkedin, are another good place to start publicising the value you can offer.
But internet marketing expert Debbie Mayo-Smith says it doesn't pay off if you're "the kind of person who waits for things to happen". To benefit, you must be proactive in working tools such as Linkedin. And they still tend to be used by a particular demographic, which may not be your target market.
Many owners of small to medium-sized businesses are too busy to trawl for them through cyberspace, she says. Her approach to Linkedin is to survey the contacts of anyone she connects with, looking for anyone to whom she would like to be introduced.
She also recommends joining groups through the site to which potential employers may belong as a means of making a connection and raising your profile.
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook also provide public platforms for exhibiting your personal brand, and Hewitt says awareness has grown that potentially, employers are looking at these profiles. "Employers are definitely using social media to check what people do," she says.
Another cost-effective tool to make yourself "a much slicker package in the marketplace" is developing an authoritative blog or answering questions online within your expertise area.
Mayo-Smith says building a personal brand online suits creative people and those in certain professions, but "everyday people" who've lost their jobs won't be rewarded for the effort required. They are better off identifying how they can transfer their skills to a less vulnerable industry and mixing with people involved in it.
Simon Pomeroy, recruitment manager at Air New Zealand, says when screening a candidate he looks to see if they have a Facebook page and what behaviour they're portraying to get a better idea about them.
"You can get a strong sense of someone's dynamic," he says. "And yes, it certainly influences whether we think someone's going to be a good fit for the organisation."
But less emphasis is placed on social media sites than professional networking ones.
His team uses Linkedin "extensively" to build lists of names and searches to see what has been written about them.
On other occasions he'll search someone he's heard about but feels may not be a fit in terms of their values and how they promote themselves.
When the company hired a regional general manager in China, he hadn't met the candidate, who'd come from another airline.
"We hadn't really got an idea what his track record was. Reading articles and seeing interviews about him, we got a good sense of his drivers. That was invaluable in us employing him."
Such online research is "critical" for roles in which the company needs to ensure a candidate is culturally aligned to the airline's brand.
Paul Jacobs of Engage recruitment says some graduate recruiters are considering ditching their traditional recruitment drives this year to focus their efforts on platforms such as Facebook.
And in an interesting twist, graduates overseas have turned the tables and targeted employers with Facebook ads.
Jacobs is about to launch a new social platform with a professional twist - TribeHQ - to connect people from the same occupational "tribe".
Members can converse with employers about their work culture and job vacancies and companies can tap directly into a targeted community of talent.
This article is from the New Zealand Herald