How do you balance your personal use of social media with the need to have a professional online presence? Everyone seems to use social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, from students and graduates to parents and grandparents. However, graduate employers also use social media to reach out to potential recruits and to vet applicants, and could be put off by what they see.
If you haven't already done so, you should take steps to safeguard your use of social media for your private life. At the same time, give some thought to how you can use social media to your professional advantage, as a way to stay informed, raise your profile and network with recruiters.
What can recruiters find out about you online?
Billions of people worldwide have access to the internet. So it's worth giving some serious thought to who can access your data. If you don't make good use of privacy settings, content you have uploaded will be visible to any Tom, Dick or HR person and your future employer could have an insight into more than just your qualifications and work experience. This doesn’t mean that you need to trawl the net, removing every trace of your existence, just that you need to be savvy and ensure that your online persona portrays you at your best to employers.
Review what content you want visible
The easiest way to do this is to separate your personal and professional online personas and manage your online reputation. Think about what content you are happy for anyone to see and what you feel is best saved for people you already know.
Pop your name into a search engine and see what comes up. Most social networks have a public listing that contains potted information from your profile and a link. This can be modified by editing your privacy settings. That way, should some clued-up recruiter search on the site itself, they’ll only have access to the content that you want them to see – and not the photos of that time you got drunk and your mates sellotaped the contents of the living room to you.
Separate your personal and professional online personas and actively manage your ‘net rep’.
Don’t forget things like blogs, forum posts and other sites such as YouTube. If you’ve ever posted anything under your real name then it could show up in a search: it's best to get this sorted before you start applying.
Think about your email address too. If you’re still using something like firstname.lastname@example.org you might want to think about setting up an alternative address for your applications – and don’t forget to ensure your voicemail message doesn’t just bellow 'wassuuuuuuup!’ before the beep.
Draw a line between your personal and professional presence
One option could be to use LinkedIn for your professional life and Facebook for your private life. You can used LinkedIn to provide an online CV that is readily available to employers and to join in discussions that allow you to express your professional options. LinkedIn also has a facility that enables you to add your work to your profile, so you can upload presentations, portfolio pieces or videos.
Make the net work for your graduate job hunt
Remember that you can use your online presence to your advantage in the recruitment process. Some graduate recruiters use social media to make it easier for graduates to get in touch and find out about their organisations, which can be an excellent opportunity to network.
You can use Twitter to connect with employers you are interested in and keep up to date with their latest news. Professional bodies are also likely to have a Twitter presence and it's a good way to follow developments in your chosen industry or career sector.
You could interact with an employer on Twitter or LinkedIn prior to an interview, and then refer to the exchange when you meet the recruiter face to face.
Let your competencies and skills stand out
Use the internet to your advantage by highlighting the skills and abilities that you think are most relevant to recruiters. Professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn allow you to post your experience and qualifications and get in touch with professionals around the world. They have the advantage of being highly rated by search engines so often appear high up the list in an online search for your moniker.
Along with these, you could also consider setting up your own website or blog. This will demonstrate initiative and, if you do it right, could be a good way of showing off your creativity and communication skills, as well as presenting a suitably professional image. You can use this space to describe your achievements more fully that an application form will allow and really sell your skills.
The web is a valuable resource and one you can have fun with. Just be wary and remember that it’s a public arena. That way, with luck, it’ll be a help rather than a hindrance when it comes to establishing your graduate career.