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We’ve all read the headlines about the negative impact social media can have on your career, how HR departments are trawling employee profiles on sites like Facebook and MySpace, and how some people have been disciplined or even dismissed because of things they’ve posted to their personal social media accounts.
What we see less of in the mainstream media (although you’ll see plenty of examples online) is the many ways that having a prominent online profile across a variety of social media sites can actually help your career.
But if you sit down and think about it for a minute, the fact that online social media can help give your career a boost should come as no surprise. Yes, they can allow employers and prospective employers to find out lots about you… but if you’re looking for a new job, or want to progress in the one you already have, then letting people find you, and letting them see what makes you tick is a good thing! Networking on a professional and personal level has always played a key role in career progression — hence the age-old adage "it’s not what you know, but who you know". That’s just as true today as it was twenty, thirty, even fifty years ago. The difference now is that we all have access to a wide range of free and powerful tools that help us to build a broader, more distributed and infinitely more productive network than was ever possible before.
Whether it’s connecting with people on LinkedIn, staying in touch via Facebook, or keeping abreast of your network and your industry via Twitter…. online social media tools give you the ability to find, learn from and engage with all sorts of people who can help you, directly or indirectly, with your career.
Showcase your talents and achievements: your social media profiles give you a great platform to showcase what you’re good at, highlight your strengths and let people know what you’re goals are. Think of them as a dynamic, constantly evolving CV that can help to promote your personal brand not just to your peers, but to prospective employers too. Career progression is all about marketing yourself, and social media can help you do that much more effectively.
Find and be found: your social media profiles help to highlight your unique characteristics — and as increasing numbers of recruiters turn to social media to search for and pre-screen potential candidates your online profiles give you more opportunities to be found by recruiters for jobs that suit your skills, experience and personality. And don’t forget that employers and recruiters are also posting vacancies to their own social media pages / profiles, so don’t forget to search your social networks for relevant vacancies.
Demonstrate your expertise: social media websites are interactive, and at the very least allow members to post comments to other people’s posts. By replying to questions and helping other people out you can demonstrate your expertise and start to position yourself as an expert in your particular field. Some networks, like the professional social network LinkedIn, for example, dedicate entire sections of their site to these sorts of questions and answers. It can be a great way of gaining exposure and respect among your professional peers, and a wonderful way to learn from others in your field.
Keep your finger on the pulse: what’s happening in your industry right now? What are the trends that are likely to shape it’s future? Do you think that information could be important for your career? Social media sites — and particularly quick-fire, real-time short-messaging sites like Twitter — can help you to keep abreast of what’s happening in your field now, and what thought-leaders in your industry are thinking, reading or working on.
Connect, engage and learn: through social media you potentially have access to a much wider network of people with expertise in a diverse array of industries: experts in recruitment, for example, who can offer advice on your next career move, or writers who can offer tips on more effective business communication, and so on. What starts with asking and answering questions, or engaging in debate on the topic of the moment, can evolve into enduring, mutually beneficial relationships that can prove invaluable when it comes to your career.
Don’t forget to ask: last, but not least, don’t let your network sit idle: use it! Engage with people, respond to people; above all ask people for their opinions and listen to their answers. If you’re looking for a job, tell people… if you’re looking for advice, ask.
These are just a few of the ways social media can help you in your career. It’s certainly pays to be careful what you post online — but as long as you’re aware of the risks, the benefits of engaging far outweigh them. Over the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at a few of the more prominent social media tools, and how you can use them to help move your career in the right direction.