Colleges and Employers Mine Social Media As Their Big Data Source

Today’s well-qualified candidates who are applying to elite colleges in record numbers will, in four years time, be flashing their virtually indistinguishable credentials as they try to enter an already saturated job market. What we are witnessing, at both the college and corporate levels, is the collapse of the classic, time-honored processes and procedures of student recruitment and assessment which are being crushed under the sheer weight of applicant volume.

The traditional college application and corporate resume submission and review processes were not designed to handle the current load capacities. Given the number of applicants to colleges and businesses today, it is virtually impossible to make viable distinctions based on the limited data spectra generated by resumes, GPAs, cover letters, SAT/ACT scores, professional references and personal recommendations that all tend to look and read the same. While technologies such as the Common App and online job boards have widened the entry funnel, the lack of investment to strengthen the backend review processes has overwhelmed the system resulting in a tangible loss of quality evaluations.

Social Media as the Great Differentiator

According to a recent Business Insider report “the average global Internet user spends two and a half hours daily on social media, and information on their activity — gathered under the catch-all ‘big data’ — reveals a great deal about what makes them tick.” To appreciate the order of magnitude of this growing data pool, Facebook ingests approximately 500 times more data each day than the New York Stock Exchange. Twitter is storing at least 12 times more data each day than the NYSE.

Realizing the treasure trove of actionable data stored by social networks, college and corporate recruiters are increasingly and proactively using the search capabilities of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn to identify and then recruit targeted talent.

Social media, as an abundant source for big data predictive analytics, not only helps to locate and identify properly credentialed candidates but also identifies credentialed candidates possessing the necessary character traits and attributes to succeed. Researchers from Old Dominion University in Virginia recently found that looking at Facebook profiles for job performance indicators can be just as – if not more – accurate as self-reported personality tests. “Not only can you find very current information on someone’s social media profile, but you can also access a record of that person’s past behavior,” said Katelyn Cavanaugh, one of the study’s authors and a doctoral student at Old Dominion.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that Jobvite states 93% of corporate recruiters are likely to look at a candidate’s social profile.

On the college side, the percentages of admissions officers who say they have Googled an applicant (29%) or visited an applicant’s Facebook or other social networking page to learn more about them (31%) have risen to their highest levels yet, according to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2013 survey of college admissions officers.

Beyond basic applicant screenings, the Chicago Tribune has reported that “to woo prospective students, many schools are increasingly gathering multiple streams of online information to hone the most personalized pitch. Institutions are turning to “big data” companies such as Hobsons, Oracle and Ellucian to be their Match.com. The trove of data allows recruiters to mine social media interactions, Internet habits and the socioeconomic standing of a student’s parents, experts say.” Known as the invisible market, social media searches are happening all the time but candidates will first need to learn how to build a public online presence to get in the game.

Between data mining social media for recruitment purposes and social media assessments for candidate screenings, it is time to drop the time worn, fear-mongering message of how colleges and businesses use social media only to reject qualified applicants. That notion is simply absurd and leads rational people to lock down or even delete their social media to prevent colleges and businesses from finding what they perceive as their embarrassing party pictures and sophomoric posts.

The same Jobvite survey indicates that candidates are as likely to delete their social media accounts completely as they are to remove specific content from their profiles. The truth is photos of drinking and other social activities are not nearly as detrimental to one’s interests as not being found online at all. On the other hand, enhancing social media by posting the full spectrum of your life’s activities, interests and pursuits while being SEO sensitive seems to be the only way to go.

Becoming Totally Transparent on Social Media is Liberating

This is all so much more than simply creating a LinkedIn account. Many college and corporate recruiters are searching for talent on Facebook and Twitter as well. Therefore, this is also about learning how to leverage the capabilities of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to their full potential by going beyond the basic post and like functions. This is about how a thoughtful, transparent, data-loaded and balanced social media presence across networks can help college and job candidates stand out in a crowded field.

The ultimate goal is to be found when a college or employer taps into social media’s big data function by understanding your personal search metrics and the proper keywords needed to describe your unique set of skills, talents and qualities.

Our advice to students of all ages: It’s time to let your social media work for you rather than against you.