There’s no substitute for the quality of face-to-face interaction, but networking online can boost the quantity of your contact opportunities. Online networks also help you stay connected to those you’ve met with in person.
Sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook let you follow organizations you’re interested in and establish connections with thought leaders in related industries and fields. Some organizations use social networks to post opportunities and recruit potential employees.
There are many sites to choose from. Ask around, and see what your friends and family use. Below are a few that we recommend:
LinkedIn connects you to people who know you and lets you view their connections, greatly increasing potential networking contacts. Their site has a video section, specifically geared toward students, offering assistance from creating a profile to building a professional brand.
You can also use LinkedIn to research careers by looking at profiles. Think you want to be a CFO someday? Research CFOs in the industry you want to work in and see what their career paths were like. Where did they start out? Do they have an MBA or another graduate degree? What did they major in during their undergraduate years? What internships did they have? The possibilities with LinkedIn are endless.
Twitter allows you to follow anyone and anything—industries, organizations, professional associations, and prominent employees. Follow industry thought leaders, re-tweet them, tweet articles at them. This is a great way to professionally network with them, especially if they’re big social media users. You can also follow Twitter chats focused on any number of topics from an industry issue to internships or the job search. If you see a hashtag phrase that interests you, follow it. Twitter is not just for listening; be part of the conversation.
Facebook remains the most widely used social networking site and organizations of all kinds have fan pages, as do prominent employees and industry leaders. As with Twitter, interact with them and share their posts and articles on your page. There are even job boards with Facebook apps, like Monster’s BeKnown. In general, we don’t recommend these, but if you choose to use one or more of them as part of your search strategy make sure your profile is professionally appropriate.
Be wary of what you post on your social networks. Employers will search the Web for you and will likely see more than you may intend. Think about the online image you’re creating. A good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t show a post or picture to a professor, then keep it private.
Read an interview with School of Management Professor Kabrina Chang about online privacy in today’s professional world, including a prospective employer asking for your login information.
Google+ lets you categorize contacts to keep your personal and professional online activities separate. It allows you to search and keep track of news and developments about certain topics, so you can follow industries and organizations you’re interested in.
Pinterest is aimed at sharing interesting discoveries from the Web. People use “pinboards” to organize different topics. Because of this visual organization, some have used Pinterest as an online companion to a resume to showcase their latest work. However, we don’t recommend this because of unresolved copyright issues; in fact, many artists are removing their images from Pinterest.
Many employers have social media policies for how employees can use these platforms while at work. Some organizations have been known to monitor computer use remotely. Before starting an internship or job, make sure you know the rules.