Social media is a wonderful thing.
It enables you to connect with old friends, spy on ex-boyfriends, keep in touch with family, and stay updated with friends who live faraway.
From a professional standpoint, social media can help you find new opportunities, network, and stay up to date on your industry. But there can certainly be some pitfalls. It’s important to approach social media with purpose:
When you are looking for a job
I have interviewed tons of folks for positions at my PR firm, and the first thing I (and lots of those in my position) do when I receive a promising resumé is to Google that person’s name. It’s amazing what you find out about someone through the Internet; often, I’ll have full access to their Facebook photos, Instagram account, Pinterest page, tweets (and Twitter photo), past/current blogs, YouTube videos, awards in high school, mentions in the school paper, etc.
You’ve probably heard this before, but the best advice is to clean it up. Untag yourself from compromising photos, and ensure that all of your public profile settings are appropriate. Set for private everything that you can, but remember that there are many ways to get around privacy settings—so make sure that anything you have online is OK for recruiters to see.
The good news is that this search is available to you as well. Before you go to an interview, Google the person you will be meeting. Check out his or her LinkedIn and Facebook pages, blog posts, and tweets.
Have this person been quoted in the news? Don’t just check out the company’s homepage and stop there. Dig deep. For instance, if you Google my name, this blog and others will come up in the search, yet few candidates mention that they’ve read anything I’ve written. This is an easy win for a candidate.
Show you’ve done your due diligence on the person interviewing you by dropping a fact you learned about him or her. (Trust me; it feels creepy, but it’s flattering for the interviewer.) You might say: “I noticed you received your MBA at Wharton, how did you end up at this firm?” Or, “I saw your quote in The Wall Street Journal on upcoming legislation, how do you think that will change the industry?” This makes you look smart and interested in the job—two major pluses for candidates.
And once you have a job
Social media is a fantastic way to stay up to date on things happening in your chosen field, even if you just want to sit back and soak it in without participating in the conversation. Here are a few ways to use social media for this purpose:
• Many reporters and media outlets tweet their stories. Pick a few that cover your industry and follow them on Twitter.
• Often, folks will discuss current trends in your sector and you can get a clue about the current hot-button issues. Join a few related discussion-oriented groups in LinkedIn and see what the conversations are about.
• Are there conferences happening in your industry that you can’t attend? See if there is a hashtag for the event and follow it on Twitter. Often folks in attendance will tweet quotes and statistics.
• Bloggers often have a more frank, easy to understand way of explaining major activities than their counterparts in more traditional news outlets. Set up your RSS feed to follow blogs that cover your industry.
In the end, social media has a lot to offer those starting out in careers. Good luck.
Katherine Kilpatrick is an account director at Bliss PR, where a version of this story appeared. This story was originally published as a guest post on Washington & Lee’s Alumni Perspective blog.