Avoiding the common pitfalls of social media


Social media can offer students the chance to get ahead in their education and careers – but Karen Sullivan looks at how schools must ensure teenagers avoid the common pitfalls of this new technology.

In my last column, I looked at the emotional and psychological implications of the growth in social media, and discovered that far from being a vehicle that undermines relationships and self-esteem, social media sites can offer opportunities for healthy self-promotion and social development.

However, what we need to consider is how to ensure that students are using this platform in an appropriate manner and that they understand the power it has to influence their futures.

I’ve been helping out with an organisation which recently advertised for both an intern and a full-time member of staff – the office was flooded with CVs. Once the field was narrowed down, my instant next step was to check the candidates online. I went to LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. What I discovered ruled out at least seven candidates.

First, I would expect anyone applying for a job or even a place at university to have an entry on LinkedIn. A full CV, with an opportunity for previous employers and others to supply endorsements, helps to get a rounder picture of a candidate and corroborate the details provided. 

Second, messages on sites that are lewd, offensive or focused heavily on partying are a no-no – as are the scantily clad, inebriated poses often found in photos.

I’m no prude. I have 19 and 22-year-old sons, and I know what they get up to. I also know that they do not need to advertise it if they want to be taken seriously outside of their social circle. In this case it would be wise for them to allow only friends to view their pages and take care that anything a prospective employer or educational institution might find worrying does not appear.

I’m not alone. One study found that 91 per cent of employers check a candidate’s online presence, and 47 per cent do so upon receiving an application, in other words, before a candidate has a chance to present in person. Fifty-three per cent check Twitter, 48 per cent LinkedIn, and 76 per cent Facebook.

So, not only does an online presence have the potential to undermine prospects (some 69 per cent of employers surveyed said they rejected candidates because of what they saw), but it also has a huge potential to support an application and reap rewards.

For this reason, we should be encouraging students not only to clean up their sites when applying for jobs or further education, but also teach them how to produce a persuasive online presence. Get them tweeting or messaging about aspects of their experience, interests and activities that suggest commitment, understanding of a particular field, or simply a focused, interesting and interested person.

Ensure that they understand how to put together a strong CV and engage others to provide endorsements. A little research into a potential job or course will provide the bare bones of a strong “pitch”, which can include listing books, newspapers, drama, music, etc that are relevant, or courses, extra-curricular activities and future plans that will appeal and make a student stand out from the crowd. 

In fact, the very act of researching a “pitch” can focus the mind and help students to see what they really must do to give themselves the best possible chance of success. Becoming unofficial Twitterati on key subjects can also help the cause.

In fact, every single thing that a student does online, from leaving reviews on Amazon or commenting upon news stories, can help or hinder their chances in the future.

Social media can provide an enormous advantage when sensibly and creatively employed. Set your students a challenge to see what they can achieve, and then view the results online. Summer project anyone?

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email kesullivan@aol.com


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