How to Use Social Media to Boost Your Career
Online networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook make it easy for you to connect with others in your industry and showcase your abilities.
Chances are you're already on at least one social media site; with a few extra steps, you can use it to help you land your dream job. Headhunters are scouring social media for new talent, and it has become standard practice for human resource professionals to google potential employees to assess their passion for their work, their communication style and their personal interests. Make your online presence work for you by taking the following steps.
1. Pick the right profile pic
First impressions matter, and your profile picture is how potential new acquaintances on social media will see and remember you—or not. It can make all the difference in whether someone accepts your request to connect or even looks at your profile, says Wayne Breitbarth, author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success.
Especially on LinkedIn, the top site for professional networking, you need to be sure you have a professional-looking photo. (Know the adage "dress for the job you want, not the one you have"? It applies to the attire you wear in your LinkedIn profile pic.) Make the effort to take a picture specifically for your profile; don't just crop yourself out of an old picture. You don't have to hire a photographer, but you do need to at least get a friend to take the picture for you (save the selfies for Instagram). Most importantly, make sure what people remember about your picture is your face. Your best bet is to take a head shot in front of a simple background and show those pearly whites!
Twitter and Facebook are less formal than LinkedIn, so your image can be more casual. Still, be sure to keep it clean because HR pros and hiring managers may check out these other social-media accounts. In fact, you should be careful about all of the photos you share on social media, not just your profile pic. A good rule of thumb: Don't upload anything you wouldn't want Grandma or your future boss seeing.
2. Build a smart profile
Don't worry; you don't have to sit down and complete any of your social media profiles all at once. If you looked at my LinkedIn page a few weeks ago, you probably wouldn't have been very impressed. Since then, I've added a professional (albeit unflattering) photo of myself, links to my work and regular posts about my field. Even now, my profile still needs improvement. That's the beauty of social media—it's always evolving. There is no deadline, and you don't have to fill in every section. Work on your profiles over time, and bit by bit, you'll create a great online presence that you'll still want to update continuously as your experiences and accomplishments grow.
On LinkedIn, add everything on your resume, plus more. "Your LinkedIn profile is really a resume on steroids," says Breitbarth. Show people your talent, whether by linking to your master's thesis, showing a picture of an event you coordinated or a work of art you created, or simply linking to your company's Web site. You can add such elements to your profile by clicking on the "add a link" or "upload file" buttons. On my profile, I posted links to stories I have written for various publications. It is a way for me to display what I am capable and proud of to a large swath of people in my industry, including potential employers.
You can also list up to 50 skills on your LinkedIn profile, so add as close to the maximum as you can, Breitbarth says. Include any skills that pertain to your career, and check out other professionals' profiles to come up with ideas for more. Selecting a wide variety of skills encourages more "endorsements"—fellow LinkedIn users can affirm your mastery of specific skills—because your connections can't endorse you for a skill unless it is listed.
Your Twitter bio can only be 140 characters, so you can make it colorful, but don't go overboard. "While you might think it's clever to say you're a 'marketing ninja by day and vodka lover by night,' you're definitely going to steer employers away from what you have to offer," says Heather Huhman, who runs Come Recommended, a consulting firm for recruiters and HR pros. Just follow the social media rule of thumb: Make sure it is something you don't mind your current or future employer seeing.
3. Stay active
Once you've established a foundation on LinkedIn, post regularly about topics specific to your profession, focusing on what can be beneficial to your connections, such as new trends in your industry or links to relevant news articles. You should aim to post at least once a week during work hours, when most users are active. On Twitter, you may want to post daily. All of this helps to keep your followers engaged and shows that you are keeping up with what is happening in your field.
On Facebook and Twitter, you have more leeway to infuse a bit of your personality into your social media presence, which is important. "Even in the professional world, people like to read about real people, not robots," says Carrie Brown, social journalism director at the City University of New York.
Even if you're on a platform you intend to use only for personal purposes, you should manage your posts with tact. Employers can look at your public pages to get a better sense of who you are, so be careful not to overshare or post things you might later regret. For example, moderate how often you vent about work or school, says Brown. Future employers will look at such posts and think, "If he is whining this much about the field he is in now, is he really going to be self-motivated when he works for me?" Also keep a critical eye on what others post on your page.
As important as it is to showcase your talents and knowledge, remember that the point of social media is to connect with others. The digital landscape makes it easy to find and network with people you might not already know. Yes, on Twitter, you can read and send tweets straight from and to the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Stephen Colbert. But probably more useful for your career, you can also connect with leaders in your industry.
On LinkedIn, you can scroll through these leaders' profiles and join some of the groups they are in that might suit you, too. Engage with groups by sharing relevant posts and responding to other members' comments. A hidden bonus of joining groups: You can send direct messages to other members, something you can otherwise only do if you already have a connection to an individual. On Twitter, you can mark some tweets from top brass in your field as favorites, retweet them or tweet back with some witty remark of your own—all easy ways to get them to notice you. Facebook allows similar opportunities for interaction in the forms of likes, shares and comments. And make sure you respond to people who reach out to you online.
Following well-established people in your industry can also provide you guidance on what and how to post. As a reporter, I like to keep an eye on what my colleagues and veteran reporters are tweeting to get a better idea of how to construct my posts, as well as what news I should know about minute to minute.
5. Streamline your social-media activity
Staying active and engaged with your audience can be time-consuming and easily overwhelming, especially while you're holding down a job and having a social life.
Try using some apps to help you. For example, Hootsuite and SocialOomph allow you to view posts from your various networks all in one spot. They also let you post the same message to different outlets with just one click, as well as schedule tweets and updates for the future.