Bias in the Age of Transparency

Photo cred: Tyron Francis
Photo cred: Tyron Francis

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a close acquaintance of mine, who is also the Director of Emerging Technologies and Social Media for a big advertising firm.  I asked him to take a look at my blog and linkedin profile to see if he can give me any advice for improvement.  He brought up something that took me by surprise.  He said, “Why do you have your picture up on all of your social media sites? People don’t need to know how old you are.”

I was a bit surprised because one of the big things I’ve heard from the social media community is how important it is to be consistent in your online presence. Use the same picture for your twitter, linkedin, facebook, etc to build your personal brand recognition.

I think sometimes we get caught up in all that social media has to offer and forget the reality of some situations.  What we so quickly forgot is that there is a great deal of bias in human beings. Everything from your age and gender to your race and religion can and does effect how people view you.

As most of my readers know, I am going to be graduating soon and I am looking for a job.  Social media has given me amazing networking opportunities, allowing me to communicate on a daily basis with people that I never would have met..but has it also hurt me? In this new age of transparency, where you’re expected to be honest and open with who you are, I have put who I am out there for anyone to see. By doing so, I may have also given a lot of companies a reason to weed me out of their recruitment process. Sometimes, all it takes is a picture.

I opted to keep my pictures up and to continue using social media as I have been, because I believe in the values of transparency and honesty.  I think its something that the professional world has lacked in the past and social media is helping us change that. 

Am I being naive? I am looking for an entry-level job in one of the toughest job markets this country has seen in a long time and cannot afford to sacrifice any opportunities. Should I be more careful? How will bias play a role in the “Age of Transparency”? … What’s your take?

16 thoughts on “Bias in the Age of Transparency

  1. Stay transparent!
    A picture with a smile could help you land that job and makes you more confident than the next guy on a static templated page (LinkedIn).

    Sure, your pic shows that you may be young, but with a lot of ambition and are ready to take non-traditional routes to get the job done.

    As long as you aren’t posting pictures of yourself with bottle in hand with your online living resume (LinkedIn), you have nothing to fear.

    I think people these days realize the potential of the younger generation. If anything, an experienced traditional marketer would be smart latch on to a social media enthusiast to take under his arm.

    A company looking for change could be knocking on your door soon.

    1. Thanks a lot Matt. I sure hope you’re right! I think that most professionals these days will respect transparency, although there are still some that haven’t been able to embrace this new mindset quite yet. Hopefully they’re not the ones I’ll need a job from!

  2. I agree with the above – stay transparent.

    I think continuing to build your ‘personal brand’ is more important that trying to impress someone with a biased view. Who’s to say that person won’t think in the same bias way when you walk in the door for an interview?

    Continuing to show intelligence, integrity, and professionalism while using sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter should prove yourself well.

    1. Thanks Antonio, I agree. The same biased can be applied to interviews, although then you have the chance to win them over with your knowledge and personality. All in all I think it pays off to build your personal brand, even if some people don’t agree with it.

  3. This is tough. On the one hand, your picture makes you more human and gives you more of an identity to those you connect with online, and who could potentially be offering you opportunities.

    On the other hand, you are exactly right about human bias. I’ll restate part of my comment here from Bill Sledzik’s blog:
    http://toughsledding.wordpress.com/2009/02/19/linkedin-and-lame-begin-with-l-coincidence/#comment-17181

    “There are so many laws and regulations regarding hiring, equal opportunity, discrimination, etc. … [Online profiles] contain a lot of personal information – the kind that most HR people don’t want to know, and aren’t legally allowed to ask in an interview. Things like age, marital status, kids, causes, political affiliations. Obviously staffers and recruiters are not supposed to let that type of information bias them, but once you know, you can’t un-know.”

    Ultimately it’s up to you, but I do think that there’s unconscious bias. A connection you know well from your online or other networking relationships may not care as much since they’re familiar with your abilities, but an HR staffer or someone you’re less connected with who comes across your blog might see your picture and immediately make a judgment.

    1. I think you nailed the essence of this issue. I’m not worried about the people that I meet on twitter and other sites because they have had the opportunity to get to know me a bit. The issue is as you said, those HR people that aren’t part of the conversation but still have access to your information. Once they see these things, it will inevitably have an impact on how they view you and in turn, whether or not they’ll give you a job opportunity. I can’t see myself limiting my social media efforts as a result of this issue, however it continues to be a major concern in the back of my mind. Thanks so much for sharing Amy.

  4. Absolutely, keep true to yourself! I don’t want to use my photo because I am too old, but guess what; it is who I am. If I want a social media director, he/she better be young enough to understand the culture of today. I could, and do, learn a lot from you. Your age is a bonus in some eyes, don’t hide it.

    1. Thanks Wendy. It is a good point to bring up that sometimes the bias can work in your favor. You can fit exactly what a person prefers (ie. youth) and end up getting an opportunity because of how you look.

  5. I wouldn’t worry about it. From a big picture perspective, I think it can only help. The more information a company has on you, (in theory), the better their decision-making will be … if you weren’t going to be the right person for the job or for that organization, you may have “landed it” but will you succeed and be happy there in the long-term?

    1. Also a great point Eva. If a HR person decides not to give me an opportunity because of some information they found about me, it could be for the better as it could mean that I am just not a good fit for that company and in the long run, I’d be happier somewhere else.

      The issue is the alternative situation, when a HR person holds a personal bias (that has nothing to do with the company…ie. race) against a candidate, preventing that candidate from landing the job.

  6. I honestly think the guy is full of crap that gave you that advice and that you’ve made the right decision to keep the photo up.

    You know what I think when I see someone without a profile picture? I think that person doesn’t know how to upload a profile picture or that their profile overall is incomplete.

    1. That’s very true Josh. Especially in an industry that puts a lot of value in having a well developed social media profile, it may hurt you more to not have a picture up as it will make you look like a “noob” that is unfamiliar with SM.

      What about in terms of other information that you have the choice to post online or withhold. I mean things like religion, or even your favorite football team. Is it worth it to post such things?

      1. I guess that’s a personal choice. I personally feel like it humanizes you and shows that you are a normal person and not just someone trying to portray a false image. For example, on my online portfolio, under the About section (prjosh.com) I list things such as that. And I start out with saying I’m business first, but that I’m also a lot of fun.

        Just steer clear of stuff that could be viewed as immature or offensive (i.e., keg stands or potentially racist comments).

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