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Social Media's Role in the Job Search

Knowing when traditional tools are better
Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder.com writer

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The Internet has significantly changed how we carry out many everyday tasks. We don't have to receive bills in the mail or go to the bank to check our account balances. Hop online and almost everything we want to do is at our fingertips. Online job hunting has replaced flipping through the newspaper want ads to find that elusive open position.

Another significant addition to the Internet is social media. Social networking sites have suddenly put us in touch with long-lost friends or helped us make new ones. They're like class reunions and dating services rolled into one. And now they've become professional tools, too. You can use your online profile to display your work history and skill set.

As great as these advances are, some people fail to understand that new isn't always better. Sometimes older, more traditional methods are better than the newer, flashier ones. It's something that plenty of job seekers need to realize when they're looking for work and professionals should think about when using their profiles to network.

The job seeker's friend ... and foe
When looking for work, the biggest drawback to social media is the virtual paper trail you might leave. Attorney Robin Bond reminds job seekers that how you interact with friends is probably not how you interact with a boss or even co-workers, so make sure your professional side is what people see.

"Use separate sites for business and personal contacts," Bond advises. "If you were having a party, it's unlikely you'd invite all your party pals to the same event where you were entertaining your boss and work colleagues." For that reason, take advantage of professional networking sites like LinkedIn and BrightFuse for displaying your skills to potential business contacts and employers.

Keep the more irreverent profiles on a separate site and out of the hands of employers. Even then, Bond cautions against posting potentially damaging photographs because it is the Internet and nothing is entirely private.

"If you think your mom would be embarrassed by something you post, then think twice about posting it," he says.

Naturally, the visibility that could ruin your career could also be what gives you one in the first place. David Gammel, author of "Online and On Mission: Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results," sees the value in social media's prominence when used for good.

"If you have posted lots of content under your identity that enhances your qualifications, it will show up high in search results and benefit how you are perceived," Gammel says. "If that content is unprofessional or otherwise at odds with the job you are pursuing, it may stop you in your tracks."

Although social media are an asset, they have yet to become the definitive way to land a position, he says.

"The best way to find a new job is still through a personal referral from someone who trusts you to someone who trusts them," Gammel says. "Social media might be used for communicating, but it won't create that trust. Good old-fashioned relationships will do that."

Remember the 'network' in social network
For professionals who already have a job, and for those who are considering a career move, social media can supplement traditional networking methods. They don't replace them, but they offer new opportunities alongside them.

"I think the biggest problem is that people treat social media and 'the real world' as if they are two separate modes of contact all too often," says Sam Ford, director of customer insights for communications agency Peppercom Inc. "The best answer is to use a combination of the two when searching for jobs, building relationships with potential employers, building out your network, etc. In my own network and in dealing with job prospects, I've found that a combination of the two makes all the difference in the world."

That amalgamation can add another dimension to an otherwise dull online experience.

"I find myself wanting to connect with people on Twitter [and] accepting LinkedIn connections particularly if we've had a strong face-to-face or phone conversation in the past," Ford says. He found that the online component enriches the relationship and wouldn't have occurred had they never interacted in a traditional way first.

Ultimately, what job seekers and professionals interested in networking need to remember is that business doesn't exist only online or face-to-face. Technology is part of everyday business and there are people behind those Tweets and profiles, so you should remember to make both new and traditional methods part of your networking practices.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/abalderrama.



Last Updated: 03/11/2009 - 3:48 PM


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