Because my firm has successfully used Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and our website to strengthen bonds with our clients, my colleagues and I are often invited to speak about social media and executive search. We recently spoke to graduating seniors at the University of Houston and, within 10 minutes, they were engaging us in a lively discussion about how soon-to-be and recent college graduates can best use social media to launch their chosen careers.
It is a timely and timeless question.
Although experienced professionals have had decades to build strong networks, recent graduates may find their web of friends and classmates is of little help in scoring that first gig. Social networking is a valuable tool in growing the types of personal connections that have always been a boon to professional development and job searches.
It’s especially important in a tough market for job seekers to continually differentiate themselves from other candidates. One of the major trends we have noticed is that job seekers and firmly planted executives alike are working to set themselves apart in the social media arena.
It can be intimidating to try to get in the game of professional networking after growing up in a world where social media means sharing humorous Vine videos with one’s closest friends. Here are some key tips for college grads who want to jump into a new career while developing a distinctive and professional style:
1. Keep an up-to-date LinkedIn profile
LinkedIn, the one tool every executive needs in his toolkit, is the simplest way to establish an online presence and to make yourself known to a global network. One of the first things a new contact or potential employer will do when you come on his or her radar is search for you on LinkedIn.
The site has fundamentally changed recruiting since it launched in 2003 and is now the "the de facto tool for professional networking"; to stay away from LinkedIn is to exclude yourself from numerous unknown opportunities.
As with paper resumes, using keywords that are relevant for your desired career could make you stand out to key decision makers. Use this to your advantage by positioning yourself for new opportunities when your listed experience can’t provide a full picture of your career objectives.
As author and personal branding expert Dan Schawbel says, "Brand yourself for the career you want." Just be sure that all of the information on your profile is the same as what’s on your resume or CV. Discrepancies between dates or titles are always a red flag.
2. Highlight your growing expertise on Twitter
Twitter is no longer just for twentysomethings. As strategic communications firm WSG notes, “Social is pretty hip these days. ... A CEO that tweets or blogs shows that they are working hard to stay in touch with new trends.”
A recent study from CEO.com revealed that top executives at high-growth Inc. 500 companies tweeted far more often and had more Facebook friends and more LinkedIn ties than other executives.
Bill Gates (@BillGates), Martha Stewart (@MarthaStewart) and Jack Welch (@jack_welch) are some of Twitter’s most popular users, with more than 1 million followers each. Tweeting about events and trends in your desired field can brand you as a resource and increase your authority on an industry, even while you’re just learning the ropes.
3. Adjust your Facebook settings so your private life stays private
This may seem like an obvious point if you’re a longtime Facebook user, but if you’re just signing on for the first time, you’d be surprised by how many questionable party photos and risqué wall posts our knowledge management team can turn up with a simple search.
4. Showcase your work in a blog
Blogging is one of the best ways to display your writing skills in a way that is engaging and nonintrusive to hiring managers. More executives are blogging now than ever, thanks in part to LinkedIn’s Influencers blog, where Jeffrey R. Immelt, President Obama and many other thought leaders have shared their insights — without fee.
5. Work yourself into your desired industry network
When making a big professional transition, you can’t just rely on word of mouth or periodicals for updates on company openings. Instead, participating meaningfully in discussions in social media is sure to keep you on everyone’s mind when it comes time to bring in a new 21st century-savvy executive or to make a referral.
6. Don’t be shy; these sites are “social” after all
Search LinkedIn for people from your alma mater, hometown, volunteer organization or church who list your desired employers as their own, and reach out to them. You may feel wary of over-asserting yourself or imposing on a stranger’s time, but people are often happy to share knowledge with others with whom they have something in common.
Also make sure you “follow” and “like” your desired employers on social media. Companies often advertise new openings on their LinkedIn or Twitter, so those are valuable places to check often.
7. Keep your existing network strong
Staying in touch with former internship colleagues and classmates helps ensure you don’t miss a beat when they undergo important professional developments or, better yet, have entered your desired field.
Finally, don’t forget to Google yourself! Until you look, you’ll never know what you — or we — will find.
Miranda Nadeau, a 2012 Rice University graduate, is a research associate with Houston-based The Alexander Group.