When used appropriately, social media can help you find a job, career advice, and people who can assist you with growing your career.
Social media is now a very important aspect of our lives, even if we ignore it (or try to). Much information (and misinformation) is shared via social media, and Google finds and shares most of our social media activities.
As What Color Is Your Parachute author Richard Bolles noted several years ago, "Google is the new resume." Like it or not, he was correct, as usual.
A 2010 study by Microsoft revealed that many companies actually require their staffs to check the online reputations of job applicants. Not being found is considered a bad sign.
Unfortunately, today making BIG mistakes that are seen by the whole world is extremely easy, particularly if something "goes viral" and is seen by millions of people. Once a misstep is picked up by the search engines, everyone can find it, and making a misstep in social media is very easy.
For a successful career, manage your Google resume, and avoid making these mistakes.
If you are job hunting, you won't find a job immediately just by joining LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Invest the time and energy to build the public persona (or personal brand) that will support your job search. Read LinkedIn for Job Search, Personal Branding with LinkedIn, Facebook for Job Search, and Twitter for Job Search for more information on leveraging the different social networks for your job search.
No one (celebrities excluded) automatically finds a job, a date, a mate, or millions of dollars just by joining or posting something on social media. But all of those, except the millions of dollars (mostly), do happen often enough, to a sufficient number of people, to make the investment of time cost effective for most people.
Too many people think of social media as a medium where they can share everything with the world or, at least, with their social "friends." They believe that they are being "authentic" -- being honest and sharing what makes them unique. Given how relentlessly recruiters and potential employers search online to get a sense of job applicant personality and "fit," that sharing can be a very dangerous thing to do.
Remember that what you share online is seen and read (or heard) by many people who don't really know you.
When you joke "So glad that marijuana is legal now! It makes my life tolerable," people who don't know you aren't sure if you are serious or kidding -- including recruiters and potential employers. Those employers are NOT anxious to hire someone with a marijuana problem.
They have probably never met you or talked with you. So, what you share in social media tells them who you are. This means that managing what you make visible to the world is extremely important.
Yes, in the USA, our Constitution guarantees us "freedom of speech" (and writing). However, that Constitutional freedom does not mean that others (like potential employers) are banned from forming an opinion about you based on your online sharing.
Unless you have a job which requires you to be controversial, the smartest thing you can do is keep your most contentious opinions to yourself and your closest personal friends. The most sensitive topics include religion, politics, and sports. In addition, sharing your activities that could be viewed as breaking the law (e.g. driving drunk, taking drugs) is not smart.
Yes, social media must be used carefully, but by ignoring or avoiding it, you are handicapping yourself in several ways:
When you are invisible, you are vulnerable, and you look out-of-date.
Social media can be a very effective tool for your job search, used and used properly. Ignore it at your own peril -- you are more vulnerable in your job search if you avoid social media. Certainly you can damage your career with inappropriate use, no question. So, put on your grown-up mindset, pay attention to the rules of the (social media) road, and you'll be fine.
For more information, check out the other articles in this section and Job-Hunt's Guide to Personal Online Reputation Management. Companies and governments work on managing their online reputations. We should do it, too!
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.