By Maribeth Kuzmeski
In today's tough employment market, your social media presence can make you (as you tweet your way to a new job) or break you (as that regrettable Facebook photo sends your crumpled résumé sailing into the trash). Yes, like it or not, the social in social media is misleading: The phenomenon has now fully permeated our professional lives, and that means if you're one of America's 13.9 million unemployed or if you're just looking to make your next career move, it's time to consider how to use that reality to your advantage.
Of course, the Web has been an integral part of job searches for years now. But it's been in only the past couple of years that social media has gotten so important. Many job seekers find out the hard way that it can be a double-edged sword. If you have the right kind of online presence, it can greatly improve your chances of getting hired, but one wrong move and employers might shun you. You have to remember the connections you make online define you. When you're trying to get hired, you have to be careful of what they say.
Here are a few tips on how to get hired (and avoid being fired!) using social media.
Mine your social networking connections. You've got all those Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and followers on Twitter for a reason; use them! In your job search, you should always look to the fruit closest to the ground. Is anyone in your social network working for an association that would be a good fit for you? If so, ask them to keep you in mind the next time a position opens up, or pitch them on your experience and they just might put you in touch with their executive director or HR Department. If you're currently employed but looking to go elsewhere, just be sure to keep your communication as private as possible. You don't want people posting job opportunities or job search well wishes on your Facebook wall ,where a coworker or your boss might see them.
Keep in mind the focus of your networking (social and otherwise) should not be on gaining an immediate job offer from those in your network. In fact, that tactic almost never works. The goal should, instead, be to build a mutually beneficial relationship with someone who may never even be able to give you a job, but might know someone who can.
For example, maybe someone in your network is in a completely different industry from you, but has a huge network of friends on Facebook. He might not be able to help you get a job at his company, but someone in his network might have the perfect opportunity for you. Don't count anyone out of your networking efforts, especially those who are the closest to you and therefore the most willing to help.
Put your best Face(book) forward. According to Jobvite.com's 2010 Social Recruiting Survey, 83 percent of employers plan to use social networks to recruit this year. Will you be someone they hire or someone they avoid? To find out about potential employees, some employers are Googling them as well as checking out their Facebook and Twitter pages. Before you kick off your job search, make sure your Facebook page and other social media profiles are clean and professional.
If you have any embarrassing or inappropriate material on your profile, it could be quite off-putting to your potential employer. Do yourself a favor and remove those materials. When you're engaging in social media activity, think of yourself as a public figure who may have your every word scrutinized.
If you think that simply making your profiles private will solve the problem, beware. A 20-something job searcher recently told me about a new tactic that some employers are using. The interviewer asked the candidate to pull up his Facebook page-right there in the interview, leaving him no time to clean anything up! Yes, social media is a lot of fun, but make sure if you're looking for a job that your social media sites help, not hurt, your cause.
Monitor your online reputation. While you know what you've posted about yourself online, you might not know about what others have posted about you or your association or nonprofit. One of the easiest ways to monitor your reputation is by setting up Google Alerts that will inform you of anything that has appeared about you online. Just go to www.google.com/alerts and set up a free alert of your name and your organization's name (if relevant). Whenever anything appears online that you or someone else has posted about you, an email will be sent to you with a link to the online occurrence.
Ultimately, the best way to manage your online reputation is by generating positive search results through your online posts and profiles that will rank as highly as possible on any list of search results. But by monitoring these search results closely, you can get out in front of any problems that might arise from something negative someone else has said about you or your current employer online. That way, at least you'll be prepared with an explanation. Bottom line, protect your most important assets: your brand and online reputation.
Use proactive posting to stand out online (in a good way). At a time when you're constantly warned about everything that can be used against you online, you might have an inclination to pull back altogether on your online presence. The reality is you should do whatever you can, when you can, to build your credibility. That's right: You can, and should, consciously and deliberately craft an online image.
For example, if you have a well-written blog about something you are passionate about or if you are a conscientious tweeter informing your followers about interesting news stories, you can actually build a very respectable reputation online. You should also consider joining the commenting communities on the websites or blogs of associations and nonprofits that interest you. By doing so, you can add to their dialogue, and the suggestions and comments you post just might catch the right someone's eye.
Taking these steps shows you know how to use the Web wisely and that you are well rounded, well informed, and a great communicator, factors that every association today wants in an employee.
Build your online résumé using LinkedIn. If you aren't already on business-focused social media sites like LinkedIn, take the time to set up a profile. In fact, LinkedIn is especially important because it is the most commonly viewed source for job seekers and employers. Setting up a profile is simple: Just go to www.LinkedIn.com, add your picture and a summary of your past job responsibilities, and state what you're looking for. As a LinkedIn member, you can also join groups, review books, and proactively connect with potential employers. Think of it as creating your own living résumé and as a great way for people to connect with you!
Check out your interviewer. Social media isn't all about what you do online. It's also important that you know what your potential future employer is doing online. If you know who you will be sending a résumé to or who will be interviewing you, conducting a little research in advance of your communication can provide you with a big advantage.
Make an impact by using video. If you really want to capture the attention of a potential employer, record a quick video. Use it to get an interview or as a follow-up after an interview. Here's how it works: Instead of just emailing a résumé or a post-interview thank-you note, include a link to a video of you. Carefully script your response and record the quick message using a flip video camera or even a webcam. Post it on YouTube or some other service and send a link for the video to your potential employer.
Here are some helpful scripting tips for getting the interview:
- The video should be no longer than one or two minutes.
- Introduce yourself.
- Identify the job you would like to be interviewed for.
- Tell them three things about your background that may make them interested in interviewing you.
- Thank them for watching the video and ask them for the interview.
Don't be overly friendly. It's important to think of your social media connections as just that, connections, not friends. Just because a potential employer responds to you using informal language in a Facebook post or via Twitter, does not give you the go-ahead to do the same. It is never okay to use texting shorthand such as LOL or TTYL in any communication with potential employers, no matter how informal your contact at the company is with you.
Also, just because your immediate contact has no problem sending informal emails to potential employees, doesn't mean that his boss won't mind it. Other people at the association might be reading those emails. For that reason, you should stay professional at all times.
You have to give to get. Social media requires that, regardless of what an individual has attained or achieved to this point in the real world, everyone starts off at the beginning in the social space. Each step up the social media ladder is earned by giving to the other members, whether that is in the form of a fresh, interesting piece of content of your own or by promoting someone else's content. But the underlying rule is that you must give to get.
By adding value to the community, you are making more connections and, as a result, earning more friends, more followers, and more trust. So don't hesitate to post job opportunities or other information that your network will find useful. Connect those in your network who might be able to benefit from one another. Just having a network isn't good enough; you have to play an active role in it if you want to get anything back from those you're connecting with via social media.
No matter what means of communication you prefer, relationships are the real secret to success. If you can use social media to build strong relationships and connect with employers, you will get your piece of the proverbial pie. If you can't, you'll be scrambling for crumbs!
Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, is the author of five books, including And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want and The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life. She is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, www.redzonemarketing.com.