Social-Media-The-Job-Seeker-Real-Time-ResumeThe Internet is filled with stories of social media stupidity: rants, tantrums, snide remarks, racy images and pranks in poor taste that kept promising candidates from landing a job – or got employees fired. But can social media also get you hired?

You better believe it.

“There is no doubt that social media is emerging as a vital tool in how employers recruit talent to their organizations,” career services expert Trudy Steinfeld recently wrote for Forbes. “Consequently, it’s essential that job seekers learn to understand and effectively navigate the ‘social space’ in order to improve their chances of getting noticed by employers and ultimately enhancing their job prospects.”

According to the “2013 Social Recruiting Survey Results” published by Jobvite, 94% of hiring managers use social media in their recruiting efforts. But that only scratches the surface. Nearly 4 in 5 managers (78%) hired a candidate through social media, the top three networks being LinkedIn (92%), Facebook (24%) and Twitter (14%).

To further underscore the value hiring managers are placing on social media, 73% of the survey’s 1,600 respondents planned in 2013 to spend more on this recruiting resource than 2012. The commitment to increase spending for social media topped more conventional methods, including:

  • Referrals  – 62%
  • Corporate career site – 61%
  • Direct sourcing – 57%
  • Internal transfers – 45%
  • Campus recruiting – 42%
  • Job boards – 39%
  • Search engine optimization – 37%
  • Search firms -19%

Using social media as a recruiting tool isn’t exclusive to the United States. Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, reported that 30% of businesses used social media in 2013 to recruit employees. Large enterprises (53%) used social media to find talent far more than small businesses (26%), but this could be due to the difference in budget and staff sizes.

Regardless of a company’s size or location in the world, it’s clear that job-seekers who don’t embrace social media are doing themselves a tremendous disservice. Consider this passage from David Meerman Scott, author of the international best-seller The New Rules of Marketing & PR (Fourth ed.):

“So you want to find a new job via social media? You have to stop thinking like an advertiser of a product and start thinking like a publisher of information. Create information that people want. Create an online presence that people are eager to consume. Establish a virtual front door that people will happily link to – one that employers will find. The new rules of finding a job require you to share your knowledge and expertise with a world that is looking for what you have to offer.”

The beauty of social media is it gives you a global voice – and the ability to interact with companies and top influencers in your industry. Perhaps the employers you’re researching aren’t hiring. But the content they create and share on social channels may include useful insight for your job search. Consider this: 80% of available jobs aren’t advertised, according to Interview Success Formula, a company in Virginia that prepares job candidates for interviews.

In addition to serving as a terrific investigative tool, social media is a powerful marketing machine. As Scott writes in his book, “… you can influence what (potential employers) see! Remember, on the web, you are what you publish.”

To that point, using discretion when sharing thoughts, photos and videos is critical. All it takes is a single lapse in judgment to turn a “must-have” into a “don’t-want.” And you can bet employers – wise ones, anyway – are doing their homework. Social networks provide valuable insight into an employer’s vision, mission and values.

But it works both ways.

Jobvite found that 93% of hiring managers are likely to check a candidate’s social profile. Furthermore, 42% reevaluated a prospect based on subject matter in a social profile (resulting in both good and bad news for job-hunters). Topics that don’t sit well with employers aren’t hard to imagine. They are:

  • References to illegal drugs – 83%
  • Sexual commentary – 71%
  • Profanity – 65%
  • Spelling and grammatical errors – 61%
  • Mentions of guns – 51%
  • References to alcohol use – 47%

Posts about religion (28%) and politics (18%) don’t garner the same negative reaction, but it’s worthwhile to think twice nonetheless. Even if you use social media purely for personal reasons, it pays to apply common sense: When in doubt, leave it out.

In that vein, here’s another helpful tip: Ask yourself if the content you’re about to share is something you’d reveal in an “on the record” interview with a reporter. Or, as tech journalist Erin Bury once said: “Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t want plastered on a billboard with your face on it.”

Instead, make sure your social media platforms have a professional appearance. Positioning yourself as respectful, passionate and focused doesn’t have to come at the expense of your playful persona. It’s all about striking a balance.

With a little effort, you can make social media a real-time – and interactive – resume. In fact, why wait? Make it your New Year’s resolution.

Author, speaker and 30-year corporate veteran Andy Teach told Forbes: “Also, it’s possible that some hiring managers will be more focused on filling positions now that the holidays are over. New year; new job; new outlook on life.”

Interested in a job at GFI Software? Search our current opportunities, and join our Talent Network to enhance your job search and application process.

You can also become a fan on Facebook, visit our LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube pages, and follow us on Twitter.