Summer is a great time to kick back and relax, take a vacation, or work on projects that you haven’t been able to get to all year. But for college students, summer is also a great time to focus on building a great reputation, and a big part of that is developing a positive social media experience that supports college recruitment and job searching.
We asked Alan Katzman, founder of Social Assurity, to explain how students can effectively use social media for college search, hiring, and professional development.
How Colleges Are Using Social Media
Colleges are using social media for admissions and recruitment now more than ever before. It’s a tool for marketing, communication, recruitment, and research. And that means college students should be paying more attention to how they’re using social media, too.
“Colleges have embraced social media as an effective way to market to and attract applicants,” says Katzman. He notes that almost all schools have a presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, some are even on Snapchat.
By using these services, colleges are extending an invitation to applicants to engage with them on social media. “This is a great opportunity for students to demonstrate interest and also impress college officials with their social media profiles and activities,” says Katzman.
As colleges are reaching out to applicants on social media, Katzman points out that they’re using it to zero in on the students they really want to admit. “Colleges are using social media to identify and recruit students possessing specific skills, talents and interests to fulfill the school’s requirements to assemble a diverse and engaged campus community,” he says.
Another important factor to note: colleges are often using social media for screening as well. Katzman says that an increasing number of colleges will proactively vet applicants on social media. This often happens during admissions decisions and academic and athletic scholarship reviews. Typically, they’re looking for information about character, credibility, and commitment.
Connecting with Colleges on Social Media
As social media becomes more important to applicant screening and recruitment, students should be actively working to connect with colleges online. Katzman recommends trying these services:
- LinkedIn: This is a great platform for applicants to connect with college communities.
- Twitter: On Twitter, students can see what colleges and faulty are tweeting about. Plus, Twitter offers a great chance to follow key members of college communities and engage in conversations.
- Instagram: This is another place where it’s easy for students to engage with — and be seen by — their dream schools.
How Employers Are Using Social Media for Job Applicants
Colleges aren’t the only organizations using social media for screening and recruitment. Katzman says that employers are integrating social media into the hiring process from end-to-end. That means they’re using social media to search for candidates, research applicants, and make hiring decisions.
“Social media is a massive searchable database,” points out Katzman. And as most employers know the skills and credentials they are seeking to fill a particular role, they can plug those keywords in to social media searches, particularly on Facebook and LinkedIn, to discover candidates.
They can search by school, major, class year, title, interests, location, and other metrics to identify and then recruit people who meet their requirements, he says. This is great news for candidates who have robust social profiles and can be discovered online, but for those who don’t have much online, it means they’ve got some work to do.
Social media recruitment doesn’t just stop with identifying candidates, either, says Katzman. At the other end, he says, is character vetting. As ultimately, hiring decisions are subjective, social media activities may play a part in how candidates are perceived by hiring managers.
In the past and still today, employers have used interviews, references, and background checks to better determine whether job candidates are credible, will get along well with coworkers, and be a good organizational fit. Now, employers can also use social media to find this social proof, says Katzman.
And while traditional methods of obtaining social proof like references and interviews are typically conducted with the applicant’s knowledge, Katzman points out that social media provides a way of learning about a person’s likes, interests and personality without physically meeting them. And this research can be done at any point in the hiring process, with or without your knowledge.
That’s why Katzman is careful to point out that every social media post matters. “Most students think employers will only check their LinkedIn profiles, but there is no such distinction between personal and professional public postings.” He says that colleges and employers care about both your professional and personal posts online because they have a reputational interest in how students and employees conduct themselves online.
Being Accessible to Colleges and Employers on Social Media
With colleges and employers often using social media for recruitment and screening, it’s important that students take steps to actively take advantage of the ability to connect on social media. It’s important to have a presence that enables you to by found by and communicate with organizations such as colleges and employers. Katzman recommends keeping these facts in mind when you’re developing your social media presence:
- Go public: More than anything else, you need to have a public, searchable, and keyword rich social media presence across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This enables colleges and employers to find and connect with you on social media.
- Be positive: “Students need to learn that employers are not looking at their social media to find reasons to reject them,” says Katzman. Overwhelmingly, admissions officers and hiring managers are simply looking for positive signs that you are who you say you are on paper and that you lead an active professional life that fits well with their organization.
- Make social media an asset: “Technology is enabling a new and efficient hiring model, and social media is driving this change,” says Katzman. Students who see social media as an asset to help set themselves apart from others are at a great advantage in this environment.
Show Off on Social Media Without Bragging
With so many opportunities for discovery and growth on social media, students should be ready to show off their accomplishments on social media. But how can you do it without looking like you’re bragging?
First and foremost, Katzman insists that it’s not bragging if your authentic. He encourages students to understand that their social media audience will extend beyond friends, family, and followers. Colleges, employers, and other organizations are looking, too — so make sure there’s something there for them.
Katzman encourages students to view their social media profiles as an extension of their applications and/or resumes. And when used this way, he says, social media provides an unlimited platform to demonstrate capabilities, skills, and interests.
For creative and visual types, Katzman suggests Instagram as a platform. On Instagram, students can showcase a portfolio of photographs, designs, or artwork. Pinterest is also a great resource for developing a portfolio.
All students can use LinkedIn and Facebook as resources for highlighting their extracurricular activities, volunteering, and community work. On these profiles, students can list their honors, awards, and work samples. And blog posts on LinkedIn in particular can reach a wide audience and demonstrate an understanding of current issues facing businesses and industries.
Avoiding Social Media Mistakes
Of course, even with such great resources, there are bound to be some missteps. Unfortunately, some students know all too well the reality of rejection due to poor social media use or an inability to be found online. Avoid these mistakes that Katzman encourages students to look out for:
- Shutting down social media: Katzman points out that the media tends to report on the negative aspect of social media for college recruitment and job searches. And unfortunately, this negative focus has encouraged some students to use aliases or shut down social media entirely during the process. He says this is a big mistake. Rather, if colleges and employers are looking at social media, then give them something to see. It a great opportunity to stand out from other applicants.
- Remember that nothing is truly private: Even if you’re hiding behind a privacy wall or an alias, you may underestimate how easy it is to be found. Social Assurity stresses that online anonymity and disappearing social media posts are myths. Rather, says Katzman, social media posts should be assumed to be permanent and discoverable.
- Not focusing on what’s really negative: If you’re working on cleaning up your social media, Katzman suggests that you shouldn’t really be all that worried about removing social and party posts, as those aren’t really that toxic. Instead, he encourages students to look for posts that could be more damaging, such as posts evidencing bad grammar, excessive “selfies,” aggressive behavior, and bias. These are much worse for a reputation or character check.
- Not creating positive content: Another big mistake is to only focus on deleting posts, rather than creating good ones. Katzman says that instead, students should be creating content to counterbalance what is typically a heavy social footprint.
Jumpstart Your Online Reputation This Summer
Summer is the perfect time to focus on your reputation. With little to no classes, you’re able to scale back on commitments and work on developing your reputation for the future. Katzman encourages students to take these steps to improve social media and online reputation this summer:
- Take on summer activities that support your digital resume: Anything you do this summer, from being a camp counselor to playing sports, traveling, interning, or volunteering are all great entries to add.
- Highlight your soft skills: When adding your summer activities or updating your school year profiles, pay attention to soft skills. “Soft skills are an important ingredient of our overall marketability and the most marketable soft skills are leadership, being a team player, a strong work ethic, good writing, and problem-solving skills,” says Katzman. Students can write and post about their activities and experiences with ties into lessons learned.
- Open up your privacy: Invite colleges and employers in by removing all privacy settings from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Ideally, you’ll be publicly searchable with plenty of keywords for colleges and employers to find.
- Create a LinkedIn profile: If you don’t have one already, get a LinkedIn profile. When setting your profile up, Katzman says it’s important to note that LinkedIn for students isn’t necessarily about what they have already done, but what they aspire to do.
- Focus on consistency: When developing your online profiles, ensure that they all present a united front. Katzman says that consistency sends a powerful message, so there should be a consistent message across platforms.
Thank you to Alan Katzman for sharing his insight into this interesting — and increasingly important — topic! To learn more about Katzman, Social Assurity, and social media and personal branding for college students visit the Social Assurity website.