Several months ago I wrote a post on my personal blog about the difficulties of finding a “real job” straight out of college and the extent to which many young adults do not comprehend the effect a poorly maintained social media presence can have on perceptions of their professionalism. Here are my three recommendations for the social media-savvy young professional:

  • Watch your mouth: If you’re looking to maintain a professional appearance, tweet professionally. You never know who is watching.
  • Don’t be content with your content: Share content that showcases not only what you think, but information that will add real value for followers.
  • Stay tough! Habits don’t change overnight: There will be times when you want to make a juvenile joke, and it will be hard to resist. Be strong!

Beyond this list of “what not to do”, one thing I proposed as something TO do was to create and carefully maintain a LinkedIn profile. One of the best analogies I have heard about top social networks came from Sima Dahl at an American Marketing Association event when she described Facebook as a “backyard barbecue” where anything goes, Twitter as a “cocktail party” where conversations are more tailored, but still loose, and LinkedIn as a “professional networking event” where people come to talk business, meet interesting people, and learn. When it comes to finding a job, it’s in this last setting that you want to be discovered and taken seriously.

LinkedIn was first introduced to me by a university career center leader, and I’m glad she insisted that we all make a profile as it has proven to be a great way to make contacts, share credentials and stay in touch with professional contacts that I likely wouldn’t add on Facebook or Twitter. I have found, however, that plenty of college graduates either have no profile on LinkedIn or a hastily constructed or out-of-date page, which is unfortunate.

Now there may be more incentive for young people to get involved in professional social networking early: LinkedIn has extended its service to high school students, opening up “University Pages” that make college research and discussions easier. While some may argue that this is encouraging teenagers to grow up too fast or could dilute the seriousness of LinkedIn, personally, I think this is a positive development.

Do teens necessarily have much to chat about regarding professional experience? No, but it does start them thinking about social networks as more than cat video channels and places to post photos of that sick ham sandwich they made for lunch yesterday. When the time comes to start searching for their first “real job”, they will have already begun thinking of professional networking tools like LinkedIn, and hopefully will be better prepared for the job market as a result.

What do you think about professional networking? Is too much emphasis put on it, or is it an important tool for your career?