"[Facebook is] a great way to build your own PR," says Toronto-based recruiting consultant Ari Aronson. "When you're job-seeking, you really need to look at getting your name out there and using the tools that the web provides to market yourself."
With more than three million Canadians registered on the ubiquitous online networking site and large international companies like Ernst & Young using the site to attract employees, Facebook is a goldmine of potential professional contacts. Here's how to work your network:
1. Polish your profile. Before you begin using your Facebook account professionally, take the time to completely fill out the work, education and interests sections of your profile. "If someone who is considering hiring you comes to your account and you don't have a lot of information [posted], they're going to be less inclined to reach out and communicate with you," advises new media journalist, Amber MacArthur.
Just like a resume, your Facebook profile makes an important first impression. Fill out your profile with details about your achievements and awards you've received. Pictures of yourself speaking at professional conferences or at work on a project will help demonstrate your area of expertise, as will links to your blogs, websites and online photo galleries.
And you might want to ease up on those emoticons when contacting a potential employer. "Even if you're having fun and writing in what we call 'texting' language, it could have a (negative) impact on a person that might be hiring you," MacArthur warns.
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2. Build your personal brand. "[Web] tools enable every individual to become a recognized authority. How you become that authority is going to be your own doing," says Mitch Joel, president of the Toronto and Montreal-based marketing agency, Twist Image.
There are varying opinions on how much personal information you should allow professional contacts to see. MacArthur and Aronson share the view that if you decide to use your account professionally, you should be very careful to keep personal details to a minimum.
"If your favourite TV show is Dexter, a program about serial killers, and you think that might offend a potential employer, then you want to make sure that you don't include that type of information in your account," MacArthur recommends.
However, Joel stresses that social media tools like Facebook have blurred the line between personal and professional lives. "There are people who have been incredibly personal [on the Internet] and have been tremendously successful in using these channels, and by doing so have propelled their careers to a whole other level," he says.
Whatever information you decide to post on your site, keep in mind that search engines like Google can index social networking sites and that what you write on the web may be there permanently.
3. Adjust your privacy settings. "The big mistake I see is when someone has not set up their Facebook account (for privacy) and anyone, including employers, can see a lot of personal information," says Aronson. Facebook gives you the option to control what your contacts can see on your account, including the posts that appear on your wall and your photos. Familiarize yourself with all the privacy settings to ensure that your professional contacts can only see the information you’d like to share.
4. Make professional friends. Once you've perfected your profile, it's time to connect with the people who can advance your career. Start by researching the names of individuals who work in your field of interest and look for their profiles using Facebook's search function. Then send them a friend request accompanied by a well-written personal message.
Though this may seem like an intrusion at first, Aronson says this type of networking is completely appropriate on a site like Facebook. "Everyone is reachable and when you're job-seeking, it's a business development exercise. Facebook can be a real warm call as opposed to a cold call or a cold e-mail because [professional contacts] have a chance to click into your profile and see a little bit more about you," he says.
5. Update regularly. Now that you've built up a network of professional contacts, it's important to keep your account active. "If you want to get in the game and be an active part of these social networks, you need to put the effort in," says MacArthur. She recommends setting aside some time every week to update your profile status and communicate with other users. But posting updates like, "Thank goodness it's Friday" isn't going to impress a potential employer. "Make your status updates relevant and interesting," Aronson recommends. "If you're not sure, ask a friend or colleague what they think of your profile and what an employer might think of it."
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