About a year ago, the Skidmore College Career Development Center decided it needed to do more to teach students how to use the Internet to advance their careers.
They began offering more workshops focused on online technology and modern job skills, and showed students how to change the privacy settings on their Facebook accounts and use websites such as Weebly, which allow users to create websites and blogs for free. One relatively new and popular program, Lucy Likes LinkedIn!, teaches students how to use LinkedIn, a social network site for professionals.
Megan Jackson, Skidmore’s associate director of career services, said students like LinkedIn because “you get a lot of bang for your buck.” She advises students to connect with Skidmore graduates on the site, and to find LinkedIn “role models” — people whose career path they admire and might want to emulate.
Jackson said Skidmore regularly develops new workshops on social media, repacking old content and adding new information.
Over the past several years, local colleges and universities have stepped up efforts to help students use social media to their advantage. Though most students are aware of the risks associated with posting embarrassing or incriminating content online, they are less knowledgeable about how to use online tools to their benefit, according to career counselors at schools throughout the Capital Region.
Jackson said some students are so concerned about the potential pitfalls of online activity that they don’t have a Facebook account. But she said for the college student poised to enter the workforce, having no online profile can be just as bad as having a profile that portrays them in a poor light. What students need, she said, is an Internet presence that will make them look good to employers and recruiters.
“The best defense is a good offense,” Jackson said.
Noah Simon, director of the Office of Career Services at the University at Albany, agreed.
“We start with first-year students,” he said. “We try to impart the importance of having a strong presence online, and that it’s got to be positive. The majority of students are on Facebook, and we make sure students understand that employers are going to try and look at their profiles.”
The Office of Career Services discusses social media in “every workshop” it hosts, and regularly gets requests to talk about how to use social media for networking from student groups, classes and the residential life staff, Simon said.
Simon said UAlbany students like the idea of LinkedIn, but don’t always know how to use it.
“They don’t understand how to increase visibility and connections to create a strong presence,” Simon said. To make the most of LinkedIn, students “have to be proactive in connecting with people — alumni from the university, people from high school, companies that interest them.”
Michael Breslin, the assistant director of career planning at Sage College of Albany, said that over the past few years Sage has made a concerted effort to educate students about how to conduct themselves online.
“They’re starting to get it,” he said.
Breslin said some students use LinkedIn, but others lack the maturity to do so, or don’t understand what’s appropriate for a website geared toward professional networking. One student put a wedding photo on their LinkedIn profile, which isn’t an appropriate picture for the site, he said.
Bob Soules, director of the Becker Career Center at Union College, said the percentage of employers and recruiters that review the online profiles of potential hires has risen dramatically over the past five years.
As a result, Soules makes sure Union students know that potential employers are certain to Google their names to learn more about them. “We tell them that when they apply for a job their profiles are going to be looked at,” he said.
Soules said Union students are savvy about social media.
“They already know about everything online,” he said. “They teach me. I help them understand the implications of what they’re putting online.”
Stories of teenagers and adults embarrassing themselves online abound.
Last week an Oregon teenager was arrested after bragging on Facebook about driving drunk and hitting a car, and in December a Nebraska teenager was arrested after she bragged on YouTube about stealing a car and robbing a bank.
Soules said such stories have made Union students more aware of the risks associated with putting incriminating or unflattering information and photographs online.
“Four or five years ago, I would have said that there’s a disconnect,” he said. “But today they’re much more aware of what they’re putting out there.”
When Facebook started, it was more like “a private club,” and people believed that “what happened on Facebook stayed on Facebook,” she said. “It was where you showed others how hard you could party on weekends. But Facebook has changed. Now it’s a place where you show people what you like to read.”
Jackson said that when she meets one on one with students, one of the first things she does is Google their name, to see what comes up.
“Very few students come in expecting to talk about [their online profile],” she said.
An April survey by CareerBuilder.com found that two in five companies use social networking sites to research job candidates, while 11 percent of companies say they plan to start.