Social media has forged new patterns of consumption that change how we connect to the world around us. For better or for worse, this is our reality. Technology is changing quickly and it can feel overwhelming and difficult to keep up, but that is not an excuse to simply throw up your hands and stay out of the game. Employers expect social media skills from recent graduates, and even the skills you have learned in an informal, personal context can become valuable in the workplace. There are also major personal benefits to joining social media networks. They offer unique ways to build and enhance professional networks that could eventually provide you with internships, job offers, and mentorship opportunities. Moreover, as you build your network, social media can immediately serve as an incredible tool to stay up-to-date with the trends in your field.
The best tools for professional development:
First, do you have a profile? Did you upload a picture? LinkedIn is a digital resume, so keep it current. Use this tool to connect with professionals in your field by joining professional groups and associations. You can also follow companies and organizations to find out about job opportunities and internships. A great tip is to search for professionals that have your “dream job” and, if you have connections in common or their profile is public, you can see the path this person took to get that job. You can find out information such as: what post-graduate degrees they have and how they got them; with what professional organizations they are affiliated; and how long it took them to get to their current position. This search can help you generate ideas as to your next professional move, and what you need to do to get that dream job. If you don’t know how to set up your profile, you can go to a Career Service workshop to learn the basics, but the best way to learn all the features on LinkedIn is simply to experiment.
The Pope has joined Twitter. Yes, that’s right, the 85-year-old Pope has realized the necessity of reaching his audience through social media. This means if you aren’t on Twitter, today is the day to join! You can use Twitter in similar ways to LinkedIn, but the advantage is that Twitter is more informal. You can search keywords to find and follow individuals that Tweet content that interests you. It has been said that, if you are using Twitter for primarily professional purposes, you should Tweet 80% professional (issues that are relevant to your field that you find interesting) and 20% personal. Including some of your personality is crucial, because you don’t want to seem like a robot. Never make your Tweets too personal, however, because your digital trail will follow you for life, and can possibly haunt you as well.
The next question I always get in regard to Twitter is: “Where do I get content?” The answer:
Set up Google Alerts, and get current updates on news and resources regarding your interests emailed to you on a regular basis. It is also a useful tool to monitor your own digital image. Examples of some of my Google Alerts include: “international education,” “Evan Black,” “higher education,” and “intercultural learning.”
Most students today have Facebook, and use it regularly, but make sure you think twice before you post. Adjust your privacy settings and go ahead and take down the incriminating or embarrassing photos from freshman year. Employers are logging on to Facebook to check out prospective employees. In fact, 37% of hiring managers are now using Facebook to pre-screen applicants, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder. You can also use Facebook to subscribe to organizations’ newsfeeds and find out about upcoming events and internship opportunities.
Fortunately, as a student at Penn, you have the resources at Penn through Career Services and Weigle Information Commons to become proficient in these tools. You also have free access to Lynda.com, which offers online training sessions for LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and many more social media tools.
Social media is not going away. While you are still in school, you can start learning how to use it in meaningful ways to connect, learn, and grow both as a person and as a professional. Don’t wait, start building your network today!
Evan Black is a 2nd-year Master’s student in Intercultural Communication at the Graduate School of Education. Apart from social media, her interests include traveling, international education, and professional development and training. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, @Evanlb, and Facebook.