Over the last several years, there has been a proliferation of social networking technologies and platforms. Some have morphed into more “social” than “networking”; however, you never know where your next lead will come from, so it pays to be open about all of the platforms. One (of many) key rules about social networking: if you play to “get”, you won’t get very far. As you “get”, you have to “give” (ideally, you would “give” before you would “get”). That means sharing networking and job leads, comments about organizations, and the like.

Let’s begin with the more “social” platforms: Facebook and MySpace. Both can be valuable tools, if utilized solely as professional networking mechanisms. No potential employer wants to see photos of you drunk at a party, or discussing the three big workplace “no-no’s”: politics, religion, and money. In fact, some would argue that even having personal comments about your significant other, spouse, or child might be too much – create another account for those. There is a school of thought that says that employers want to know the “whole person”; the problem is where does one draw the line? No potential employer is going to tell you that you have a comment that’s offensive or some other issue with your site. So, the rule on these sites is to keep it professional, while at the same time expressing your desire to network and make contact, and to return the favor.

The more business focused sites are sites like Linkedin.com and Plaxo.com. Both offer a variety of tools for free (and more for paid memberships) that enable people to leverage the value of their contacts with their contacts’ contacts, thus increasing the reach of one’s potential network. Here, too, those who seek to “get” are easily discovered. The point of these sites is to share information, introduce people to one another via mutual contacts and shared professional interests, and to provide and obtain recommendations from past colleagues and managers about work performance. In fact, many of the job postings on Linkedin.com ask that applicants only apply if they have a certain number of recommendations. In a sense, it’s a pre-interview reference check. These two platforms are geared for job seekers, salespeople, and others who need to make connections, and to help others make connections. They are extremely powerful tools if used to their full capabilities. There are publications (free, generally) that describe in particular how to optimally use Linkedin.com. One other way (again, of many) to effectively use Linkedin.com is to answer questions in the Q&A sections. This shows people the depth of your knowledge and/or interest, and helps to get you noticed.

One of the drawbacks of organizations using social networking sites is the ability of a hiring manager or human resources representative to read comments and/or discover other attributes, characteristics, views, and the like about applicants before or even during the interview process. It is common to Google someone before an interview to see what one can find out about them. Case law is unsettled on the legality of using data found on social networking sites to determine the suitability for employment of an applicant; we can be sure that in coming years, this will be a hot button issue. In the meantime, no one is suggesting censorship, but rather prudence in what you post and where you post it. Nothing on the Net disappears.

© 2009, Michael Trust & Associates, All Rights Reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR-CA is a Human Resources and Career Coaching professional, and president of Michael Trust & Associates, www.MichaelTrustAssociates.com, a Human Resources Consulting and Career Coaching firm. His Human Resources experience spans twenty years, and he has had major roles in staffing in all of his Human Resource positions. In addition, he has coached individuals at all career levels relative to their career paths, job search strategies, and related areas.