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Use Social Networking Wisely to Enhance Your Professional Image

Be smart about the way you use social networking. Here are some helpful hints.

November 18, 2010
from Accountemps

With the social networking capabilities of Web 2.0 attracting millions of people, it should come as no surprise that hiring managers are spending more time online too. In a recent survey commissioned by Robert Half, nearly three-quarters of executives polled said they are likely to search online for information about prospective hires.

Although an employer cannot legally use online information about a candidate when making a hiring decision, there have been cases in which negative postings have harmed a candidate’s chances. Clearly, if you’re a job seeker trying to score interviews with prospective employers, you need a professional, impressive online presence.

There are an increasing number of online opportunities to enhance your professional image, expand your network and extend the scope of your job search. The key is to be strategic and smart about the way you use social networking. Try these tips to cultivate a polished image.

Create a Flattering Profile

In the survey mentioned above, 59 percent of respondents said they review job candidates’ LinkedIn profiles, while 44 percent said they check out applicants’ Facebook pages. When you consider the type of information many people post on social networking sites, it’s easy to imagine how an online profile might work against a job seeker.

In creating your profile or personal page on sites such as these, maintain the same professional “demeanor” that you do when networking in person. Post information about your professional qualifications and involvement in career-related activities, as well as links to accounting forums you belong to or articles you’ve found helpful. If you also put personal information on sites such as Facebook, you may want to set the controls so that employers and recruiters can only view select information (e.g., your professional accreditations, not photos from the New Year’s Eve party).

Expand Your Professional Connections

Social media is an effective tool for reconnecting with colleagues from former jobs whom you may have lost touch with, and to reach out to potential new contacts. But be careful about becoming overly reliant on the Internet for building a web of professional connections. Traditional, in-person networking is still the optimum way to increase your roster of meaningful contacts, particularly if you are actively job hunting.

Whether you’re networking face-to-face or online, certain rules of etiquette apply. For example, it’s preferable (and less stressful) to ask an existing contact for an introduction to someone new. And don’t invite someone to join your network and then immediately ask them for a job lead or an interview. Online networks, like traditional ones, are built slowly and systematically, and are based on mutually beneficial relationships.

Focus on the quality — not quantity — of your connections when tapping social networks. It could harm your professional image if you link to individuals who have poor reputations in the accounting field or personal friends who post questionable content. Keep in mind that if you make your contacts public, prospective employers may reach out to these individuals as references.

Watch What You Blog, Tweet and Digg

Other ways to build a professional online reputation include blogging about accounting trends or current events; commenting on other professionals’ blogs on sites such as WebCPA; joining forums and professional chat groups; engaging in social bookmarking (using sites like Digg and StumbleUpon to comment on and rate information you’ve found online); or doing “micro-blogging” on Twitter. These tools can be powerful ways to raise your online visibility and therefore should be used judiciously.

For example, many people who post (or “tweet”) on Twitter write about mundane activities. Obviously, tweeting about what you had for breakfast is not going to impress a potential employer. Confine your online postings to your latest professional accomplishments and insightful, knowledgeable comments about trends and issues affecting the accounting profession.

Similarly, when engaging in online discussions, commenting on other people’s blogs or recommending a particular site, use prudence and discretion. It’s very easy to disseminate your opinions online but virtually impossible to recall them once you’ve hit “submit” or “send.” In general, assume that everything you post online will be viewed by a potential employer.

Position Yourself Properly

Tap the power of search engine optimization (SEO) and help employers find you online by integrating key words into all your online profiles. The keywords should convey your skills, specialties and positions of interest. For example, if you’re a senior tax accountant with extensive experience with partnerships and limited liability corporations (LLCs), your profile should include those terms, as well as industries where you’ve worked (e.g., entertainment, finance, etc).

When posting your resume in response to a job ad, be sure to format it correctly so it’s readable and downloadable. Requirements can vary from one professional website to the next, so double-check resume guidelines.

The more recruiters, corporations and accounting firms go online to research the backgrounds of job candidates, the more critical it is to actively monitor and manage your virtual presence. At the same time, remember that social networking does not replace more traditional approaches, such as meeting with recruiters in person, requesting face-to-face informational meetings with prospective employers and attending industry events. By combining real-world and online networking, you’ll increase your chances of finding the right position, broadening your professional connections and advancing your career.

Accountemps is the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices throughout North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.