Social Media 101: Career Connections

Social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can be used to aid your career. Learn how to ensure these online tools help — not hinder — you professionally.

February 18, 2010
from Robert Half Finance & Accounting

Social media sites can significantly aid your career if you use them to broaden your professional network and showcase your industry expertise. But they can hold you back if you’re not careful about managing your so-called “digital footprint.” As sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter continue evolving and growing in popularity, the list of potential pitfalls to watch out for is expanding, too. Following are tips on using these online tools to help — not hinder — you professionally:

  • Use discretion. For every person who lands his or her dream job through savvy online networking, there’s someone else who lost out on a great opportunity or damaged their reputation at work because of questionable content they posted online. Despite countless cautionary tales of Facebook faux pas and ill-advised Twitter updates coming back to haunt people, many employees and job seekers keep shooting themselves in the foot by exercising poor judgment.

    It’s as simple as this: Don’t be your own worst enemy. Before you publicly criticize your boss, complain about an interviewer’s questions or upload a less-than-professional party photo from your college days, think about what it could do to your credibility if the wrong person sees it. Use common sense, think long-term and adopt a better-safe-than-sorry approach to your social media activities. In short, never post words or images you wouldn’t want your current manager or a prospective employer to view.
  • Stay committed. With social media, consistency is the name of the game. Once you establish a presence on LinkedIn or Facebook, don’t let it grow stale. Keep your profiles up-to-date as you would your resume and add content on a regular basis. At the very least, check the sites often to make sure friend or connection requests aren’t piling up.

    A sustained effort is also required with Twitter. While you don’t need to spend hours writing updates (i.e. “tweeting”) every day, you’ll need to post fairly frequently to build a decent network of followers. Moreover, think strategically about the information you provide. (For instance, highlighting that you just ate a tasty tuna sandwich isn’t of much use to anyone.) Instead, position yourself as a subject-matter expert by offering helpful accounting-related advice or commentary. You can also share links to interesting industry news articles or “re-tweet” an informative or amusing point expressed by someone else.
  • Follow the rules. Avoid inadvertently getting yourself into hot water by making sure you fully understand the details of your company’s social networking policy. In a recent Robert Half International survey, 54 percent of chief information officers said their firms do not allow employees to visit social networking sites for any reason while at work; an additional 19 percent of respondents said it’s only acceptable if it’s business related. Some organizations even have restrictions on how workers use social media at home.

    It’s important to understand unwritten protocol, too. In another survey by Robert Half, 48 percent of executives said they are uncomfortable getting Facebook friend requests from people they manage. Regardless of how much rapport you have in the office, your supervisor might not want to connect with employees on networking sites. Therefore, wait for your boss to reach out to you first.
  • Mind your manners. First impressions still matter. While social media allows for a degree of informality, remain professional and polite when reaching out to someone you don’t know. Send a short private message, addressing the person by name, introducing yourself and briefly explaining your reason for wanting to add them to your network. Use proper punctuation, steer clear of Web lingo and emoticons and proofread your note for spelling and grammatical errors.

    If you found the person through a shared connection, get your contact’s permission before dropping his or her name. And remember that one of the biggest (and most frequent) mistakes you can make is to immediately request assistance. Like traditional networking, it takes time to build a relationship. Don’t abuse a connection by asking for a job referral a day after connecting. You don’t want to come across as pushy or self-serving. In general, it’s best to offer help before soliciting it.

Finally, be mindful that social media should supplement — not replace — traditional networking approaches. While you may have used Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter to find new contacts or renew ties with former colleagues and classmates, having occasional face-to-face interaction or a telephone conversation with these people remains critical to solidifying the connections.

Social Media Sites: A Look at the Big Three

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only social media sites, but they are far and away the most prominent at the moment. Here’s a quick overview:

LinkedIn: The world’s largest professional networking site is designed for keeping in touch with business contacts, not friends and family. Members create a personalized profile page (essentially an all-purpose resume) describing their employment history, educational background, skills, credentials and professional interests. Members also post recommendations from people they’ve worked with. These testimonials give hiring managers additional insight into a person’s qualifications, work ethic and personality. In addition, LinkedIn is a good way to connect with recruiters and employers. Join our company’s LinkedIn discussion group.

Facebook: Facebook started primarily as a social networking site for telling friends what you’re up to, sharing photos, playing games and participating in groups based on similar interests. However, many people today use the site for career-building purposes. If you’re on Facebook for both personal and professional reasons, familiarize yourself with the “Privacy Settings” page. Consider creating a separate “work” list and limiting the content available to those contacts. In addition, some companies and trade groups maintain “Fan” pages on Facebook, which can give accounting professionals a better sense of a group’s personality and corporate culture, as well as provide useful industry information. Check out our company Facebook page.

Twitter: Twitter lets you write short posts — called “tweets” — limited to just 140 characters. The site is all about brevity, allowing space for only a heavily condensed bio. One goal is to attract “followers” who read your updates. The other objective is to gain information by “following” others. Following noted accounting experts is a great way to keep up with current conversations in your area of specialization — and find other people who share your professional interests. In addition, many organizations have Twitter feeds, which they use to share job postings, comment on industry news, make announcements or post links to relevant articles. For example, check out Twitter.com/RobertHalfFA and Twitter.com/AICPANews.

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International, is one of the world’s first and largest specialized financial recruitment service. The company has more than 360 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.roberthalf.com.