Do's and Don'ts for Social Media

Smart moves—and big mistakes—in social media

When you're looking for a job, the internet is no longer your playground – it's practically an interview. Employers can and will check you out online as a weed-out-the-crazies screening process. So to make sure a simple search of your name doesn't ruin your chances at a job, follow these basic dos and don'ts:

DO get LinkedIn

“It's really a good thing,” says Nina Guthrie, director of recruiting at Grant Thornton, about the business-oriented social networking site that lets you research companies and connect with colleagues. “College students need to be on there. It's a wonderful tool for getting to know their potential employers,” she says. The reason it’s so wonderful, explains Nina, is that lots of employers are now branding themselves on the site, even including profiles on partners and managers – basically doing your homework for you. More features are added all the time, and the 60 million professionals already registered (in 200-some countries and counting) can’t be wrong.

DON’T get left out

The sun doesn’t rise and set with LinkedIn, though. As Amanda Brown, National Recruiting Manager for MBA/Law Programs at KPMG will tell you, “Students are increasingly looking to lots of social media applications for career information; sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, among others.” (Of course, that’s in addition to reviewing the web sites of accounting firms, talking with faculty and firm professionals, attending firm-sponsored events like information sessions and career fairs and so on.) Yes, even your good old Facebook page can become a career-search tool – as long as you’re active. A stale site you never update is a no-no as well.

DO be slim

Even if you’re interested in (and good at) lots of things, hone your description of what you offer to be as specific as you can. Consider it your own personal “brand” on your profile, and the more distinct the better. “Logic-puzzle expert who can see the big picture, gets involved and speaks Farsi” is a lot easier for recruiters and employers to remember than “Unemployed recent grad with pretty good grades.”

DON’T be shady

Take it from Scott McQuillan, national recruiter for a public accounting firm: “Don't play games within the network.” People are connected now, as you might have noticed, and if you’re up to something uncool, word gets around. For example, says Scott, there was the candidate who couldn’t decide between a few different job offers, so she just accepted them all. “And then when it came to showing up on the first day, there was one offer that she showed up to and three that she didn't.” Fast forward three years later, when this person was looking to move on, but everybody remembered what she had done.

DO stay current

“Once you’ve established your connections, keep in touch,” is the advice of Robert Half International. Nobody likes to visit a ghost page that you never update, and “Regular communication demonstrates professionalism and sincerity.”

DON’T submerge completely

The pleasure of connecting with others can also become a little addictive. And while it’s great to keep up with everybody, make sure you log off during work hours. Denny Reigle, former Director of Academic and Career Development at the AICPA, has this to say about quality employees: “They do good work, they’re smart enough to ask questions when they need to ask questions, and they don’t spend half their time social networking during the day.”

THE BIGGEST DON’T OF ALL blab stuff online you can’t take back

It happens. From the typical drunk pic on the Facebook page to the more serious crimes like tweeting the salary you just got offered (especially smooth when the people who already work there see it and instantly pity/hate you), social media blunders are as common as they are hilarious. You heard about the girl who slammed her boss in a status update, then was reminded – by him – that she’d friended him already, right?

Social Media Manager Angela Connor has a simple suggestion to protect yourself against this kind of public blunder. “I don't care what your privacy settings say; don't assume anything is private.” This is, of course, the Internet we’re talking about. It’s just too easy for incriminating pictures, swear-packed rants and outright whining about your current job to slip out and become public knowledge.

“There's a feeling of a safety net that doesn't really exist,” Angela says. So in addition to the obvious stuff like rereading before clicking that “Post” button and making sure you’re notified whenever someone puts up a picture of you, when it comes to your life the best policy may be to put the whole Web on a need-to-know basis. Essentially, recommends Angela, “Unless you're going to say ‘I love my job,’ don't say anything at all.”

But what if you already did? Unfortunately, if something’s out there and you wish it weren’t, your options are pretty limited. “I used to manage an online community,” Angela recalls. “I often dealt with what I called ‘commenter's remorse.’”

People would call or write her, asking – begging, in some cases – for her to take down the regrettable comment. The results? Not great. “Site administrators are busy people,” she says. “Something like that is just not at the top of your priority list.” (Besides, the public nature of your comments and posts *is* spelled out in the Terms of Service you read when you signed up.)

So were the poor souls petitioning Angela completely out of luck? Or did she ever set aside the other stuff and help erase the mishap? “If I happened to be in a giving mood,” she says, “Maybe.” Post with care, friends.

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