College Students, Social Media, and the Job Search

Job seekers continue to miss a key element in their search.

Published on November 12, 2012 by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. in Career Transitions

It’s no secret that many recent college graduates are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed after graduation. While the numbers vary depending on the source, one of the best sources, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute's Center for Education and the Workforce puts the current unemployment rate for recent college graduates at 6.8%.

And if you read the articles about students who are struggling to find jobs, you would assume that they are doing all they can to find work. But Millennial Branding, a Gen Y consulting firm, and just released a survey on student career development which sheds an interesting light on the issue.

They sent email surveys to several hundred current college students nationwide to learn how students are preparing for and developing their careers while in college. And the answer seems to be: they aren’t. The authors of the study describe the students’ efforts as not aggressive enough for the current job market.

They identify three specific behaviors which are hurting students: they don’t complete internships, market themselves on LinkedIn, or engage in professional development activities. I covered some of these same points in a recent blog post.

Arguably the most computer-savvy generation in college, fewer than one-third of the students are using LinkedIn despite evidence that more recruiters are using social media (and specifically LinkedIn) to seek qualified candidates. The study goes on to note that many are not taking advantage of easy branding initiatives, such as business cards, personal domain names, or professional blogs. In fact, 93% could not articulate an understanding of personal branding.

One of the study’s authors, Dan Schawbel states,"Part of the reason why students are struggling to find jobs is because they fail to develop their careers while in college. Students should strive to market themselves online through social networks, and actively network offline, in order to secure internships and jobs."

Creating a social media brand can be a challenge for a student or anyone new to the workplace. It can be hard to create an online profile on LinkedIn when you don’t have a lot of experience, or the experience you have is seemingly unrelated to your career plans. It is tempting to wait until you have acquired relevant experience or have a clear career direction before starting your social media platform, but that would be a mistake.

 Building your social media brand can help you clarify your thinking about your career. Branding, after all, is about establishing your identity and distinguishing yourself from the competition. Branding can boost your confidence in the job search.  Here are some other advantages to branding:

Branding helps you gain clarity about yourself and your career ambitions. You have to take the time to think about what is important to you and what you stand for.

You will also have to find ways to differentiate yourself from others—what are your strengths and what will make you stand out? What do you do particularly well?

When you identify your brand you will be able to create key selling points that you can emphasize in all your job marketing tools including your resume and cover letter.

Your responses to interview questions will be clearer: you will be able to identify your key skills and differentiate yourself from other interviewees.

A strong personal brand can help you overcome stereotypes- you get to define yourself according to your own terms.

One of my favorite branding exercises comes from the excellent book "Personal Branding for Dummies" by Susan Chritton. She describes an exercise created by William Arruda called “Same/Different.” Start by writing a list illustrating how you are the same as other job candidates—and then explain how you are different. For example, a “same” statement would be “I am getting a bachelor’s degree in business.” That certainly describes a large group of potential candidates. But the “different” statement might be, “I am double-majoring in business and Spanish.” Now that sets you apart. You might say, “I’m an honors student”, which again is a great statement but one that can be made by others. So you might write, “I wrote an honors thesis on problem-solving techniques.” That would be more unique and interesting to an employer. Take your strongest, yet generic, attributes and see if you can put a unique spin on them.

Clearly one of the most important (and relatively easy) steps you can take in the job search process is to improve your social media platform. You need to start thinking about your career long before you graduate. Just keep in mind that you don’t need to know exactly which career—that’s not the point. The point is to start testing the waters and see what careers might work for you.

 ©2012 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons The Seafarer

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of You Majored in What?