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The MySpace Generation Faces the Job Market

The next time you post a comment on your personal Web site, keep this in mind: a potential employer might be reading that very comment in the future. For the first time in the history of mass communications, just about anyone can broadcast just about anything. This is all well and good for sharing a few laughs or promoting your band, but what about when it comes time to apply for a job? Will you regret participating in the Extreme Naked Beer Funnel video? The social networking generation is about
to find out.

Social Networking Becomes Wildly Popular
Blogs and personal Web pages have been around for quite a while, but what has really fueled the boom in mainstream self-expression has been the emergence of social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster.

The growth of these sites has been staggering. According to digital metrics company comScore, MySpace had over 114 million unique visitors globally in June of 2007. To put that in perspective, 114 million is greater than the populations of France, Germany, or Mexico. So, when someone refers to “MySpace Nation,” it’s not hyperbole.

While those numbers are impressive enough, keep in mind that MySpace is far from the only social networking site. There is a lengthening list of competitors contributing to the growth of the social networking market.

The Nature of the Social Networking Beast
The new phenomenon of social networking over the internet has been embraced most enthusiastically by young people — people who often have not yet thought much about a career, let alone had time to consider career advice. Even a cursory glance at social networking sites will tell you that most of what is on there was not put there with a career in mind.

On these sites, anyone with internet access can give the world a window into his or her personality. Rants, come-ons, pictures, and music are thrust into the public domain. It’s not simply that these sites are informal. It’s that the sheer number of users creates a kind of competition for attention that encourages the outrageous. It’s people being themselves…only sometimes more so.

Blogging and YouTube Add Exposure
Blogging and the video-driven YouTube are also part of the “put-it-all-out-there” ethos. Blogging can be a spontaneous way of sharing thoughts, but it has become so commonplace that in many ways it is the new graffiti, only less pithy.

As for YouTube, well, older readers will remember the television program “Candid Camera”. YouTube is Candid Camera without an editor, and we’re all potentially on. Smile!

Social media is so exciting because it has created a global digital village with its own rules, traditions, and culture. If everybody’s on, though, then potentially anybody is watching. This could include the person conducting your next job interview.

See if the Job Interviewer Shares Your Sense of Humor…
It’s entirely possible that if you’ve been the master of the outrageous shenanigans on MySpace or YouTube, you now get to see if the job interviewer shares your sense of humor. Or politics.

According to a recent study, one in five employers searches the internet for information on applicants. For high-end jobs, you can count on this ratio being even greater.

Some privacy experts argue that employers should disclose information they’ve discovered via background checks on social networking sites. No doubt this point will be argued in the courts in the years to come, but the fact is, employers have two powerful weapons on their side. First, job applicants often won’t know when some piece of online information has factored in their not getting a job, and second, it will be especially hard to argue for privacy when the applicant has been the one to put the information in the public domain by posting it on a Web site.

Too Much Information!
The career advice here is not to avoid social networking sites. They can help young people develop communication skills, and over time, might increasingly be used to develop professional networks that help careers rather than hinder them.

Similarly, the career advice is not to avoid being yourself. Don’t put up a front and create an online fiction about who you are. Conversely, we’ve all seen cases where someone has taken being themselves too far, to the point where they’ve crossed the “too much information” line. We all know it when we see it happen, and it’s embarrassing.

So before you post online, ask yourself if you are about to cross the “too much information line.” Remember, it’s not the intended audience you need to worry about; it’s the unintended audience, which might include that job interviewer.

Career Advice: Building a Personal Brand
It’s valuable career advice to think of anything you post online as contributing to your personal brand. This should represent who you are, but ideally it will put your best foot forward for all to see.

Just as a successful corporation carefully creates and maintains its brand, developing your online brand is not a one-time act. The old adage says, “You reap what you sow.” Much like a garden, your online brand must be cultivated and nurtured. Here are some gardening tips for your online brand:

������� Dig your own dirt: Before you start applying for jobs, do a little online digging to see what’s out there about you.

������� Prune and feed: To the extent possible, start deleting any compromising photographs or embarrassing stories. Even if you can’t totally eliminate the negatives, you can dilute them with some positive images.

������� Harvest your best work: Ideally, you can use your social networking page as a portfolio of your best work–writings, accomplishments, photos of you volunteering your time, etc. This could convey a depth of positive information you’d never fit onto a resume, such that your page could become a place to direct job interviewers, rather than a place you hope they’ll never find.

For many younger people, social networking has become an integral part of today’s society. Just keep in mind that the job market is also part of that society. Rather than thinking about them as two separate parts of your life, acknowledge that they very well might interact. If you approach this from the standpoint of building a personal brand online, you’ll find those two worlds can not only coexist, but they can contribute to each other.

Wall Street Journal
Advertising Age
The Economist Pocket World In Figures, 2007

Publish date: August 21, 2007