Many people use social media to connect with family and friends online, but don’t be fooled: social media is so much more than a social tool. It’s the ultimate killer app for career building, reputation development, and professional networking. Social media is an incredible tool for connecting with your personal and professional network, learning about company openings and culture, and even connecting directly with hiring managers, recruiters, and other people who can help you find your next great opportunity.
Don’t believe it? Consider this statistic from Jobvite’s social recruiting survey: 94% of companies currently use or planned to begin using social media in 2013. The future is now: you’re more likely from online referrals and company career pages than from job boards, says the survey. And on top of that, your hire is more likely to stick, as almost half of social recruiting hires surveyed remained in their positions for three years or more.
We asked experts how they recommend professionals use social media for career building and developing a strong online reputation. They told us it’s all about writing great profiles, showing your expertise, and using social media tools to build a great network and get your foot in the door with companies you’re targeting. Read on to find out how you can make the most of social media for your career, whether you’re actively searching for a job, or simply developing a strong reputation and professional network for your future.
Assess Your Social Media Reputation
The first step in using social media for your career is a good, hard look at the truth: is your personal brand helping or hurting your reputation? Before you do anything else, carefully assess how well you’re currently using social media to develop your career and online reputation.
“The most valuable brands are those that are consistent and fill a need,” says Boldly Go HR owner and president Sharon DeLay. “I try to teach candidates in career transitions to look at their online presence with a critical eye. Usually it is a challenge for them to do so, so I encourage them to get an honest, caring person to do it and give feedback.”
DeLay offers the following tips for assessing your reputation and career power on social media:
- See what’s out there: Write down every online profile you have (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, etc.). Not sure? Google yourself on the major browsers (since each might return search results differently). Go at least 5 pages in on the search results (more if you have time) to get the greatest picture of how you’re showing up online.
- Carefully review each site profile: Considering the purpose of the site, see how you’re representing yourself on them. If you’re on LinkedIn, a professional networking and job search site, and you look too casual, you have a resource mismatch. Even on more “casual” sites, you want to make sure you’re still professional, though, so be careful. If you’re not sure, then set the privacy settings in those accounts to the highest level possible so a recruiter doesn’t stumble into your profile and fixate on something.
- Look for keywords: Make sure you have keywords throughout your profiles as you talk about what you do. If you’re not sure what key words go with what you are doing, search job descriptions online for the jobs you’re trying to land. Review several and write down those words that keep showing up over and over. These are likely the key words that recruiters are using to search online for you.
Staying Professional on Social Media
Perhaps the largest hurdle for many career builders on social media is learning what’s appropriate to share online and what’s not. Make no mistake about it, employers are checking out your social media profiles before making a hiring offer — and maybe even before extending an interview. Is there anything on your profiles that will raise red flags and make them hesitate?
Social media allows prospective employers to form an impression of us before they actually meet us in person,” explains Alexander G Public Relations executive consultant Erica Tucker. “Everything that’s on our social media sites gives an employer a glimpse into who we are, and allows them to craft what they believe is our personal brand story.”
“From experience, I can tell you that companies review social media during the hiring process,” says Tucker. “LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter are good starting points. A quick Google search provides additional information.”
Your public social media history is laid out for employers to find, and if they see something they don’t like, it could spell trouble for your job search, or even for your career down the road.
“One of the main challenges to job seekers using social media is alienating potential employers with unprofessional photos, rude comments, foul language, or inflammatory posts,” says former Target HR manager and writer Peggy Carouthers. “If a job seeker intends to use social media to connect with an employer, he or she should “employer-proof” his or her profiles by deleting anything an employer might not like to see or changing viewing options.”
Experts encourage job seekers to watch out for important red flags that can be a major turnoff for recruiters and hiring managers. These can include:
- Inappropriate photos: Frat party photos, sexy selfies, and other questionable images can call your reputation into question.
- Vulgar language: Using inappropriate language, especially on professional networks, indicates that you may not have good self control or work well with others.
- Blatant self-promotion: Don’t make things all about you, says Z Group PR‘s Julia Angelen Joy. “A recruiter might look to see if all of the posts are self-promoting or if there are some supporting peers within their industry or network,” she says. “Are there one sided links or communication and collaboration?”
- Controversial or offensive posts: Career coach Kolby Goodman encourages job seekers to avoid sharing controversial or offensive messages. He also points out that while following industry insiders and news makers is a good idea, it’s best to avoid people who are famous for having extreme viewpoints.
- Complaints about current or previous jobs: Former recruiter and TwoFeetMarketing social media consultant David Lowbridge warns that complaints about your work look unprofessional, and can place doubt in the mind of a recruiter. “If you must post these updates, keep them private to just friends,” he advises. “However, be warned that some people have forgotten that colleagues have joined their Facebook circles and lost their jobs over comments.”
- Discussing criminal activity: Naviga Services marketing assistant Caitlin Howard identifies boasting about current or previous criminal history as a major red flag. “Social media profiles are where I go to see if someone has integrity,” she says. “If there are inappropriate comments or behavior, it gives me insight into the job seeker’s true character.
- Inaccurate information: Do your social profiles tell the same story as your resume? If they don’t, you could raise a red flag. “To be credible, ensure your profiles are complete, accurate and timely,” says Anvil Media president and founder Kent Lewis.
- Protected information: While not a red flag, protected information should be edited off your profile if possible. Tucker recommends that older workers avoid posting anything that might give away their age, as discrimination does happen. The same goes for other protected information, like religion, race, and disability. Even though it’s illegal to discriminate, it may be difficult if not impossible to prove discrimination if it was found publicly on social media. “Why hand the employer this information on a silver platter?” says Tucker.
Butterflyvista CEO Sarah Weinberger offers a real life example of a red flag that turned her off from a candidate:
“I was looking at a person a couple of months back to do something professionally. This person’s LinkedIn profile was fine, quite professional; however I decided to see what his Facebook profile said. His Facebook profile was a different matter. He had Nazi swastikas all over his Facebook page, talked about being in the neo Nazi party, and talked as such. This person either did not care or did not realize that employers look at more than just LinkedIn. This example is an extreme, but the point is the same. All social media outlets should paint the same picture. Employees should assume that employers look at all sites, not just LinkedIn.”
When screening your social media profiles, Weinberger encourages job seekers to keep things professional and demonstrate skills. “Social media is for all intents and purposes a public megaphone for all to hear, see, and read,” she warns. “Whether you are working or not, there are social media sites, where everyone has a profile regardless of whether or not they are happy in their job.”
Sullivan University director of career services Sam A. Mannino warns that you should also be aware of how you may post differently between social media sites, warning that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may become tricky territory. “On these two sites, most individuals are less professional and more carefree; posting photos, quotes and links that they may not want a potential employer to see.”
Mannino advises that if you’re going to use social sites for a job search and make them public, they should accurately depict the professional persona you want employers to see. It’s a good idea to tell your friends, he says, as that way, they can avoid posting questionable photos or comments on your profile and avoid tagging you in photos or tweets.
Tucker’s rule of thumb for social media: “Imagine you have an ultra-conservative grandmother. If this ultra-conservative grandmother would be embarrassed to read it or see it, take it down. Even if the photo was innocent – the photo of you with the lampshade on your head was just you actually portraying a lamp in a school play, right? – it may not come across that way to a prospective employer. If every single photo includes an adult beverage, time to edit the photo albums. Too many string bikini shots with you and your boyfriend? Editing time again.”
Consider Privacy on Social Media to Protect Your Reputation and Career
Everything on a public profile is accessible to employers, and you can bet that they’ll investigate whatever is available to them. And while it’s best to assume that anything you put online could be leaked beyond privacy walls, the fact is that privacy tools on social media can help you separate your personal and professional lives. Putting your personal updates, photos, and other entries in private social media areas can protect you from embarrassment and disappointment during your job search.
Mannino recommends job seekers determine whether or not they want to use personal social media sites like Facebook or Twitter for their job search. If not, those profiles should be made “as private as private can be,” he says. “Employers will be Googling potential candidates who have applied for positions, and the last thing you want them to see is an inappropriate picture or that you’re a fan of something that could be deemed offensive.”
Agency 33 PR social media and pr strategist Danielle Ford encourages job seekers to be intentional about privacy settings. “Use the “View as…” feature on Facebook to see what people who aren’t your FB friends can see on your profile,” she says. “If you tend to post things that spark intense political debate, or if you are tagged in photos from your rough and wild weekends, check your privacy settings and make sure public viewers – aka hiring managers – cannot see those posts. And keep those posts to arenas where you can control your privacy – keep them off of LinkedIn.”
The Ladders job search expert Amanda Augustine offers the following tips for securing privacy on social media:
- If you’re going to overhaul your professional brand, first check the settings on your account. For instance, in LinkedIn, first turn off your activity broadcasts so your connections – i.e. your current colleagues and boss – won’t notice.
- Increase your security settings so you control what gets posted on your wall by others. The last thing you need is for your boss to learn you’re searching for a job because your supportive friends wished you good luck before an interview.
- Don’t air your dirty laundry on social media. Refrain from posting comments or status updates bashing your current employer – those things have a way of getting found and could tip off your HR department. What’s more, you don’t want prospective employers to find those comments either – no one wants to hire a negative Nancy (or Ned).
- Consider how you want to use each social media channel during your job search. Remember, not every platform needs to be part of your professional online brand. For instance, you could create a Twitter account under a nickname (and no head shot) to simply follow your target employers, relevant recruiters and thought leaders in your industry or the job search space.
A major privacy challenge for job seekers on social media is activity that can be viewed by current employers. It’s a tricky situation when you’re currently employed, but looking for a new job, and the last thing you want to happen is for your employer to find out you’re on the market.
Take a look at privacy settings to keep your job search under wraps, says Career Solvers president Barbara Safani. She recommends using LinkedIn privacy settings to turn off activity broadcasts so that you can make changes to your profile without alerting all of your contacts. Safani also advises changing profile viewing settings to anonymous so that you can view profiles without revealing who you are. This is useful when researching for competitive intelligence, or checking out profiles for upcoming interviews or networking meetings.
You can also turn off activity notifications when you join groups and make new connections, says Safani. Managing these notifications is an especially good idea if you’re joining groups related to your job search or making new connections that may be considered suspect by your employer.
What Job Seekers Should Share on Social Media
Of course, building your career reputation on social media isn’t all about what you should hide — there’s plenty that you should be proud to show. Sharing your expertise, growing your network, and displaying your authority is a very important to developing your reputation online, and especially on social media.
“My best advice for job seekers with an active social media presence is to use it as a platform to promote yourself and your brand,” says Howard.
How can you do that? Lowbridge has a few suggestions:
- Share industry news relevant to what you jobs you are looking for: Ensure that you are adding your own two cents into the conversation to demonstrate your expertise and you understand what is happening with the news.
- Connect and engage in conversation with key influencers in your industry: Especially those who might have some hiring power in potential employers.
- Use keywords in your updates and profiles that recruiters might look for.
- On LinkedIn, use your job title and not what you do: For instance, web designing should be web design. Concentrate on the three most important key terms for your job as well.
- Use a professional head shot on your profiles: Other photos (especially ones with you drinking or other dubious activities) should be set to private (or only allow your friends to see).
- Start a blog and post regularly about your industry: Blogging is a social media of sorts and should be classed as such. Blogging is a great way to demonstrate several soft skills as well as your expertise in your industry.
- Fill out profiles entirely, suggests Carouthers, especially contact information. It’s also important for job seekers to remain active on sites. If it’s a struggle to keep up with multiple profiles, Carouthers says it’s better to have one profile you can actively maintain than to have profiles on every site available. Whatever sites you decide to use, make sure you’re updating them any time you have something new to share, like a promotion or another addition to your portfolio.
Ford recommends that you position yourself as an expert. “Find, follow, and engage with industry leaders,” she says. “Build a following. Answer questions about the industry to your followers. Engage with bloggers, write and publish guest posts on industry blogs, engage with reporters and see if you can get quoted. Share your guest posts and media quotes like crazy. Position yourself as an expert so when a hiring manager does their due diligence – checking out your online presence – they only come across more reasons to hire you.”
Howard recommends reaching out to blog authors in your industry to contribute an article, or to be quoted as a source for an article. You can then include the links to the article on your LinkedIn profile or retweet the article.
Getting quoted as an expert stands out to a recruiter because it shows that you’re an expert in your field and also that you’re providing value to your network, says Howard. “Engaging and interacting with other experts in your industry is a great way to earn credibility and stand out to a recruiter.”
You should also show your personality a bit, says Foward Role director Steve Thompson. “There is a fine line between a profile that says you’re so work-focussed that you’re completely void of personality, and one that shows a party goer with no serious career plan,” he says. “You have to strike a balance. Including talk about your hobbies as well as sharing insightful, up-to-date pieces on the industry you’re interested in working in shows an employer that you’re authentic, well-balanced person.
“Share articles that are relevant to your field,” says Palmer. “Find articles from professional journals or from the mainstream media that discuss up and coming trends in your field. This is one way of attracting your target audience. You will start to connect to likeminded people who are either in a position to hire you or in a position to refer you to job vacancies.”
But, be careful not to simply blast out the latest news everyone else has heard, cautions Thompson. “Consistently retweeting or sharing stories already posted on someone else’s profile is a red flag because it suggests you aren’t actively engaging with the industry,” he says. “Share articles that no one else has covered, or – even better – share well-written pieces from your own blog.”
Philip Hsu emphasizes that no matter what you add to your profile, your social media presence should be keyword-oriented. Hsu recommends doing keyword research to identify the important words you should focus on, and use bullet points and anchor tags with keywords. It’s also a good idea to create Facebook and social media groups based on selected keywords, suggests Hsu.
LinkedIn: The Ultimate Social Media Tool for Career Building
How can you get started sharing for career building on social media? Experts recommend getting on LinkedIn immediately if you aren’t already. In fact, Howard says that she considers it a red flag when someone doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile. “If a candidate doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile, it tells me that they’re unwilling to use all of the tools at their disposal to connect with recruiters, companies, or hiring managers.”
Lavie Margolin, author of The LinkedIn Butterfly Effect recommends gearing your LinkedIn profile to draw in and attract employer interest — rather than using social media to constantly post that you’re looking for a job. “The profile should include a summary of who you are professionally (and what you want others to know about you), your relevant skills, experience, and abilities,” says Margolin.
LinkedIn is an especially useful tool for job seekers on social media, as it has features that are specifically developed with careers (and job hunting) in mind. For example, Carouthers points out that LinkedIn allows job seekers to apply for jobs right on the site, and even makes applications easy by autopopulating information from your profile. Endorsements offer social proof, and, says Carouthers, give a sense of ease to employers about an employee’s list of skills on a resume. Recommendations allow previous employers, coworkers, and professors to leave public feedback for potential employers, and you can also include portfolios or links to projects published online.
A complete profile will help you stand out to employers and other important potential contacts. Acrobat Ant digital producer Blake Marfechuk recommends making sure you’ve added keywords, a professional photo, and a strong professional headline to make your profile more attractive.
Need motivation to sit down and complete your profile? “Job seekers with complete profiles are 40% more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn than those with incomplete profiles,” says Call to Career owner Cheryl Palmer. And watch out: “An incomplete profile can be a red flag to employers that you are not serious about representing yourself well online.”
If you’re not sure what to add, you can search other peoples’ profiles to see how others are presenting themselves and their work, says LinkedIn for Business owner JoAnne Funch. You should look for people who have positions you want, and be sure to pay careful attention to summary statements, as this is the most viewed section of your profile after your headline.
Funch warns to never put the word “unemployed” on your title — or anywhere in your profile. This is a red flag that screams, “I don’t have a job!” Instead, Funch encourages job seekers to think of something more compelling that would get a recruiter or hiring manager to read more. Keywords for the position you’re seeking are a good idea, she says.
In addition to the basic elements of a good LinkedIn profile, executive recruiter Bruce Hurwitz strongly encourages job seekers to use social media to create a brand with PDFs, videos, and podcasts. It also doesn’t hurt to add “Open to New Opportunities” to your professional title line. Going the extra mile with your profile shows that you’re a professional with something unique to offer, says Hurwitz. And, he adds, attracting employers with your brand is much better than going to them yourself.
Howard agrees that standing out with unique content is a great way to catch the eye of a recruiter. She shares an example of an HR manager who made a video detailing the job description and requirements of a current opening for their company. “This is not something the HR manager was required to do, but it showed initiative and helped the company find and reach more qualified candidates,” explains Howard. “The HR manager then posted the link on the company website, their social media profiles, and the company’s social media profiles, too.”
Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders encourages job seekers to include not just your resume and work history on LinkedIn, but also results. Doing so can help you show up strong, she says. Hurt also recommends taking advantage of new features on LinkedIn, like the ability to write a blog post to showcase your expertise.
Making Career Connections on Social Media
While building profiles that attract employers is important, it’s not the most meaningful thing you can do on social media. Far more important is creating a strong network by connecting with colleagues, industry leaders, and others who can influence and support your career (and vice versa). After all, getting ahead in your career is often more about who you know than any other factor. So many job opportunities are never posted online to the public — rather, they’re shared through networks. Capture these opportunities by making connections that work on social media.
Building a strong network sounds like a daunting task, but don’t worry: social media websites were made for this, especially LinkedIn. Get started by connecting with people you already know. On LinkedIn, look for the “People You May Know” section, and import your email contacts to identify connections who you’ve worked with in the past.
Once you’re connected, take the extra step to show interest in your contacts and find out how you can be helpful to them. Networking is all about give and take, and the person you help today with a referral may be in a position to support your career tomorrow.
With a strong network to support you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If it’s not immediately clear to your network that you’re looking for new opportunities, your contacts may not realize that they may be able to help you out. Be direct about what you’re looking for: contacts should not have to guess at which opportunities may apply to you or not. You should also reach out to colleagues, asking for recommendations that can boost your profile and put you in the limelight with new employers.
Tucker warns not to take a shotgun approach, however. Instead, make a list of specific people who may be able to assist you with your job search. “The approach is targeted, with each person receiving an individual note/email with your request,” she says. “Time consuming? A bit, but the personal approach is better and a bit more well received.”
“Be sure to have a specific request of the individual so they know how to respond,” she suggests. “In some cases, it will relate to a job opening; in others it will be to let them know you are looking so they keep you in mind as they hear of opportunities.”
Tucker shares a good example of making a connection request within your network:
“Hi John, I wanted you to know that I am currently looking for my next opportunity as a marketing director. My experience as director of consumer programs at X would be a good fit for your company and I see there is an opening. I have applied online; would you be willing to hand my resume to the hiring manager as well? I appreciate your assistance.”
In addition to individual connections, social networking groups can be incredibly useful. Funch says that groups are a good place to support your personal brand and show your expertise. She also points out that many opportunities may come from associations with group members. It’s always a good idea to connect and network within your interest areas, both professional and personal. You should join relevant groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, becoming active and developing valuable connections with others in your network.
Palmer encourages job seekers to use groups to find connections as well. “Join groups on LinkedIn related to your field and reach out to people who are in those groups and invite them to join your network,” she says. “Regularly check the group updates to see who has posted interesting information and then send invitations to those who consistently share solid content. This will fill your network with people who are savvy about your field.”
While social media is a great jumping off point for networking, don’t feel like you have to stay behind your computer to connect with others, as often, more meaningful connections happen offline at networking events or meetings. But you can use social media as a tool for offline networking: LocalWork.com COO Eric Keosky-Smith says it’s a good idea to use social media to track events that possible decision makers may attend. Socialty owner Marina Christos suggests checking out Eventbrite to find a list of attendees at the bottom of event pages to find out if your desired company’s employees are attending.
While you’re networking offline, consider how you can circle back online to make your connections more useful. Acculation CEO Werner G. Krebs likes to connect on LinkedIn rather than exchange business cards at cocktail parties. He says that this strategy is more effective because even if your contacts move or change jobs years down the road, you’ll always have updated contact information and a way to connect online.
Above all, don’t wait until you need connections to make them. Building your network is an ongoing process, not just something you jump into when you’re looking for work. “Having a robust network in place and building those relationships over time is important,” says Joy. “If you have never had a conversation of any type with someone and they are the hiring manager for a position that you are applying for, bombarding them with social chit-chat at the time of application is not effective. For job seekers to use social media well, they need to make the connections and have the conversations before, during and after their job search.”
Using Social Media to Connect with Employers
Thanks to social media, employers and recruiters are more accessible now than ever before. Hiring managers are on LinkedIn, recruiters actively search Twitter, and future colleagues may already be on your Facebook friends list. How can you leverage social media accessibility into a stronger career? It may be easier than you think.
An inside connection could be your ticket to a new job. Recommendations from a current employee, or even just a gentle reminder to check out your online application could be the push you need to put your resume at the top of a hiring manager’s stack.
Palmer encourages job seekers to leverage existing connections by checking LinkedIn to see if anyone in your network is connected to the organization that has the job opening you’re interested in. How you can do it: “Use the search bar at the top of the page and then click Companies on the dropdown menu to search for the company name,” she says. “LinkedIn will then tell you who in your network works at that company. If some of the people who come up in the search are your second or third level contacts, you can ask your first level connections to introduce you.”
Funch recommends that job seekers follow company pages on LinkedIn, targeting organizations you may want to work for. Pay attention to what they post on the company page, and comment or connect where appropriate. You should use pages to learn as much as you can about the company, and look for employees you may want to connect with to learn about an opportunity that may not have been posted.
You can also use social media to connect with employers and hiring managers to directly ask questions about the company, or get more information about available roles, says Talentsquare product and digital strategist Hugo Pereira. “Recruiters like curiosity and candidates who demonstrate interest,” he says.
Pereira suggests another smart way to stand out to employers: write about them. “Write a blog (based on their expertise) and use their preferred employers as examples of case studies or best case practices,” he says.
Of course, social media is also incredibly useful for sourcing job opportunities with companies you’re interested in. “Hiring managers and recruiters are now posting open jobs on their social media accounts, sometimes before they even post on their website,” says Nina Parr, co Founder & CMO for The Love Your Job Project. “They are also encouraging their employees to help fill open positions and post on their social media accounts as well because referral candidates are always strong hires.”
On Twitter, Palmer recommends using a service like TweetMyJobs, which offers instant notifications about new openings posted on Twitter. You can even have jobs that meet your criteria sent to your cell phone.
Palmer points out that employers may use Facebook to source candidates as well, so it’s a good idea to participate in groups and upload your resume onto the site using an application like VisualCV. This can give employers information about your professional background, she says.
Social media can tune you in to the important conversations surrounding a company. “See what topics they are trending and what others are saying about them,” encourages Hurt. “If they’re a customer-facing company, reading negative and positive tweets can give you a good sense of what’s keeping the execs up at night. “I’ve been following your company on twitter and have noticed…” can never be a bad thing to work into the conversation.”
eZanga.com digital content supervisor Brittany Berger says a great way to listen to these conversations and connect with employers is to build a private list on Twitter that includes company and employee accounts.
“Following company accounts will help you stay up-to-date on company news, and following employees can help you get a feel for the company’s culture and what sorts of people work there,” says Berger. “You can also connect with people on LinkedIn, asking for general information or an information interview about the company.”
Staying on top of companies on social media is also a great way to become more informed about a company. You can learn more about what they do and what their needs are, as well as important news items. This can prove to be incredibly valuable when you’re interviewing, as employers value candidates who show that they care and can take initiative by being knowledgeable about the company.
Halogen Software HR talent attraction manager John Fleischauer explains that paying attention to a company’s online interaction can give you some insight into the workplace culture. “Do they regularly provide updates or not?,” he says. “Do they share information about the latest trends in their industry at large or do they only focus on their own accomplishments? Are they responsive or are comments/questions left alone?” Use these questions to learn more.
And don’t be afraid to take things a step further than just listening: social media was made for interaction. “Respond, @ reply, favorite, and re-tweet the posts that you find interesting to build up some online rapport,” says Goodman. “This may get you noticed, and at the very least serve as great research you can use when reaching out for an employment opportunity.”
Howard says that retweeting relevant or interesting articles shared by hiring managers is a good way to command attention when you deliver your resume. “When the hiring manager is sorting through piles of resumes, your name will be familiar and give the hiring manager a reason to take a second look at your resume,” she says.