Social Media and Your Career: Two Simple Rules

Social Media and Your Career: Two Simple Rules

Today our guest blogger is Matt Youngquist. Matt is the President of Career Horizons, serving Northwest individuals and organizations dealing with the unique challenges of job hunting and employment transition.  Matt is a recognized expert in the field of career coaching, job hunting, and professional employment counseling.  You can follow him on Twitter @mattyoungquist.

So have we reached the tipping point yet?  Have we arrived at the juncture where ALL professionals need to fully embrace social media and start using it, actively, if they hope to stay competitive in today’s employment marketplace?

I don’t know about other people, but I’m just not quite ready to make this draconian decree, quite yet.  For sure, anybody in the marketing or media space needs to be fully conversant with these emerging technologies, as part of their professional toolkit, and the social media scene can also be a fascinating place to spend time if you’re the kind of person who LIKES playing around with the latest gizmos and gadgets.  I just joined FourSquare this weekend, for example, to see what all the fuss was about.  But for the average person, who isn’t enamored with spending half their day on the computer, or staring at their smart phone, I still believe there are only one or two sites — okay, just one, LinkedIn — that truly fall into the “mandatory” category.

Others will disagree with me, of course.  But if these folks don’t work directly in the career coaching field, per se, or meet many folks outside of the “tech bubble” that envelops Seattle, they may not see the tradeoffs or opportunity costs involved in concentrating TOO much of one’s job search on the social media frontier — at the expense of other activities such as event participation, face-to-face networking, and direct company contact.  These activities aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but it can be way too easy to hide behind the “safety” of social media all day when looking for a job, while avoiding other methods that are far more likely to produce effective results.

So that’s my take on social media and the career scene, at least for now, and I fully reserve the right to flip-flop and change my mind at any moment.  Unquestionably, the day probably WILL come when the use of social media in a job search is no longer optional, even for non-tech and blue collar professionals. For example, check out the statistics in this recent article passed along to me by a client:

How Recruiters Use Social Media Networks to Screen Candidates

According to this article, 91% of employers and recruiters today use social media sites to screen job applicants — with Facebook being the leading site they investigate, followed by Twitter and LinkedIn.

Do I believe these statistics?  Not entirely.  I don’t know exactly where the survey was conducted, or what methodology was followed, but it seems unlikely a full 9 out of 10 employers are using social media in the hiring process today — when I still meet PLENTY of companies today, even in Puget Sound, who don’t really have the first clue about social media or how to embrace it.  Sure, if you’re talking mainly about organizations in the tech sector, the number is quite high.  But let’s not ignore the mom-and-pop flower shop on the corner, the small plumbing supplies company that’s been around 60 years, and the bread manufacturing plant we smell when we drive down that one street in South Seattle.  These employers count, too, and I’d be fairly surprised to learn they’re relying heavily on Twitter to find talent or that they’re aggressively combing Facebook for applicants.

So for now, in terms of how professionals should approach social media as an aspect of their career toolbox, I believe the appropriate usage centers around two simple rules:

Rule #1.  It’s better to have NO presence on social media than a BAD one, and…
Rule #2.  Having a GOOD social media presence is better than having NO presence at all!

In other words, it’s still okay to “run silent” and eschew social media sites altogether, but if you are going to use them, you need to make sure you don’t fall into the 69% of candidates (according to the survey above) who post something silly or stupid out there, costing you a potential job opportunity.  Make sure you understand the privacy settings on each site, use them correctly, and never post anything that could become a potential liability in terms of your professional brand and reputation.  Assume that anything and everything you post out there (or that gets posted about you) CAN and WILL be seen by your next potential employer.

And if you DO choose to embrace social media to enhance your job search prospects, that’s wonderful.  Just make sure you have a strategy and consistently reinforce the same facts, data, and positive themes about yourself, so that your cyber-presence out there helps you, rather than hurts you!

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