Employment Guide: Sites like Facebook can double as professional networking tools

By Larissa Gula

There’s no denying that social-networking sites have their advantages: finding new friends,… There’s no denying that social-networking sites have their advantages: finding new friends, reconnecting with old friends and discovering employment opportunities is now easier than ever.

But as social networking becomes more prevalent in daily life, the need for people to treat their profiles on social-networking sites more like professional networking accounts is rising.

Students today must be willing to take the next step to turn “the play space” of the Internet into a component of their professional image, said Jamie Bianco, who teaches multimedia courses at Pitt.

Of course, there are already sites that help foster a professional image: LinkedIn, for instance, allows users to network with coworkers as well as create an online portfolio with their resumé, relevant skills and background.

The problem, however, is that the work ethic and image created on one’s LinkedIn might not align with the image created by one’s Facebook. According to Cheryl Finlay, director of Pitt’s Office of Student Employment and Placement Assistance, because many companies today search for job candidates who use social media, the way candidates present themselves on their social media profiles often becomes an issue.

“I do know of students who were overlooked for an interview or job based on information that was posted on social media, and [I] wish more people would be conscious about how to promote their individuality while also demonstrating good character,” Finlay said in an e-mail.

According to CareerBuilder.com, “a recent study … found that 77 percent of recruiters run searches of candidates on the Web to screen applicants; 35 percent of these same recruiters say they’ve eliminated a candidate based on the information they uncovered.”

Employers often made decisions between two candidates based on the language they use on their profiles, according to the website. Raunchy or racist remarks sometimes led to a rejection.

The first step students can take to evaluate their online image is to Google their own name, Bianco said. It’s an easy trick that potential employers use on applicants, so it’s important that students know what will appear in a search.

Accounts like Twitter, Facebook and even Flickr all contribute to the image a student might project. Bianco often advises students in her own classes to understand the “presence” they project online.

“Think of it as: What would you be willing to scream right in front of your work office,” Bianco said. “That’s what you do with social media. There are behavioral codes. Even if on paper someone is qualified, the reality is that we have to live with each other. So online you create a personality, and not all of our personalities at home or out and about will be the same as our personalities at work. But what you have to be aware of is that social networking is a public space with public discourse and public rhetoric.”

Shawn Graham, a career consultant at Carnegie Mellon, suggests that students decide ahead of time what they intend to do with their social-networking profile and pick and choose what information will go online based on their career goals and values.

Graham also discussed the idea of “friending” co-workers on sites like Facebook, which is the equivalent of bringing the office into the user’s personal space and which can cause trouble if users post rude remarks about their job online.

“Personally, I don’t have a lot of co-workers [as friends] on Facebook,” Graham said. “LinkedIn is obviously the professional [site], so there’s not a concern there.”

The concern, he said, comes as more sites appear and their rules become hard to decipher. Overall, he said, what’s considered appropriate “depends on the person and the culture of the office.”

Graham also advised students to “brand and establish yourself and have a consistent message articulated throughout all of your networking sites.”

Another basic tip from Bianco and Graham is to do research on a potential employer’s standards — some fields might be more relaxed about what they do and don’t mind seeing online, so understanding a specific workforce culture is key.

As for what to post online and what to exclude, Graham advised students to use “common sense.” Maybe posting about that fantastic party last night isn’t the best thing to do.

Keep in mind, as well, that setting profiles to “private” offers no guaranteed security or privacy — understanding the terms and services of a social-networking site is important.

“We actually used to recommend [that you] delete your Facebook account,” Bianco said. “But now that seems absurd. But you do need to consider the image it projects. Ask yourself: Would I be okay bringing them into this social space? Because that’s what you’re doing.”