Social media

Where job seekers go, employers follow—and not always where you want them to.  Social media can offer a rich network of professionals who can support your career and gain support from you in return.  The same media can also leave a digital footprint that contradicts or dilutes the message you want to send to employers.  Just search for yourself on Google—after all, your potential employers might.  The suggestions below will help you ensure that, when employers look for you online, they will find you, and they will like what they see.  Nonetheless, this document is not comprehensive, and social media change quickly, so please update your knowledge through reputable sites like www.mashable.com or through the top-rated social media bloggers found at http://social-media.alltop.com. 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook.  You can use it to connect to the millions of professionals on LinkedIn as they recruit employees, find jobs, participate in online communities, and share expertise.  There are many other professional networking sites, but LinkedIn is the largest.  Employers are increasingly using LinkedIn as a recruiting tool, so building your LinkedIn presence is a worthwhile investment.

To access LinkedIn, you must first create a profile.  Your profile is part resume and part portfolio.  To get started using LinkedIn, fill in all of your work and educational experiences.  Even if you haven’t enjoyed all of your past jobs, you still may wish to enter them into your profile to start with.  LinkedIn will use your educational and work history to find people on LinkedIn whom you may know, so having a complete work history helps you expand your network.  If you wish to delete work experiences later, you can do so. 

Once the bare bones of your profile are in place, you can start searching, but take the time at some point to complete your profile.  Recruiters typically only access complete profiles.  Having a complete profile will also let potential contacts research you before they agree to face-to-face meetings.  In fact, most of the benefit you get from LinkedIn will likely come from the proactive networking and research you do, rather than from reading job postings or waiting for recruiters to find you.  To get the greatest value from LinkedIn, you can:

  • Make your profile publicly accessible, so employers will see what you would like them to see when they search for you on Google
  • Use relevant key words in your profile, so that recruiters and other professionals will be able to find you more easily
  • Join professional, networking and alumni groups—add relevant professional group logos to your profile, participate in group discussion boards, get advice from a broad range of people in your field, offer your expertise, follow group news and job boards, and search group member profiles
  • Search for people—not just to research people you plan to meet or conduct information interviews with, but also to search for skills, areas of expertise and training that help people in your field get ahead
  • Search for and follow organizations—find the names of people to conduct information interviews with or to address broadcast letters to, identify the titles of positions you’d like to apply for, find out about recent promotions or departures, discover where organizations tend to recruit from, and choose to follow an organization to receive updates
  • Keep in touch with your contacts through status updates—share relevant (and strictly professional)  information in your status updates and use others’ updates to find opportunities to offer support, congratulations and resources to your contacts
  • Let contacts know that you are in the job market, and specify the skills you have to offer
  • Add content to your profile through apps, such as those that let you share PowerPoint presentations or titles of books that you recommend
  • Direct people to your Twitter, blog, online portfolio or webpage
  • Display recommendations on your profile—and ask for recommendations when appropriate
  • Request introductions to people you’d like to meet

LinkedIn’s main purpose is to help people connect through pre-existing relationships.  So, when you search for people, your search results will show whether you have a connection to people of interest.  If you have a connection, you’ll be prompted to “Get Introduced.”  If you decide to get introduced, LinkedIn will suggest that you write a note to the person you’d like to meet, and to the contact you have in common.  You can also just pick up the phone and call your mutual contact to ask for an introduction; a phone call is more likely to result in a new connection.

While it is absolutely appropriate to ask for introductions to people you don’t yet know on LinkedIn, be careful about who you add to your direct contact list.  Because LinkedIn is professional, not social like Facebook, you should only invite as direct contacts people you know.  Before adding someone to your network, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable introducing them to someone you know.  If the answer is “no,” it’s best not to add the person to your network.  If the answer is “yes,” send a personalized message—not the generic message LinkedIn suggests.  Similarly, when you ask for recommendations, make sure you only ask people who have actually observed your skills and work ethic.  Don’t put someone in an awkward situation by requesting a recommendation from them if you have met only a few times.  If someone can speak to your skills, though, by all means, ask them to add their observations to your profile.  Requesting recommendations from people who can attest to your work performance is part of the LinkedIn networking system, and good recommendations impress employers.

Facebook

Unlike LinkedIn, Facebook is a social—not professional—networking site.  Like LinkedIn, it can either help or hurt your job search.  A 2009 study showed that 45% of employers research candidates on social media sites; that percentage is likely to continue to grow.  Having excellent privacy settings is not enough, especially since Facebook has a history of creating new privacy settings that users must opt into.  As well, today’s social contacts can be tomorrow’s professional contacts, so keeping your Facebook contributions clean is important for your reputation.  One solution is to have two Facebook profiles: one for professional use under your real name, and one for personal use under a nickname.

If you don’t want to devote energy to keeping two profiles up to date, keep the following pointers in mind.  Ask yourself, when you are updating your status or writing on a wall, whether you would post the same information on the lunchroom wall at work.  Your colleagues or boss might not be impressed by status updates like “TGIF!” or “Just had another boring meeting.”  Since your friends might not be as concerned about your professional image as you are, it’s also beneficial to hide your wall. For example, if your friends post comments on your wall about your ability to hold your alcohol, you don’t want an employer to see them. 

Comments and status updates aren’t the only parts of your profile.  Make sure your personal information doesn’t share any data an employer could use to discriminate against you.  In other words, don’t share information such as your year of birth, marital status, religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation or political affiliation.  Review your group memberships, since they can also reveal information that might trigger employer biases.  Keep in mind that, even if you protect your profile, an employer will see what pages you are a fan of in their search results.  Finally, rid your profile of unprofessional apps.  While employers might not mind that you spend some of your time raising cows on Facebook, your professional image could be compromised.

Despite these warnings, Facebook can be a useful part of your job search. Beyond accessing postings on Facebook Marketplace, you can use Facebook to:

  • Strengthen your professional brand by joining relevant groups, becoming a fan of relevant pages, adding details of your professional interests to your page, or sharing book titles and other resources related to your field
  • Stay in touch with contacts through alumni and other networking groups
  • Follow companies of interest by becoming a fan of their corporate pages
  • Add relevant apps—for example, an ecological footprint calculator for those interested in sustainability jobs
  • Display accomplishment-based photos or videos, such as footage of you helping at a volunteering event, or pictures from an awards ceremony
  • Connect with friends to inform them of your job search and the skills you have or companies you’re interested in
  • Find contacts through your network for information interviews
  • Keep in touch with contacts through status updates and notes
  • Connect others to your LinkedIn profile, Twitter, blog, webpage or online portfolio

Twitter

Twitter is not the narcissistic micro-blogging tool that mainstream media initially feared it would be.  Instead, it’s a powerful tool for connecting with influential people in your field.  It is also the most open social medium in terms of who you can follow.  Few Twitter users will “protect” their posts or tweets.  Most will make their tweets openly available, and are open to being followed by anyone.  So, Twitter gives you a way to connect with people you couldn’t access through Facebook or LinkedIn, and to learn what issues concern them and what resources they value. 

To get started on Twitter, you need to create an account.  Your account will give you the option of creating a short bio and providing a link to another site.  Take advantage of both options.  Use your bio to promote what you have to offer professionally, and link to your online portfolio, webpage, LinkedIn profile or blog.  Include a professional picture and, most importantly, pick a name you would be proud to include on a resume.  By preference, use your own name on your Twitter account.  This will make it easier for employers to find you.  Be aware that, even if you choose a nickname for your Twitter username, Twitter searches connect your real name to your Twitter accounts if you provided your real name at any stage while registering your account.

Look to see who your favourite Twitter contributors are following.   You will also find companies of interest, recruiters and job boards on Twitter, but the most value comes from learning from experts in your field. 

It is also common to enter into conversations.  If someone posted a resource on Twitter that you found useful, send them a message to say so.  If you want advice on an issue, post a question.  You can make your tweets easier to find by putting a hash tag (#) in front of key words.  Putting a hash tag in front of a word means that, by clicking on that word, your readers will see a list of all recent Twitter postings that put a hash tag in front of the same word.  You can search Twitter postings for hash tagged mentions of companies and topics of interest (like #uWaterloo, #jobsearch, and #careers).  Note, though, that it’s important to stay positive—even on Twitter.  It can be tempting to complain on Twitter by marking postings with “#fail”; for example, someone might say “My local coffee shop gave lousy service and stale bagels today. #fail.”  Save complaints for safer venues, and avoid participating in “#fail” discussions.  Similarly, avoid disclosing sensitive information and flaming other users. 

The number of apps and directories related to Twitter grows daily.  Use ones that come recommended by people you know—some are phishing schemes that try to find out your password and take over your account. Twellow is a well-respected directory that lets you search Twitter bios as well as the content of postings.  You can use it both to help others find you, and to find people in fields or companies of interest.  While it can be tempting to measure your Twitter success by gathering a large number of followers, it may also be wise to avoid autofollow software, which sometimes spams people with a series of requests to follow. 

If you want to build a good reputation on Twitter, post content-rich tweets that direct people to resources you’ve found useful, enter into respectful conversations, and give credit when reposting a resource someone else posted first.  The easiest way to give credit is to note that you are “retweeting” someone else’s posting or resource by including “RT” and that person’s username in your message.  You will know that you’re building your reputation when people start adding you to Twitter lists—sets of people they follow, and that others can access.  Look at those lists—they will give you insight into your online brand.

Blogging

Blogging is time consuming, so only create a blog if you love to write, will have time to write regularly, and have expertise that you are willing to share.  If you do blog, help it pay off by frequently linking to your blog through other social media, using appropriate metatags, and by connecting your own blog to other blogs through your blog roll, content, and comments on others’ blogs.  Mashable.com and the Brazen Careerist blog (http://blog.penelopetrunk.com) both offer good information on getting started with a blog, but remember: unless you can realistically devote sustained energy to your blog, it may be better to focus your attention on other aspects of the job search.

Whether you blog on personal or career-related topics, keep the tone professional.  Employers will be able to find your current blog. Through web archives, they can locate blogs that are inactive, too.

Email

You probably still use email all the time.  Treat each email as a cover letter: use proper grammar, correct spelling, capitals at the start of sentences, and no text message spellings.  Make the message recipient’s day easier by including a subject line that reveals the content of your message (e.g. “Application for Engineering Intern Position” rather than “Urgent”). 

Your email signature gives you another opportunity to connect with people, so include it in all emails.  You may include your degree, key skills, and links to your other social media.

Final words

When using social media, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Do good—use social media to support what you want employers to know about you
  • Remove the bad—be vigilantly professional, pay attention to privacy settings, and only share what you’d want an employer to know
  • Only bite off what you can chew—if you can only focus on one social networking site, make it LinkedIn, and then assess whether you have time for other sites
  • Use apps that will save time, such as those that let you link status updates from one site to another, and avoid apps that will annoy other users or undermine your professional image
  • Combine online with in-person networking for the ultimate “bang for your buck”
  • Search for yourself on Google and set up a Google alert for your name, because your digital footprint is not made up only of material you have put online—it’s whatever an employer can find out about you

Social media can form an effective part of your job search, but it forms just one part.  Please read our material on marketing yourself and conducting research to get an inside view of other successful job search strategies.