Whether you're a recent grad or a student looking for a summer internship, the stats on youth employment are disheartening. While there's no silver bullet that guarantees a smooth transition from classroom to career, there are tools that can help you stand out from the crowd of your job seeking peers and social media is chief among them — if you know how to apply it to your advantage. [More from Forbes: Companies with the most summer jobs still open]
"Lacking a web presence or a digital footprint is probably the biggest mistake I see college students and recent grads making when it comes to social media and job hunting. We take it for granted that Gen Y or Millennials grew up on social media, so they instantly know how to use it for professional purposes. I think that's a common misconception. They primarily use social media to keep up with their friends, or maybe some brands or bands they like, but they still need a lot of teaching and guidance on how to build their own professional brand online," says Will Staney, Director of Recruiting and Strategic Programs at SuccessFactors.
College students and new grads may be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to competing with more experienced job candidates for highly sought-after positions, but the digital world offers plenty of opportunities for young job seekers to level the playing field by establishing a track record of credibility and engagement in their chosen industry — whether that's through building an online portfolio of projects, blogging about trends in their field or using a platform such as Twitter to start conversations with (and get their name in front of) potential mentors and opinion leaders. [More from Forbes: Make LinkedIn help you find a job]
A strong social media presence can serve to supplement or even supplant a resume that's short on real-world experience. As Abine analyst Sarah Downey advises, savvy young job seekers should use the inevitability of their digital footprint being scrutinized to serve up the most flattering and useful information to potential employers. "Use social media and commenting as a means of branding yourself and selling your best qualities. If you're prepared for a little self-censorship, posting under your real name can be a smart strategy. Knowing that anything you say online may show up when someone Googles you, use your postings to your advantage. Post intelligent, grammatically-correct, spell-checked, well-reasoned content. Express yourself in the field in which you want to become established."
For students and new grads looking for work, it may pay to stick close to their social media home base — Facebook. According to Staney, LinkedIn benefits those with longer corporate track records, while Facebook allows inexperienced job seekers to tap into their well-established networks and more easily access personal referrals. "Facebook is really where you have those close-knit connections. Think about it this way, if you're asking for someone to refer you to a company, who's going to go more out of their way and really fight for you, that person you met at a conference three months ago and connected with on LinkedIn or your uncle in the banking industry who's well-connected?" [More from Forbes: 7 tips for landing a job using social media]
By contrast, Jobvite CEO Dan Finnigan says that limiting your focus to one networking site puts you at a disadvantage compared to more well-rounded peers. "No one should ever limit themselves to one social network because they're constantly in flux. If you tie yourself to only one network, you're basically giving yourself an expiration date."
When it comes to what students and recent grads should share online, control remains the name of the game. "You used to have just one resume: it was paper, you controlled everything in it and you gave it to hiring personnel. You got to choose exactly how to present yourself. For better or worse, that period in hiring history is now over.
Today, you have two resumes — the traditional one that you carefully write and edit and distribute and the nontraditional, digital one that's the sum of your online activities," says Downey. For his part, Finnigan says you should assume that by the time you show up for an interview that the interviewer is already up-to-speed on your online presence and plan for this accordingly. "Jobvite data notes that 48.6% of recruiters and hiring managers always search for candidates' social profiles. This means that nearly one-half of the time you go in for a job interview, they've already seen your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Make sure your privacy settings are in place and ensure what you show the world is professional — beer pong pictures are for close friends only." [More from Forbes: How to find and use a mentor]