With the abundance of resources for networking and job searching available online, soon-to-be graduates have no excuse not to connect with others in their fields and explore employment options.
“[Graduates] have an opportunity to interact directly with the people who are building the future of technology, entertainment and policy,” says Tony Conrad, founder of About.me, a site where users can choose what social and professional sites to feature their profile and track what material is being accessed. “There's a level of access that previous generations could only dream of.”
However, that level of access requires a sense of responsibility and diligence for graduates to be their strongest advocates; they should represent themselves positively and professionally in their online networking profiles.
“Headhunters, human resource managers, and college admission boards are using these tools to find out information that’s actually out there about you,” says Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible. “You are the first generation on the planet that is now required to do brand management on your own personal brand.”
We talked with social media experts to find out how students and graduates can use these online tools to their advantage.
How to Take Advantage of Online Networks
While online resources have been a component of the job search and networking worlds for years, Safko says that students can give themselves a competitive edge by including relevant content in their online presence.
“The smart student is the one that’s going to take advantage of all of those networks and deliberately feed them with the very best possible information about themselves, information that’s going to position them as potential professionals,” he says.
Web sites such as LinkedIn that are specifically geared toward network connections can be useful in researching potential companies and their employees. If grads do their homework on job descriptions or information about hiring managers before an interview, they can stand out from other candidates.
“A lot of times, [you can] find interesting little snippets that can really make a difference for you in terms of how that conversation could go with the hiring manager or with that recruiter,” says Krista Canfield, spokesperson for LinkedIn. “The tone is immediately different, especially if you know someone in common and you see that there are second or third degree connection.”
Part, Not All of the Equation
Online networking and searching should not totally replace old-fashion approaches to the job hunt, the experts warn.
Gordon Curtis, executive transition coach, agent and author of Well Connected explains that people can fall into the mindset that if they have a lot of irons in the fire, they can sit back and let their online efforts do all of the work for them.
“It’s really easy to succumb against a false sense of security that I’m out there, I'm all over the place,” he says.
And while students may be doubtful of their network connections and lack of job experience, they have more than they realize.
Canfield says that college students and recent grads overlook and underestimate their own personal connections; classmates, professors, parents, and friends of parents can all be considered valuable networks. You never know who or what you could have access to through a personal relationship.
Put Your Best Online Profile Forward
If students choose to include social media sites with their professional sites, make sure all viewable content is appropriate.
“Understand how privacy is defined within [a] network, and take steps to ensure it,” says Conrad. “[Users] should feel free to share with their friends, but be certain that nothing they'd be embarrassed to have their parents find is visible beyond the realm of their privacy settings.”
Spelling typos and grammatically incorrect information can deter employers from pursuing a student. Conrad says students should edit all of their material, including pictures, to convey a sense of professionalism and desirability as a candidate.
Make necessary adaptations to the materials you provide on each site or application, don’t just pile on all your qualifications and experiences.
“You may have exactly what a prospective employer is looking for, but if there's too much other ancillary information, it dilutes the impact of the most [important] points that they are looking for,” Curtis says.
For grads that have a list of dream jobs or companies, they can use professional sites, particularly LinkedIn, to track a company and find out about developments as they happen.
“You're going to get updates when people join the company, which means you might have new contacts,” says Canfield. “You're going to get updates when people leave, [which] might mean the role is now open.”
Connecting with others is a big advantage of professional Web sites, and students can certainly find alumni groups and other university-related contacts that can be beneficial in building networks.
However, Canfield cautions against sending generic connection requests without explanation. If a student had an internship and wants to connect with a mentor, send a note detailing the relationship along with questions.
“Especially when you’re a new professional, you should always take the time to include one to three lines about how you know that person and why it is important for them to connect with you,” she says. “That's very different from sending a generic request.”