Acting professional in the real and virtual world

By Courtney Downing | Student Columnist

In an era where people are connecting more and more through social media, personal relationships seem to be forgotten. Sure, it’s easy to add someone on Facebook or send over an email instead of giving them a call. Social networking websites provide a quick way for employers to review you, without the need to reach out directly. People are constantly creating shorter ways to connect with barely any dialogue. How do you get past these communication problems? Face-to-face connections are still the number one way to build your network.

Social media has become the go-to medium students connect with others. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are not only becoming tools for friends to find one another, but employers as well. When you hear that companies are searching Google for potential employee’s Facebook accounts, they’re not kidding. In February and March 2012, a survey conducted by Harris Interactive of more than 2,000 hiring managers and other human resources employees found that 65 percent of them used social networking sites to influence hiring decisions.

Of course, each person’s Facebook page is different, but many companies use the information you’ve posted to pass judgment. From bad grammar to racy photos, even your interests and hobbies can influence whether you’re going to get that interview. And with information becoming more accessible, it’s hard to keep everything from getting out on the web.

That’s why managing online profiles is becoming increasingly important in such a competitive job market. Items that you post should be kept professional. Obnoxious photos of alcohol usage and vulgar positions are often frowned upon. Employers are looking for people who portray themselves professionally, because they need to represent the business in a respectful manner. This also includes comments and images from friends on your social networks. A study from NM Incite showed that 55 percent of Facebook users remove friends because of offensive posts. If you’re not regulating your pages, potential employers could quickly spot a blemish.

So how do you get around that online hurdle? It may not be easy for everyone, but getting away from the computer is important in terms of networking and interpersonal skills – something employers highly regard. If you’ve recently sent out a resume to a company, if possible, visit their offices and introduce yourself to the HR department. If you can’t get there in person, follow up with a phone call. In general, your conversational skills will become more developed if you try to call or meet in person instead of using email. Train yourself to overcome that self-consciousness with phone calls and every dial thereafter will be less awkward.

Joining organizations is a great way to meet people, especially if it’s in your desired field. You don’t just want to be a bystander either, so make a habit of going to as many events as possible. Mingle and move from group to another often. A problem I’ve always had during these types of events is remembering names. One way to remember someone’s name after they’ve introduced themselves is to repeat it with your greeting. People love to hear their own names – be sure to repeat it often in conversation. Remember to keep the dialogue going, so like everything else, follow up.

Networking is simple, but many people overlook the opportunities available to them. If you currently have a job, start a new goal to get to know your managers and other employees in the building. Take some time out and schedule a meeting with your manager or spark conversation with others whenever you have the chance. As time goes on, you’ll start to learn a little more about the people you work with. Even if you’re working in a fast food restaurant, a lead can start anywhere.

Taking the steps to reach out to potential employers and businesses is an important key to your future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment rates for college graduates went up nine percent from 2008 to 2013. While the job market climate may be on the rise, positions for new grads can still be hard to come by. These actions show that you’re making an effort – they know that a dedicated employee is vital to a company. Show them that you’ve got that determination and you could be well rewarded for your efforts.

As a final note, this advice is not just for a student’s professional life. You don’t have to blossom into a beautiful social butterfly, but meeting people is just as significant to your college experience as your area of study. Go to events, cheer on the sports team, join clubs, go to parties and get yourself out there. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or senior, if you live on campus or you’re a commuter, just go out and make some new friends. These people will be apart of your social network for years to come, either as close friends or Facebook acquaintances. It’s up to you to turn them into resources.

Courtney Downing is a senior Advertising and Public Relations major and can be reached at