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Social Networking's Popularity Raises Concerns

Social networking and social media can help speed you along the road to a great career. But use caution -- that road has many potholes and other hazards to watch out for.

One thing that social networking is great for is personal branding. You can build a profile that gets you noticed by potential employers.

"When I think of personal branding, I think it's awesome," says Natascha Faye Saunders. She's a career coach for youth and young adults.

"I mean, students are able to get on there and display ... what they're good at," says Saunders. "I have students who are photographers, or they're interested in business, so they get a chance to write about something that's going on in the economy and put it in a notes section on their Facebook, tweet it on their Twitter, upload it on their blog, and we can all see it."

Students who are artists can link social media sites to their online portfolios. Your friends and other connections can make comments. Potential clients and employers can see what you offer.

And, of course, social media sites are very powerful tools for networking. For example, Saunders knows a student who got an internship with a major fashion magazine by connecting with one of the editors on Facebook.

"The networking is amazing if you do it right," says Saunders. "A lot of recruiters from different companies, they all use Facebook, because they want to reach students and they want to advertise what internships they have coming up -- they tweet it out and put it on Facebook and LinkedIn.

"I've had students land informational interviews using social media," Saunders adds. "They'll find that person, send them a note -- a mini note -- and just say they'd really appreciate the opportunity to connect with them, they've been following them and keeping up with the resources that they've posted. That has been really successful."

You can also research your educational options with social media.

"For universities, they have their own pages where you can learn what it's like at universities and talk to other students who are already attending there," says Karen Girard. She's a career coach and high school career advisor. "You can learn about events and not just the academics but the cultural life, the sport life -- all kinds of things that you can find through social media that way."

Social media truly is truly opening up a world of opportunities for career advancement.

"It's just endless, but you have to be really careful using the sites and what you put up," says Saunders.

The fact that you should be careful about what you put online probably isn't news to you. Yet despite warnings and various horror stories, many young people continue to post things online that endanger their future job prospects.

"The obvious is pictures," says Saunders. "I'm amazed when I go on Facebook and I see the pictures that I see ... whether it's young ladies who are not dressed appropriately, guys making vulgar gestures, guys throwing up their middle fingers and things like that.

"Recruiters, college admissions staff, they're all on [social networking sites], they have pages everywhere online, so you definitely have to be careful about your image," says Saunders.

You should make sure your privacy settings only allow your friends to see your pictures. But this is not foolproof. It is much better to avoid posting questionable pictures in the first place. After all, what if a friend of a friend works for a company that's thinking of hiring you?

"Even if you have privacy settings, there's still the possibility that somebody knows somebody who knows you, and they can get access to your Facebook and see what you're really posting out there," says social media specialist Rachel Esterline.

"I've had several opportunities because of my involvement in social media," says Esterline. For example, Esterline has had people who only knew her through Twitter or her blog send her messages about internships opening up.

"I applied for a scholarship and internship, and what really got me the position was my blog, because after sending in my application I wrote a blog post about the things I learned while applying for this scholarship/internship," says Esterline.

"And of course when I mentioned the agency's name it showed up in their social media monitoring so they already knew about me before they even received my mailed-in application.

"So that kind of piqued their interest and after that I continued to use social media to connect with people who worked there," Esterline adds. "I found people who worked there on Twitter and tried to engage in a conversation with them, so I actually knew a couple of people before I was even offered the internship."

Esterline started blogging while still a student. She would write about what she was learning in her public relations classes. She also wrote about her experiences going to conferences and networking with people.

"I blogged for awhile, and then I bought my own domain name so that way I could build an online portfolio to showcase my work, because I knew that getting a good internship would be key to getting a good job, especially in the economy that we have today," says Esterline.

A couple of professionals who Esterline knew encouraged her to get started on Twitter.

"At first I really wasn't sold on the tool and now I use it a lot," says Esterline. "I have met a lot of really great people, both online and then later in person, and those people have expanded my network and all the opportunities that I have."

The benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, says Esterline. But just remember that everything you post online is there forever, and could potentially be seen by anyone.

"You kind of have to balance what really matters and what's really important for you to be posting, with what can affect your career," says Esterline.

"I recommend that students actually create an alias for their social networks such as Facebook," says Girard. (Facebook and some other social networks frown on this, but it's a common practice.)

Girard also suggests searching for your name on Google to see what's already out there. You can also set up a ‘Google alert' -- Google will email you every time your name appears in its search results. If you have a common name, you can use the name of your city (or other words) to limit the search results.

"They need to find out where their pictures are tagged, who has tagged them, and untag themselves in pictures that they don't want a potential employer or [a college] to find," says Girard.

"Untag pictures or posts that don't show you at your best, and that includes the photos you took with your friends with your tongue sticking out or the ones you have of yourself partying," Girard adds. "Students are tagging [themselves] or other people are tagging them in everything, and you need to be aware that what is out there is out there for life."

If you think it's a pain to worry about what you post online, take heart. You probably won't have to be as careful in the future, since expectations are evolving.

"One day, this Facebook generation is going to be the leaders and hiring managers of the future," says Girard. "When that time comes, it won't matter as much."

But until that time comes, it's best to err on the side of caution. You can use the power of social media while avoiding the pitfalls!


Manage Your Online Reputation
Read some helpful tips from a career coach

Electronic Frontier Foundation
Keep up to date with the latest privacy concerns

Check out this blog about social media and personal branding

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