Lindsay Guzowski, Partner at Falcon, leads C-Suite searches for a number of leading, middle market private equity firms. Her research on leadership and culture has been published in prominent peer-reviewed journals. In this Q&A, she details how an executive’s online persona can impact career trajectory.
Why should PE-backed executives or aspiring PE-backed executives be cognizant of their social media presence?
People are having a harder time separating their private lives from their business lives as we shift to a more digital world.
The executives who tend to be occupying or applying for roles at the C-suite level generally aren’t as aware of the pitfalls and dangers as some of their younger employees. They often assume that because organizations they worked for in the past were mostly offline, people will treat those presences as separate worlds. That’s when it can become particularly perilous.
Anything about you online is fair game for employees, clients, or potential employers to find. If you’re active on social media but aren’t consciously promoting yourself, you are almost certainly being defined in a non-positive way.
People can have a lot of confidence that they are somewhat anonymous when they post something on Twitter. Well, you’re not. Even if you have a burner account or use a different name, someone can often connect the dots. While the demographics inside private equity firms are getting a bit older, those doing the actual digging tend to be younger. They’re the analysts, the guys in their twenties, and they’re very savvy with social media.
What type of social media activity creates headwinds for candidates?
We’ve encountered proof of a bar fight, Amazon wishlists people didn’t realize were public, a person following a number of adult film stars on Twitter — all sorts of things.
But the most common red flag is when an individual’s LinkedIn information is not aligned with their company’s website, their own resume, or what they said in interviews.
While we do a search on every person, some funds want a more detailed evaluation of a candidate’s digital presence. Candidates must consider how they present themselves online.
When I first started in this business, there were jokes about judging candidates based on email addresses. You could tell a lot about someone based on them having an AOL.com email versus a Gmail account, and there was a strong preference for Gmail candidates as they tended to be more tech savvy. Anything you put out there has a chance to be analyzed.
How can social media have a positive impact on career trajectory?
True thought leadership is engaging.
Whether that’s a blog, sharing things on LinkedIn, commenting on articles on a site like Falcon CFO — commenting on something in a thoughtful way is often as productive as creating a piece of content yourself.
Another part of building that brand is using the functionality of these platforms in thoughtful ways.
Does your LinkedIn profile link to people you’ve actually worked with? Do you celebrate the success of your company and co-workers? What groups are you in? Those items can reveal a lot about a person’s integrity and intellectual horsepower.
What best practices around social media should aspiring PE-backed executives keep in mind?
The most commonly viewed things from the fund’s perspective are LinkedIn, any account referenced in your resume, and anything that shows up in a quick Google search.
So, number one, make sure any career-related information you present is consistent.
Number two, be conscious of what you put out there, whether you’re trying to actively build your brand or just avoiding things that would be disruptive to your ambitions. You can set things like Facebook and Twitter accounts to be private or semi-private. If you’ve been on these platforms for a considerable amount of time, audit your old posts and take down any items that are offensive, in poor taste, or may not be appropriate in the current culture.
Number three, google yourself. Before you enter any process, google yourself. Not only for social media, but for things like publicly available legal findings. Some states will post arrest records even if you’re not convicted, but you can usually get those taken down. There may be other people out there with your same name you could be falsely associated with, and it helps to be aware of that. Do everything you can to take control of the narrative surrounding yourself online.
Falcon provides C-suite talent solutions for middle market private equity firms across North America. Follow us on LinkedIn.