Ask any millennial if they’re sick of writing cover letters and you’ll be met with a resounding YES.
My YES would be particularly loud. While in the market for a Summer 2016 internship, I drafted upwards of 50 unique cover letters. The process, tedious and tiresome, stole nearly a week of my spring semester altogether. As I rearranged my skills and reworded my background into charming, industry-appropriate epithets, I found myself wondering how and why my potential value could be condensed into three paragraphs in a PDF. And I’m a writer. Imagine how an intern applying for a graphic design position might feel.
Particularly in the age of social media and technology, there has to be a better way to recruit and evaluate potential interns than asking them to draft and submit a cover letter. We threw out the typewriter when the computer came along; why not replace the outdated and impersonal cover letter with one of the diverse multimedia platforms available today? Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are already intrinsic to my generation’s daily experiences. It’s only logical that we begin to utilize them for professional purposes
Many companies are doing just that. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and even Snapchat have become powerful tools for internship research, recruitment, and even candidate evaluation. LookSharp, an internship and entry-level job database dedicated to connecting students with employment opportunities, found that 68% of college students used social media to find an internship in 2015. Their report also indicated that 49.5% of students used social media to research potential internships, while 46.2% used it to network with company employees in advance of applying.
In addition to its increased relevance for internship research and networking, social media is also becoming a common platform on which companies evaluate potential candidates. One agency dumped resumes, cover letters, and even interviews in favor of a Snapchat contest this recruitment season, challenging potential interns to create a Snapchat story for one of the agency’s existing clients. The prize for creators of the best stories? Internship placements at one of the company’s four U.S. offices.
Space150 is not alone in their commitment to modernizing intern recruitment. L’Oréal, Fetch, and other companies have streamlined their social media experiences and released multimedia applications in recent recruitment seasons. These strategies, the brands report, have attracted previously hard-to-reach applicants and altogether sourced more qualified, interested, and digitally proficient candidates.
It’s safe to say that a recruitment shake-up is in the works, at least among companies with a digital presence. Agencies promising their clients an integrated, up-to-date media experience should do the same for their potential employees, as there’s something inherently logical about sourcing and evaluating candidates within the platforms with which they’d work in an eventual internship or job.
My fellow W2O interns are equally intrigued – and to some degree, relieved – by social media’s developing convergence with intern recruitment. They shared their comments, questions, and concerns with me through an anonymous survey, the results of which are summarized below.
Company social media accounts are key facets of the internship search.
Of the W2O interns who responded to my survey, 78% reported using social media for their internship search process. That group explained that they routinely use platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to look for internship opportunities, as well as to research specific companies. One intern indicated that Twitter and Instagram are the main mechanisms by which he evaluates a company’s culture and visualizes himself within it. Furthermore, 57% of interns surveyed counted a company’s LinkedIn presence as essential to their decision to apply. If a company did not have a strong, updated LinkedIn presence, they might not even submit an application. 21% said the same about Twitter and 14% indicated that their prospective employer must have a strong Instagram presence.
Social media recruitment strategies like Space150’s Snapchat contest are creative and well-suited to the millennial audience, but impose high barriers to entry for applicants.
85% of the survey’s response pool said they would participate in Space150’s innovative recruitment strategy. One intern called it a “pretty cool way to reach millennials,” another indicated that the mere existence of the contest would increase his interest in the company, and a third argued that the contest could easily demonstrate a candidate’s worth. A few interns shared reservations, pointing out that the highly specified evaluation would automatically prohibit applicants unfamiliar with Snapchat from applying and that prospective interns might not be comfortable applying so publically.
Though W2O interns are generally receptive to social media recruitment strategies, they are concurrently less than comfortable with prospective employers having access to their social media accounts – an inevitable byproduct of applying via a social platform.
Interns were evenly split on the issue of company access to their Facebook accounts. 50% answered yes, I’m comfortable with a prospective employer reviewing my Facebook profile and photos, but the same percentage of interns responded that they were not comfortable with that scenario. The story was a little different for Twitter, where 78% of interns indicated comfort with a prospective employer reviewing their Tweets. 57% were okay with an employer reviewing their Instagram, but only 21% were willing to share their Snapchat account in the professional sphere – an interesting outcome, considering their willingness to engage with Space150’s innovative application.
Social media is more important on the company side than on the applicant side.
Multimedia recruitment strategies are interesting, W2O interns summarized, but presently a company’s social media presence is more relevant to the internship search than its ability to evaluate via social media. W2O interns are using social media, particularly LinkedIn, to look for internship openings, network, and research companies. One intern confirmed that social media was a “big part of why I liked W2O.” Their social media accounts, the intern continued, provided a glimpse into the company culture and relayed its strong community vibe – “which I think people really look for in a workplace.”
W2O’s Talent Acquisition Associate Taylar Haney, who oversees the company’s internship program and all related recruitment, also weighed in on the ways in which intern recruitment is evolving. She agreed that the industry is moving towards social media integration, but noted that many agencies have room to grow in terms of their appeal to millennial applicants. She cited career-specific company social media accounts as a primary area for improvement, a strategy employed to great success by L’Oréal but not emulated across the board. If interns are doing their research on social media, she said, companies should meet them halfway with updated career pages.
Taylar also spoke to the concern among W2O employees that social media evaluation strategies could leave their social presence vulnerable to review by potential employers. She underscored how important it is to keep one’s social media presence “clean” and professional, but also assured that she doesn’t always review an applicant’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social profiles before hiring them. “LinkedIn is a must,” she told me, “but I and the rest of the Human Resources department prefer not to look at other forms of social media. That doesn’t mean we won’t do it, but it’s not guaranteed that we will, either.”
So what’s the takeaway, besides the fact that it’s time to get rid of cover letters wherever possible? I’d argue that the story is still developing, as many companies – including digital or social media-based agencies – are still employing traditional recruitment and evaluation methods to source interns. Furthermore, concerns about privacy and accessibility linger on the applicant side.
What’s clear, though, is that a company’s social media presence is more crucial than ever, as interns are certainly looking to research and network with potential employers on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even other, less conventional platforms.
Me, I’m looking forward to the day when my three PDF paragraphs can be condensed into 140 characters, 6 seconds, or an unspecified time frame on a still-to-be-developed social media platform. But for now, I’ll make do with cover letters – just know that I’m using Facebook and Twitter to research them.