(ARA) - You may have spent hours making sure you are using just the right action verbs in your resume, and crafted the perfect cover letter to catch the attention of your future employer, but if you haven't spent the time to clean up what's on your Facebook page, all that work could be for naught. Not only do social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to connect and network as you search for a job, but they give you a platform to sell yourself - or shame yourself - to future employers.
"Today, making sure you are buttoned up on your social media sites is as important as drafting a perfect resume and cover letter," says Phil Schmitt, a faculty member at Westwood College - Du Page who teaches a class on preparing students for their job searches. "It is not uncommon for a prospective employer to go to your Facebook page during the review process. I have even heard of employers asking interviewees to pull up their Facebook pages while in an interview."
Your social media sites can be used for good and evil when it comes to job-seeking. On the good side, you can position yourself as an expert in your field and connect yourself with others who may be able to help you get a job. On the negative side, an offensive rant, racy photograph or even an off-color item posted by one of your friends may give prospective bosses enough reason to hire another qualified candidate.
Schmitt says the increasingly complex nature of marketing yourself through social networks makes it necessary for colleges to teach students the best methods for using them. In his classes at Westwood College, which offers both on-campus and online degree programs, social media training is just as important as traditional job training techniques like practice resume writing and mock interviews.
Schmitt offers the following social media tips to give yourself the best chance of getting the job you are hoping for:
* Audit all your social media profiles to make sure there aren't any posts or pictures you wouldn't want a potential employer to see. Assume guilt by association - delete any offensive posts by your friends and hide them if they have a habit of posting questionable content on your profiles. After you are done, Google yourself to make sure there's nothing hanging out on the Internet you might have forgotten about from an old account or from something someone else has posted.
* Demonstrate knowledge of your profession. Reposting interesting articles you come across relating to your field demonstrates knowledge and passion. Use your LinkedIn profile to share your experience and expertise, and post anything of interest that you may have authored on all your social media profiles.
* Make connections. LinkedIn is great for connecting with old teachers and other professional contacts. If you had a good relationship with a teacher or former coworker, ask him or her to write a recommendation that you can post on your profile. Connect with those that you meet at job fairs or industry events.
* Learn about your future employers. Follow companies for which you might eventually like to work so you can build your knowledge base about the company. Following the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn feeds of companies and professional organizations is also a great way to learn about job openings - and you can mention that you learned about the opening through social media to show that you're adept at using these networks.
"Some may lament that by accessing your profiles, employers can dig farther into your personal life than you would like," says Schmitt. "But these platforms give you an unprecedented opportunity to market yourself to prospective employees and make connections to other professionals."