Learn the ins and outs of professional and personal online social networking.

Career professionals are warning job seekers that using social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok, may be hazardous to your career. Photos from a party could diminish your prospects of landing a job. However, while some online content can put job searchers at a disadvantage, more are using social networking to enhance their preparation for interviews, garner an advantage over less-wired peers and even gain an edge with employers.

Aside from LinkedIn, you can seek out social networking sites specific to your area of interest such as govloop.com for government employees, or care2.com for positive topics.

To use social media to your advantage, gather background information about the companies with whom you will interview. In addition, stronger connections with a potential employer can be made by talking about the projects, challenges or activities a particular company contact is involved with.

Research from social networking sites can also be used to prepare for site visits or informational interviews. By using the alumni connections available through Facebook, you can gain added insight into potential employers. If you are interviewing with an organization, search for alumni from your college or university or former colleagues who are working there.

Social Networking Etiquette

When you seek and maintain professional connections via social networking sites, follow the same etiquette you would if you were networking by phone and in person. Remember that every contact is creating an impression. Online, you might tend to be less formal because you are communicating in a space that you typically share with friends. However, any time you are communicating with a potential employer, you want to maintain your professionalism. Just as you would not let your guard down if you were having dinner with a potential employer, you must maintain a positive and professional approach when conversing with networking contacts online. Ask good questions, pay attention to the answers and be polite—this includes sending at least a brief thank-you note anytime someone gives you advice or assistance.

Identity: Public or Private?

Identity and affiliations are the second area where social networking and privacy issues may affect your job search and employment prospects. Historically, job searchers have fought for increased protection from being asked questions about their identity, including religious affiliation and sexual orientation, because this information could be used by biased employers to discriminate. Via social networking sites, employers can now find information that they are not allowed to ask you.

Just as you consider whether or not to include religious and political affiliations or sexual orientation on your resume, you must consider whether you want this information online.

There are two strategies to consider:

  1. If you wish to only work for an employer with whom you can be openly religious or political, then making that information available on your page will screen out discriminating employers and make it more likely that you will land with an employer open to your identity and expression.
  2. Maintain your privacy and keep more options open. Investigate potential employers thor­oughly and pay special attention at site visits to evaluate whether the company would be welcoming. This strategy is based on two perspectives shared by many career professionals. First, as a job searcher, you want to present only your relevant skills and experience throughout the job search; all other information is irrelevant. Second, if you provide information about your identity and affiliations, you may be discriminated against by one person in the process even though the company overall is a good match.

Strategies for Safe and Strategic Social Networking

  • Be aware of what other people can see on your page. Many recruiters are now using these sites and other recruiters ask their colleagues to do searches on candidates.
  • Determine access intentionally. Some career counselors’ advocate deactivating your Facebook or Twitter pages while job searching.
  • Set a standard. If anything appears on your page that you wouldn’t want an interviewer to see, remove the offending content.
  • Use social networking to your advantage. Use these sites to find current or previous employees from the organizations that interest you and contact them before you interview in your career center or before a site visit. In addition, use social networking sites and internet searches to learn more about the people who will interview.