Social media – your career friend or foe?

I’m one of the Careers Service’s biggest proselytizers of social media for networking and ultimately career development and I regularly evangelise about the wonders of LinkedIn and Twitter to colleagues, students I see, and frankly anyone who will listen! But I think I sometimes neglect to talk about what NOT to do with social media and the perils of ‘overexposure’, so to speak, a subject touched on by Anna on our graduate blog. Perhaps this was because I thought it went without saying. But having seen some students’ completely unprotected Facebook and Twitter profiles, I’ve revised my view – it DOES need saying.

I’ve seen tweets and Facebook updates from students about illegal drug use, intimate liaisons and some with just very bad language. On Twitter for example, it’s easy to think you’re just tweeting to your friends, but if you’re a regular tweeter and you use your real name, it will only take an employer (or potential employer) about 10 nanoseconds to find your Twitter a/c. On Facebook, privacy levels are confusing and relative. And if you think employers won’t be bothered to do this, think again:

According to a CareerBuilder report cited in HR Magazine, 53% of employers said they now use social networking sites to research job candidates and 12% plan to start using social networking sites for screening.

I’m sure you’ve googled yourself, but I recommend you do this on a regular basis (at least monthly if you’re active on social media), and do it through the eyes of a potential employer. What impression are you giving? What is in the public domain? (Remember to make sure you’re logged out of all your social media sites first.)

There is some great advice about the judicious use of social media (especially Facebook) from this blogger and one of his tips to scare you into action is to go to http://youropenbook.org and type “I hate my boss” into the search box to see how many Facebook users may be revealing too much to too many people, potentially getting themselves into very hot water. Prepare to be shocked.

The boundaries between personal and professional are very blurry and will continue to be, but it does pay to give this some serious thought now and make some tough decisions now about who your social media ‘friends’ are on different platforms, what you communicate about and how, and what privacy settings you use. There are numerous examples of people’s careers being made and destroyed on the basis of one errant tweet or Facebook status update.

More positive stuff to follow on the use of social media for career development, so watch this space…!

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