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During your transition, you want to pursue every advantage when it comes to getting a job. Social media, used properly, can be a big advantage, and it can be a big disadvantage if you’re not careful with it. Here are some ways to use social media as a personal branding strategy, and some online behaviors to avoid.
Social media is now an essential part of our lives. By some counts, 89 percent of working-age Americans are active on social media. Odds are that you are too. And consider that potential employers and co-workers are at least as proficient with social media as you are. And unlike your boss in the military, they don’t have your military-specific qualifications and scores to use when evaluating you. They just have your application and whatever else they can find. So what are they going to find when they type your name into a search engine?
Going “River City” (lockdown) on social media is an option, but not the best option. If you’re nervous about what an employer might see on your social media profiles, your first response might be to lock it down through privacy settings. That way, you can keep others from seeing things like: raunchy and/or offensive jokes, disturbing pictures and/or videos, pictures and/or videos that make you look irresponsible and crazy or angry and/or polarizing political opinions. If your profile is locked down, however, you deny potential employers the ability to see parts of your life that might make a lasting positive impression, such as the picture of you and your team on deployment or the picture of you and your family during homecoming.
Recruiters routinely use social media. Your resume and cover letter are designed to put your best foot forward, and to someone who reads a lot of them they can sound alike. Besides, your own particular achievements may not stack up exactly against those of your civilian competitors because the military is, well, different. So if there are a lot of applicants for a particular job, it’s a good bet that even after culling out all the unqualified candidates, the recruiter will not be able to tell much difference between the qualified candidates that are left. Social media can fill in those gaps very effectively. And, according to this Forbes article, 37 percent of employers use social media to screen their applicants.
Your competition will be advertising themselves via social media. Most people today have a whole array of social media accounts. The smart ones makes sure that they look like a desirable employee no matter which profile an employer or recruiter sees. Don’t yield that advantage to them.
Social media can be part of your personal brand. Think of social media as a way to further introduce yourself to recruiters and potential employers. Certainly, as mentioned before, you can let others see your history. The old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and just one picture of you with a rifle, or sitting on a vehicle, or in your dress uniform can drive home the big difference between you and your civilian competitors — namely, your military service — in a way that a few bullets on a resume cannot. But it doesn’t stop there. Social media is a venue for you to showcase the rest of yourself as well. And while it may not be strictly relevant to the job search that you like hunting, for example, or that you do long-distance running, those things show you as a person who is (hopefully) likeable and interesting. And when it’s down to you and a couple of other equally qualified candidates, your personal connection with the employer through resume, cover letter, interview and definitely social media may be the deciding factor.
Representing yourself via social media is not phony, fake or false. For most veterans, social media is strictly an off-duty affair. As long as you don’t trash your command or embarrass the service online, it’s something separate from work life. And unless you post really inappropriate things, it doesn’t affect your military advancement — the military has plenty of objective metrics to use besides your social media presence. For these reasons, transitioning veterans regard social media as a sort of outside-of-work haven: a place to let your figurative hair down. But just as you wouldn’t wear your favorite worn-in jeans to a job interview, or even a regular work day, because you would want to represent yourself well, you should also realize that your social media presence represents you. It’s certainly OK to show the worn-in jeans side of yourself, but you should also show your impressive side. As long as you’re not faking an interest in anything, it’s not phony to trim out rude or offensive posts, whether in the form of pictures, videos, memes, GIFs, rants or just plain opinions, in favor of more positive articles and media which at least sometimes point at your military experience.
Avoid giving any reason for employers to screen you. According to the Forbes article, employers and recruiters use social media to find reasons not to hire candidates, which makes sense if you realize that a recruiter may be sorting through hundreds of online applications to fill a single job. It makes it a lot easier on the recruiter if he or she can just screen half that pool by something they find on social media! What specifically causes them to toss your application in the trash? Provocative or inappropriate photos on a person’s profile (doesn’t have to be photos of you), evidence of drinking or drug use, badmouthing previous employers (which includes complaints about the military) and lying about qualifications.
If you’re like most people in the common demographic of transitioning veterans, you’ve made social media a large and important part of your relationships. You may have kept up with friends and loved ones either partially or wholly via social media during deployments and you probably use it for entertainment too. Don’t pass up the opportunity to let it help you (however passively) get a job.
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