Social Media: Friend or Foe to Job Seekers?

A few years ago, when I was informed that employers and universities were using social networking sites, such as Facebook, to research potential candidates, I was immediately appalled. My Facebook page was mine, or so I thought. I now realize that I hadn’t fully understood the concept of social networking at that point. As a student of one of the first freshman collegiate classes to enjoy the perks of sharing pictures, thoughts, and upcoming events with my friends through Facebook, I didn’t quite grasp the fact that whatever I posted was meant to be shared with others. Sure, I wanted to share with my “friends,” but I hadn’t thought about the possibility of outsiders being able to view the content that I posted. And I had absolutely never thought of the possibility that I may be judged on it.

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire and watching the majority of my friends and classmates struggle to find jobs of their choice, I began to think about this topic again. What are recent college graduates doing wrong? And, more importantly, what are some doing right that could help out my stressed-out, jobless friends?

A recent survey from CareerBuilder revealed that “of 2,600 hiring managers, 45 percent said they use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 22 percent last year. And 11 percent say they plan to start using sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace to screen job seekers.” Professors and advisors at universities are spreading the word on this, in hopes that students take the necessary precautions before posting personal content online.

In a Media Week interview with David Emin, director of advertising at Mirror, warned users of the realities of social networking sites. He said, “Unfortunately for you, browsing profiles on Facebook is not illegal… and it's easy for private information to become common knowledge.” Even President Obama is warning social media users to “be careful about what you post on Facebook, because in the YouTube age, whatever you do, it will be pulled up again later somewhere in your life.” This is the same advice that my dad has been telling me for the past few years, and which I have continually chosen to ignore it. I simply didn’t want to believe that anything and everything that I post online will live in cyberspace forever. Maybe teens and young adults will listen now that our president is relaying the message. Or maybe another message should come about. Instead of telling people what they shouldn’t do, the message could be about what they should do.

A significant amount of employers and job seekers have begun to use social media to connect with each other about job openings, which could persuade users to become proactive and share thoughts with the intent of someone reading them.  An article from The Wall Street Journal suggests that employers can actually help job seekers put themselves on the appropriate career path, by interacting with them through social media outlets. Some employers say that they utilize social media outlets, such as Twitter, to attract candidates that have social media skills.  (Applicants who reach out to companies for potential job opportunities must show that they are able to use these outlets as a form of communication, which is becoming increasingly popular throughout businesses.)  For example, MediaSource Inc’s president, Lisa Arledge, said that “[They] needed someone that understood social media, so we thought, ‘Why not go to where these people go?’” The young woman who responded to MediaSource’s post was hired almost immediately. She was clearly doing something right in her job search. This story leaves me leaning toward agreeing that companies should look into candidates’ social media pages.

Twitter seems to be the most recent advance in the job search world, with sites such as, TwtJobs.com, which allows users to create a “Twitter Resume,” which then allows employers to contact them about job openings that they are eligible for through tweets. Sarah Needleman, a Wall Street Journal reporter, also suggests using social media sites to develop relationships with people that wouldn’t normally be accessible without social media. A friend of mine started joining in on a Twitter conversation with the CEO of a company that she was interested in and landed herself an interview. Why not join in with something that interests you, too? Proactive engagement seems to be the way to go for job seekers. And this proactive engagement seems to also work for employers, who are finding candidates that are perfect fits for their job openings.

This brings me back to my original questions: What is the best way to approach job searching with social media? While there have been times that I have agreed with one side or the other, I cannot seem to make a final decision about what is right or wrong in the world of social media and one’s professional career. Should recent college graduates have to alter their personal social media pages so that they are appealing to potential employers? Or should they show their personality through these pages, with no regard to the possibility that employers might not like what they see? I find that I fall in between the two options, with my opinions changing by the day. What do you think?

- Contributed by Katy Rohlicek.  Follow her @katyroll