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Social Networking Your Job Search Ally

The importance of social networking sites in the job search continues to grow. Employers increasingly look to “personal” pages on MySpace and Facebook to make very professional decisions, so it’s more important than ever that you take control of your online brand.

You may be surprised just how many hiring managers are investigating applicants online. One survey found that 45% of employers view social networking sites (and use search engines like Google) to research candidates. Another 19% said they planned to start or increase this practice in 2008.

Sites like LinkedIn and ZoomInfo only permit career-related information, but many people signed on to sites like Facebook to interact only with friends. You’re not alone if these pages don’t reflect your strengths as a candidate. Follow these steps to ensure that anyone who researches you online would want to meet with you or hire you.

Step One: Create a list of things you want prospective employers to know. 
This is the beginning of building your brand, so start with the basics. What is your profession and how many years of experience do you have? What roles have you filled? What skill or experience do you offer that sets you apart from other candidates? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Identify keywords that reflect your skill set. These can be broad (e.g., project management, strategic planning) or more specific to your role (e.g., budget control, safety). (For a refresher on how to leverage keywords, see our recent article, “Don’t Get Lost in a Database.”)

Remember that personal appearance is part of your brand. Consider what you want a hiring manager to see in online photo albums.

Step Two: Google yourself.
You’re ready to make changes to the pages you know about—see if there are any pages you don’t. Compare what you find to what you would like others to see.

Step Three: Eliminate the negatives.
Change the privacy settings on any purely personal pages so that only friends can visit them. Then visit all your public pages and remove any content you wouldn't want a prospective employer to view. Err on the side of being too conservative. (For a reminder on what might raise a red flag, see our recent article “Social Networking Can Damage Your Job Search? If You Let It.”)

The look of your online presence matters as much as its content. Sites like MySpace offer layouts that can quickly become messy and visually cluttered, so simplify any pages that have unnecessary, distracting graphics.

Cull through “friends” lists to eliminate access by people you don’t really know, and also consider just how many networks you have joined. Can you commit to checking email and keeping profiles current for LinkedIn, Jobster, MySpace, Facebook and ZoomInfo? If not, make choices now and delete any accounts you may neglect.

Step Four: Create your positive online brand.
Get out your list and spread professional information throughout your profiles. There’s no reason to be sterile when discussing your career online, so use the same tone as you do in the text about your personality and interests. Embrace appropriate humor, as it can give the reader a sense of what it’s like to have you on a team.

Consider starting a career-centric Web site or blog where you can share details of your work experience and demonstrate leadership by making suggestions on how your discipline could improve productivity. Many trade journals and Web sites also host blogs, so if you are short on time or technical expertise, these can provide a good forum. You can post entries on other peoples’ blogs and still build your credibility as an expert in your field without having to spend the time starting your own.

Make sure all your online references to work are positive. Even if you're blogging to identify a challenge, offer a solution. If another blogger posts a question that you can answer, respond. It’s likely your knowledge and attention will be appreciated and you will have just made another contact in your industry. Blog posts show up in Google searches, so take the time to make sure your thoughts are clearly presented.

Remember that everything you post is stamped with the time and date, so post in the evening or on weekends. This shows your enthusiasm but also demonstrates you won't use business hours to update personal pages.

Step Five: Relaunch your online brand presence.
Let your recruiter and existing online contacts know that you've updated your profiles or that you've become a regular on an industry blog. This is a ready opportunity to remind everyone that you're available and prompts them to look you up when you can make the best possible impression.

Employers are watching candidates more closely than ever online, but there’s no reason why you can’t turn this attention to your advantage. Choose what you want hiring managers to know, evaluate what they currently see and make the necessary changes. These steps make social networking sites a true asset in your job search.

How FPC Can Help
Your recruiter knows what your online brand needs to portray to make you stand out among the crowd to top hiring companies.  Talk to them about the kinds of things your particular industry wants to see.  Your recruiter can help you address this important element in the success of your job search.

Sources: CNN.com, fpcnational.com, About.com, MSN.com

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