For graduates, finding balance between personal and professional is the challenge

One’s presence on social media is an often-overlooked part of a new grad’s job search, but an online persona can have real consequences in the workforce.

For graduates, finding balance between personal and professional is the challenge

Sheryl Sandberg, in her bestselling, tell-all book on life as the chief operating officer at Facebook, “Lean In,” encouraged women to push for their careers. She wrote that women no longer should have to feel they must make a choice between having a happy life, or a solid career.

In her new book, “Lean In for Graduates,” a reproduction of the original book with added chapters, voices and advice for college graduates, she’s spreading that same message to the American workforce’s newest class.

Executive coach Mindy Levy, who leads performance management and talent planning at Booz Allen Hamilton and is a board member of Leanin.org, wrote the chapter titled, “Find Your First Job,” which addresses balancing the needs of today’s employers with a college graduate’s public persona.

Monster Working: The chapter you wrote deals a lot with social media. Can you encapsulate why it’s so important for college grads to clean up their social media profiles before they enter the job market?

Mindy Levy: One’s presence on social media is an often-overlooked part of a new grad’s job search. But in reality, most employers will do a search on you before they will bring you in for an interview. They will Google you, look you up on Facebook, see what you have been tweeting, and so forth. Even if you have a stellar resume and cover letter, or if you knocked their socks off at a recruiting event, a recruiter or hiring manager will think twice before bringing you in if a quick search of the internet reveals some not-so-flattering pictures or stories. In an economy where finding a job can take months, you don’t want to have anything out there that can decrease your chances.

MW: In this vein, what specifically gets in graduates’ way as it pertains to social media? (A public post somewhere that shines the job candidate in a not-so-flattering light perhaps?)

Levy: I like to tell new graduates to put themselves in the hiring manager’s shoes. Which person would you hire, the one who exudes professionalism on social media, or the one who has pictures of herself chugging beers or posts that include words you would never use in front of your parents? Most employers are looking for people who have a strong work ethic and who are team players — you don’t want anything out there that might contradict their impression that you have those qualities. Just a single post or photo can make all the difference in how you are perceived.

MW: But how much filter is too much? After all, social media is a place where people are encouraged to portray themselves in any light they choose. How does a young job candidate balance this?

Levy: It is definitely a balancing act. I recommend young job candidates first consider “what” image they want to convey — assuming that potential employers will see what is out there. Then, think about whether or not what you are posting is in service of that image. Presenting a certain image of yourself through social media doesn’t mean you should be dishonest … just thoughtful before posting. And in certain fields, such as communications or the creative arts, it can give you the opportunity to demonstrate through blogs, online portfolios and other media the qualities that you bring to the table.

MW: How does your model for job success for graduates tie into Sandberg’s original “Lean In” theme?

Levy: Finding a job can be especially challenging for women, as we typically underestimate our capabilities. In fact, men will apply for jobs if they think they meet just 60 percent of the job requirements, while women will apply only if they think they meet all of them. As a result, we may not go after that perfect job, or we may undersell ourselves when it comes to the hiring process. The theme of my chapter is on the importance of “being bold.” It encourages both women and men to step up to opportunities and to go after them with confidence. My hope is that it will help new graduates position themselves to lean in and succeed.

MW: Is there anything you’d like to add about “finding your first job” as a just-out-of-college individual?

Levy: Like the entire “Lean In for Graduates" book, the chapter on finding a job provides a lot of practical advice. It covers things like getting prepared, writing a resume, conducting your search, and performing your best in an interview. If new graduates could remember just a few things it would be the following: 

  • Present yourself well. Whether on social media, on your resume or cover letter, or in an interview, consider the image you want to portray. And make sure you don’t have any grammatical or typographical errors on your resume. That will get you noticed — but not in the right way.
  • Prepare for anything. Most new grads are used to doing homework, so make sure you do it as part of your job search too. Practice before your interviews and be ready with questions to ask and ideas to pitch.
  • Shift your perspective. Job seekers often fall into the trap of focusing on what an organization will do for them, when putting the company’s needs front and center is what really gets you noticed.
  • Put yourself out there. Don’t sit behind a computer all day only applying for jobs online. Mine your connections. And don’t be afraid to try something creative and bold to get your foot in the door.

This is the second part in a series on career advice for graduates. Part one deals with negotiating salary, which, according to a recent international Monster poll, most people have a difficult time doing.

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