Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be great for connecting with friends or staying informed, but nowadays people are also using the sites as extensions of their résumés.
“Everybody is their own press secretary” on social media sites, according to Amos Snead, co-founder of the Beltway blog FamousDC and principal at public relations firm Story Partners.
He has a two-part philosophy for creating a marketable online identity. “You have to define the debate on your own terms,” he said, “and you want to tell your own story before someone else tells it for you.”
Snead suggests that job applicants be proactive online by registering a domain name, creating a website and maintaining an up-to-date LinkedIn profile.
“And be an adult on Facebook and Twitter,” he added.
Social media profiles can be used to highlight achievements and work experience and to link to blog posts and articles written by the account holder, said Ron Bonjean, partner at public affairs firm Singer Bonjean Strategies.
He also said job seekers should be able to demonstrate “online influence,” such as the number of LinkedIn connections or traffic data for a personal blog or website.
Ty Matsdorf, a former communications director for Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), recommended that job seekers draw positive attention to themselves by offering informed commentary and analysis and sharing interesting information on Twitter and Facebook.
“It’s not so much about promoting yourself but producing a quality product,” said Matsdorf, who is now war room director at American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC.
Job seekers need a clear idea of the online image they want to project, said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak, who said he has experienced ups and downs while building an online presence.
“Your accounts on places like Facebook and Twitter should reflect how you want people to see you,” he said, explaining that he aims to be seen as “informed, aggressive and thoughtful.”
Mind Your Manners
Closely related to the idea of creating a desirable online image is the pitfall of presenting an undesirable one.
Employers aren’t looking for “an opportunity to be impressed,” said Doug Heye, a strategist and former Republican National Committee spokesman. “They’re looking for red flags.” For example a tendency to engage in wars of words on Twitter could make an applicant look petty rather than informed, Heye said.
Christopher Hughes, a career adviser for American University’s School of Public Affairs, offered a simple rule for identifying personal red flags: “I wouldn’t keep anything on my Facebook that my grandmother would be offended by.”
Mackowiak said that an applicant’s social media footprint can reveal a fatal flaw: bad judgment.
“One of the things you look for when you’re hiring people on the Hill is discretion,” he said. “Twitter and Facebook make it hard to remain discreet unless you have good judgment.”
He said he’s glad he was able to avoid some of those potential downfalls. “I’m kind of glad Twitter and Facebook weren’t around when I was just getting started in Washington.”
Bonjean said to treat all social media “like it’s a virtual job interview,” while Matsdorf likened it to “talking with the media or talking with a constituent.”
“Treat everything you do and say as if the employer is seeing it,” Bonjean warned.
And many employers will be able to find social media accounts. Although users can put some limitations on who can see their Facebook and Twitter content, that doesn’t make it invisible, warned Patrick Hynes, president of new media and online communication agency Hynes Communications. “Anything that lives on the Web is going to be seen by anyone who wants to see it,” he said.
For Hynes, consistency is key.
“I think the most important thing to do would be completely authentic or be completely professional, but don’t try to mix the two,” he said.
Creating dual accounts for personal use and professional use is one option, he said. Regardless of whether the nonprofessional account is personal or humorous in nature, such as a parody account, acknowledge ownership from the beginning, Hynes advised.
“I think fake Twitter feeds are funny, but I think that you should be prepared to be transparent,” he said. “Trying to maintain anonymity is just going to get you caught.”
Land a Job
After establishing a consistent, polished identity across social media platforms, job seekers can use those sites to find opportunities.
Hughes suggests starting with LinkedIn. “Every single applicant should have a LinkedIn account,” he said, calling the site “a superlative way of representing yourself and opening up doors.”
Another benefit to LinkedIn is its job postings and education- or industry-based networks, Hughes said. Some of the networks are vast: The American University Alumni group alone has more than 9,000 members.
Employers are also using Twitter to connect with potential applicants, Hughes said. For example, @IdealistJobsDC tweets Washington, D.C., job postings from the website Idealist.org.
Applicants who contact employers by more traditional means can demonstrate their Web savvy by including information about social media accounts on a résumé.
Hughes has seen students include Twitter handles and other related information, but he advises that they only do so if it’s relevant. “I would only put a Twitter account on your résumé if you’re using it primarily for a professional or field-related content,” he said.
Matt Lira, director of new media for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), has seen some applicants go even further.
He recalled one instance when a job seeker bought ads on Facebook to target potential employers. “That’s a risk,” he said, “but I thought it was pretty clever.”
While acknowledging that social media savvy is not always a prerequisite, “having some experience is warranted,” Lira said. “It varies greatly depending on the office.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.