Earlier this month, the Vermont Digital Economy Project organized a training for the Adult Outreach team at the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC). VSAC provides services to all adult Vermonters through the Educational Opportunity Center (EOC) program, so the training focused on the how social media can help or hurt an applicant’s educational or employment prospects. Fletcher Allen Health Care Social Media Strategist Alexandra Tursi (@tursita) and frequent Social Media Surgeon Adriene Katz (@appleandthebee) assisted in the training.

“Our training session with VSAC was two-fold: first, empower the organization’s employees to use social media optimally; and second, help them see how these tools can help their clients find meaningful educational and vocational experiences” said Alex Tursi, the Social Media Strategist for Fletcher Allen Healthcare. “Social media has incredible potential to help us in our career development. Our training session was a great first step in making that possible for Vermonters.”

These days, curating your social media and online presence when looking for a job is essential. A CareerBuilder survey found that of the 2,303 hiring managers and human resource professionals who responded, 37% said they browse applicants’ social media profiles. It’s clear, therefore, that a job seeker’s social media presence can either hurt or help his or her employment prospects. One of the lessons we walked through with VSAC was how applicants can take time to clean up or lock down problematic content and to make public any content that would present applicants in a positive light.

When applying for a job, scholarship or educational opportunity, it’s therefore important to understand that content posted on your social media platforms and across the web can help or hurt you. A Facebook or Twitter profile that demonstrates great communication skills, a passion for your work, and a well-rounded personality that fits with the culture of a potential employer and backs up information on your resume, will work to your advantage. A racist, sexist or homophobic tweet, comment on an article, or Facebook post can instantly derail your career. Similarly, a post bashing your previous employers is going to give a potential employee second thoughts, and drunken or other inappropriate photos may serve as red flags for employers. (For more ideas on how you should or shouldn’t use social media, you can check out this article on Seven Ways to Use Social Media to Land a Job.)

VSAC Outreach Coordinators learn some tips for how job seekers can manage their online presence.

As you can see, it’s not only about making sure there are no inappropriate photos of you floating around online. Social media, and especially LinkedIn, can also be a way to help you find the job you want. Job seekers who effectively use services, such as LinkedIn, to promote their skills, actively participate in discussions in their field of interest, network with potential employees, and search job prospects, can increase their chances of finding employment. On the other hand, an incomplete profile with typos and information that contradicts the applicant’s resume can harm those prospects.

Also, with LinkedIn, it’s about more than passing a social media screening before someone offers you a job. It’s also about being found in the first place. Alex put together a great checklist of how to “complete” your LinkedIn profile for better visibility, which you can download here.

According to Sabina Haskell, director of public affairs at VSAC, proficiency in the use of social media is important for the Outreach Counselors at VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center. “The outreach counselors at VSAC’s Educational Opportunity Center use social media to help their adult students navigate the educational and career information and opportunities. It’s essential that the Outreach Counselors are capable of demonstrating the power of using LinkedIn to research career interests. With Facebook, it’s important to project a professional image and network with friends to follow potential leads. We requested this workshop to increase our ability to assist our clients in finding employment and educational opportunities.”

Haskell was pleased with the results of the training. “This workshop really helped us zero in on the tools that will be most helpful to the students we work with. Having the personalized attention and ability to ask questions throughout the afternoon was great and we all learned a lot. We learned how easy it is to master LinkedIn and to evaluate the unintentional digital footprints that our online activities can leave behind. As students seek out scholarships, educational programs, and careers, it’s important to network, network, network – especially online.”

We couldn’t agree more.