Are Your Social Networking Profiles Sinking Your Job Search?

Job seekers' social networking profiles may do more harm than good in their job searches. Here are seven tips to prevent bad--or incomplete--social networking profiles from turning off a potential employer.

Social networking is a key component of today's job searches because job seekers want to be where hiring managers can find them, and increasingly, hiring managers are cruising social networking websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter to source and vet candidates.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of hiring managers using social networking websites to screen job seekers more than doubled from 22 percent to 45 percent, according to yearly surveys from CareerBuilder. Put another way, nearly one in two hiring managers uses social media to recruit or screen candidates for jobs today.

The problem is that many people's social profiles aren't up to snuff.

CareerBuilder's numbers suggest that job seekers' online presences may be hampering their job searches. More than a third of hiring managers (35 percent) immediately screened out candidates based on what they found on candidates' social networking profiles. Only 18 percent of hiring managers polled by CareerBuilder last year said they were encouraged to hire a candidate due to his or her online presence.

Tim Schoonover, chairman of OI Partners a provider of outplacement, executive coaching and leadership development services, says CareerBuilders' findings indicate that job seekers need to use social networking websites more effectively in their job searches.

"We need to sharpen our skills and pay attention to how these sites work to get the most out of them," he says.

First and foremost, job seekers need to understand which sites are entirely public, which sites offer privacy controls, and the limits of those privacy controls. If employers can access job seekers' profiles on any of these sites, their profiles better be consistent, up-to-date and complete, Schoonover says. An incomplete profile on a professional site like LinkedIn, for example, can be as damaging to a job seeker as a profile with inappropriate photos and information; an incomplete profile might suggest to a hiring manager that the job seeker doesn't finish what he or she starts, says Schoonover.

"Hiring managers check sites like Facebook and MySpace to balance out what they see on a professional network like LinkedIn," he adds.

Schoonover offers job seekers the following seven tips for ensuring that their social networking profiles don't sink their chances of landing a new job.

1. Make sure your social networking profiles are complete and rich with search-engine friendly keywords. An incomplete profile can reflect poorly on the candidate, says Schoonover. It can indicate to a hiring manager that the candidate didn't care enough to finish it. Having search-engine friendly keywords that describe your skills and experience helps employers find you before they've posted a job ad.

2. Use social networking websites to communicate your career status. Talk about freelance, contract or part-time work you may be doing, says Schoonover, and explain the types of job opportunities you're seeking.

3. Post recommendations from current and former managers, staff, clients and colleagues. Rather than asking people to write recommendations for you, offer to write a recommendation for them. Often they will be glad to respond in kind.

4. Personalize the URLs for your social networking sites. Facebook and LinkedIn let users create URLs for their profile pages that include their names. Schoonover recommends doing so. It makes your profiles more search engine friendly: If a hiring manager types your name into a search engine, your Facebook or LinkedIn profile with your name in your URL will have higher prominence in search results. Also, list these URLs on your cover letters, resumes and business cards.

5. Join online groups in your area of expertise. The best groups to join have lots of active members. Groups allow you to share and validate your expertise. Ask intriguing questions that will spark discussions with other like-minded individuals, and add your two cents to others' questions. "These groups are a great way of demonstrating who you are professionally," says Schoonover. "It's kind of like being at a professional conference on an ongoing basis."

6. Be courteous. When someone wants to connect with or "follow" you, in the parlance of the social networking set, reciprocate and find out how you can help that person.

7. Use proper grammar and correct spelling in your profiles. Remember, employers check out your social networking profiles to evaluate your communication skills. Nothing screams poor communications skills and sloppy work louder than bad grammar and incorrect spelling, says Schoonover.

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