Top 5 Tips for Professional Social Networking

By Ryan Alexander, AW2 Stratcom

Even prior to the current economic crisis, one of the leading ways a job seeker typically finds employment is through the various people and organizations that they know in their “social network.” Offline social networks typically include friends, family members, co-workers, acquaintances and various associations or organizations a job seeker may. However, your traditional, social network might not be all that helpful to you if you want to change careers, move to a different geography, or if nobody in your social network is aware of any job openings.

Online social networking Web sites can help job seekers in these situations by expanding their social network to include professionals from across the world in just about every industry imaginable. However, to tap into the potential power of social networking Web sites, you should first follow professional social media rules of the road.

  1. Google yourself. This is one of the first things that employers and the people that you are networking with online will likely do, so it’s a good idea to see what comes up—the results may even surprise you!If you have a common name or share a name with a famous person, doing this will also allow you to establish a quick response if someone confuses you with someone else.
  2. Review your existing profiles. If you have uploaded photos of yourself from your crazy college days, now is a good time to remove them. On Facebook, you should take the extra time to make different friend lists and privacy settings for family, close friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and others. This will help control which types of information people on these sites can see and allow you to only share what you really want to.If you haven’t joined Facebook or more professional-minded Web sites like LinkedIN or Plaxo, take the time to sign up and fill out your profile with your employment history and make sure to include a professional-looking photo of yourself. Ideally, your photo should be a close up without a distracting background.
  3. Share your expertise. Just about every social networking Web site has some sort of group or blog function that allows users with similar interests to gather and discuss topics of mutual interest. Search for groups around the industry that you are seeking employment and join them. After you join, post a short introduction about yourself and let members of the group know that you are interested in networking and employment — some users may offer you advice or leads right away.After you have joined, the next key step is to contribute to the group by sharing links, news, blog posts, or starting a discussion that is related to the group topic. If other users comment on the items you post, make sure to take the time to respond to them—even if you disagree with their point of view. If you aren’t sure of what to share, look at the items that other users have submitted and contribute by posting insightful comments. The key here is to engage your fellow group members and become an active and respected member of the community.
  4. Add friends/connections. It is proper online etiquette to have established a relationship with someone before adding them as a friend. Joining a group and sending friend requests to all of the group members before establishing a relationship with them will likely get you banned from the group. After you have become a contributing member to the group, you may want to friend individuals that you find yourself engaging with on a regular basis. Once you’ve had some positive engagement with a few individuals, send them friend requests and include a note letting them know you appreciated the dialogue. This gives the person sent a friend request to a frame of reference, making it more likely that they will accept your friend request. If they accept your friend request, and the Web site allows you to have multiple types of friend lists with different privacy settings (such as Facebook), make sure to add them to your professional friend list.
  5. Invite others. Invite other existing contacts, such as former co-workers, former classmates from college, and other friends that would be likely to become active members of the group. Inviting others will enable you to gain respect by showing that you are well connected offline and care about the growth of the group. However, remember that your friends could also cause you to lose respect if they cause trouble, are disrespectful, or post items that have nothing to do with the topic of the group.

As you can see, online professional networking isn’t all that different from offline networking; the same rules and etiquette apply. However, with online networking you have to operate with the mind-set that anything you say can be easily found by your current or prospective employer.

For example, a woman in the San Francisco-area was offered a well-paying job by Cisco, but after she got the job offer she posted the following comment on Twitter:

“Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

Turns out, Cisco also has a Twitter account and they actively monitor the network for mentions of the company. When they found the above “tweet” they replied with the following:

“Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”

Social networking Web sites, if used properly, can be a powerful tool in helping you land a job. However, if used improperly, social networking Web sites can also prevent you from landing a job — or possibly even get you fired. For more information about how to successfully leverage social media for professional networking, check out the links and resources below:

Additional Resources: A Step-By-Step Guide to Using Twitter in Your Job Search, HOW TO: Leverage Social Media for Career Success, Professional Branding Blog, A Luddite’s Guide to LinkedIn, How to Use Facebook Privacy Settings and Avoid Disaster.

The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense of the linked web sites, or the information, products or services contained therein. For other than authorized activities such as military exchanges and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) sites, the United States Department of Defense does not exercise any editorial control over the information you may find at these locations.

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