Social Media Helps, Hinders Job Search for Grads

New job titles have been created for web-savvy college graduates--but be wary of what you make public.

By + More

The job outlook continues to brighten for many college seniors graduating this month—provided they know how to manage themselves on- and off-line. 

According to several recent studies, employers across industry sectors are looking for graduating seniors this spring and summer. In the latest installment of quarterly job studies published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), employers surveyed plan to hire 19.3 percent more college graduates this year than last. And nearly half (46 percent) of all companies surveyed by online job site CareerBuilder are looking to hire recently graduated workers, up 3 percent from last year. That survey, offered online, included more than 2,800 respondents. 

Of the 46 percent of employers that reported openings for college grads, 16 percent say they are seeking candidates who are adept at using social media. It's a burgeoning area for both entry-level and experienced candidates, says Monica Wilson, acting codirector of career services at Dartmouth College.

[See how the job market fared in April.] 

"Senior executives have recognized the need to have a presence, but they haven't had the time to invest in really understanding the capability of social media," Wilson says. "They're looking to the younger folks who are using it every day to help guide them." 

Job titles like social media consultant and social media strategist have popped up in various industries, and those entry-level opportunities are "ever evolving," Wilson says. It's also increasingly common for companies to seek interns for social media positions. (This can be good news for students in many cases, as another recent NACE study found that about 58 percent of interns who graduated in 2010 were later hired as full-time employees.)

[Read 10 reasons you should get a summer internship.] 

But the positions require more than the ability to communicate in 140 characters or less and a knack for cleverly captioned photos. Students must have an appetite for Web tools like Google Analytics, as well as a continuous hunger for new industry developments, Wilson says. 

"You not only have to be fairly fluent in what's out there and willing to put the time in to really understand how the different vehicles work, but you [also] have to be able to evaluate and make recommendations that have a factual basis to them," Wilson says. "You can't call yourself an expert [just] because you're on Twitter and Facebook." 

[Find out why college grads may find more jobs at entrepreneurial companies.] 

For all the opportunities social media creates for college graduates, it concurrently poses a challenge to students that are active on the Web. 

"Identity thieves are absolutely using social media to their advantage," says Steve Schwartz, executive vice president of consumer services at risk management company Intersections. College graduates should trim down personal information on Facebook, he recommends, and must be wary of fake E-mails and false fronts of company websites advertising jobs that often seem too good to be true. Double check that what claims to be a job site for a large company is actually affiliated with the organization before you submit personal information for a job posting, Schwartz advises. 

But it's not just identity thieves scouring for information about recent college graduates. When applying for a first job, keep in mind that employers can—and many will—search for you on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and may dig past your most recent activity in their investigations. After several years in college, there may be components of your virtual image that need a clean sweep. 

It's a "misnomer" that an online persona can be completely cleansed, Schwartz says, but it's imperative that job candidates adjust their Facebook privacy settings and be wary of topics they Tweet and blog about. And it's not just offensive or inappropriate content that should be regulated, Dartmouth's Wilson notes. Timing matters, too. During a period of time in which you were known to have a job or internship, for instance, you don't want someone to come across Facebook posts logged during working hours—a simple mistake that could easily catch up with a student, she says.