The process of looking for a job is not what it was a few years ago, and you can be sure that it will change again, perhaps even more remarkably, in another few short years.

One of the biggest reasons for the recent changes in job hunting is that social media is playing a bigger role – one that will only increase over time. The dos and don’ts of using social media, however, aren’t always straightforward because they can change right alongside rapidly evolving technology. But there are a few good tips to be aware of, not likely to change anytime soon, and although they might seem like common sense – well, they are! And they’re useful to know if you are currently on a job safari, or to save for later when you are.

Our first recommendation may seem obvious, but it can’t be stressed enough: your personal and professional social media contributions (Facebook posts, Tweets, Instagram photos, etc.) can rapidly squelch your chances at great job opportunities if you’re not careful. There are plenty of variations of a particularly relevant adage going around, such as “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t put on the front page of a newspaper,” or “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your sweet mother or dear old grandmother to see.” You get the idea. If you wince when thinking of the aforementioned seeing something, refrain from posting it. In the same vein, that Facebook profile picture of you doing a keg stand 10 years ago (or just last weekend) may not matter to some employers, but could be a very big deal for some. Sure, it’s a memorable picture – but for prospective employers, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Our next recommendation is that you utilize social media tools with rigor. They provide you with a farther reach than you could ever have physically, and they allow you to spread the good word of your skills and professional successes, strengthen your network, and contact potential employers who may not even know that they want you. But there’s a caveat: you need to think carefully and deliberately about how you communicate your professional experience and skills to potential employers (either on a static profile page, or in an introductory email) when they are short on time and you aren’t there in person to add context. The social media tools you use are your electronic proxy.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario to get you thinking in the mode of promoting yourself via social media. Imagine you have the chance to apply for your dream job by advertising your resume highlights with a billboard in Times Square for 72 hours, with just 200 words, one picture, and any format you wish. How would you design your billboard so that the hiring manager for your dream position stops dead in her tracks after viewing it to call you right away with a job offer – or at the very least an interview? What are the words you would choose? What is the visual that you would display? What great things about you and your skill set do you want the world (or at least the good people Manhattan) to know about you?

OK, now look at the social media tools you use for your job hunt the same way. And just like the billboard word limit, there are always parameters, making the words and visuals you choose absolutely vital to the whole process of virtually “putting your best foot forward.” Here’s where Kimberly Maul’s article, “6 Reasons Why Social Media Isn’t Helping Your Job Search” comes in handy. She outlines some very helpful “no-no’s” that could stand in the way of extolling your skill set to a potential employer. While we recommend reading the article in its entirety, we’ve conveniently listed some highlights below.

  • Passivity will get you nowhere: “It’s not enough to just have a bare-bones page on LinkedIn or only re-tweet other people on Twitter,” says Maul. Take the time to fully flesh out your profiles and take advantage of the various functionalities these sites offer. Another important point Maul makes: keep your profiles up to date even when you aren’t on the job hunt. These days, some recruiters believe that the best talent is already employed, and they are on the hunt for candidates they can entice into new opportunities.
  • Overt online aggression won’t get you anywhere, either: Says Maul, “Don’t taunt people on Twitter who don’t follow you back right away and don’t spam people with LinkedIn requests.” This may seem pretty basic, but you might be surprised by how often people don’t practice online courtesy the same way they might in person.

One more point about LinkedIn requests: don’t send a request without personalizing it. Make the effort to add the requestor’s name, a valediction (the “farewell” at the end of the note, like “best regards”) and your name at the end. And by all means, do not send the request in another language you’re not sure the requestee understands.

I recently received a request from a French business student, but I don’t speak French (unfortunately), and it struck me as a minor failure on his part to build his network in a truly conscientious way (somehow I could still tell that the request was impersonal). Your network is not just about numbers; it’s about the quality of the relationships, and nurturing them in a genuine way – especially in the beginning. Touches of conscientious detail don’t have to take a lot of time, and they can payoff in a big way.

  • Online etiquette & politeness matter: “Just because we spend a lot of time on our computers and communicating via email doesn’t mean we don’t need to have real-life people and communication skills,” says Maul. One of the biggest reasons young professionals fail at work is not because they don’t have the core skills to succeed, but because they lack people skills. You could be a genius, but if you are a difficult person to work with – virtually and in person – it’ll be just like dodge ball in the fifth grade: you will be the last one chosen for teams and projects. And, you may not be invited to the after-work social gatherings that help teammates bond. And unless you are a genius with lots of money, you will need a job. And unless that job is being a forest ranger or lighthouse keeper, there is no getting around working with people.
  • Think “long-term” vs. “short-term”: “If you expect to find a job in a few weeks just from using LinkedIn, or plan to abandon your online network once your find a job, you’ll likely make a ton of mistakes that will sabotage your job search efforts,” says Maul. There’s another adage floating around about the job hunt that’s worth noting here: the more effort you put into it, the more you will get out of it. But, unless you are a mystic with a knack for predicting the future, you won’t know how long the hunt will take, and it does take perseverance. And keep this in mind, too – all the people you meet on your job search journey are potential members of your network. And if they become a part of yours, don’t drop them like it’s hot (as in failing to respond to requests for introductions and information) when the job hunt is finally over. You want to build a network for life – not for the moment.

Unless you are in the market for a job as an unapologetic provocateur, you will need to be prudent about how you put yourself “out there” in the various social media solar systems in which you’ve established a planetary presence. You want to be perceived by potential employers as a stand out (in a good way) from the rest of the pack, rather than as a crazy lone wolf who can’t play well with others – or is just plain crazy. Social media tools can also help you establish and maintain a strong professional network that will be invaluable to you as your progress in your career. And don’t forget that this requires reciprocation.

Here’s one last hypothetical scenario: think of your social media tools as powerful arrows in your job-hunting quiver. Now imagine reaching for an arrow, one of many you’ve handcrafted yourself. You raise and draw your bow, something you’ve practiced tenaciously, over and over again, and take aim at your target: the job you are seeking. You release the arrow, yet again, but this time you finally hit the center. Bull’s-eye.

Photo courtesy of Rodolfo Novak.

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