Last Updated Dec 18, 2009 4:47 PM EST
Since the unspoken rules of many social-networking sites evolve daily, it's all too easy to commit online gaffes and sabotage your career-advancement goals. Here are six common online missteps to avoid.
1. Don’t be a job-search bore
Few people would walk into a professional meeting and ask for job leads, but many seasoned professionals commit the online version of this faux pas regularly. No matter how well you know contacts — or how panicked you are about unemployment — never mention a job hunt in an initial note to anyone on a social-networking site. “You’ve got to think of all the people who are looking for jobs right now — they’re probably being overwhelmed,” says Randy Hain, managing partner of Bell Oaks Executive Search in Atlanta. Instead, offer some praise or acknowledgement or, even better, some well-thought-out help or advice with no strings attached.
2. Don’t be too stiff
While you don’t want to share too much, leaving all personal information out of your profiles to protect your privacy can put you in the same league as colleagues who show up for casual Friday in a business suit. A few well-chosen items about your interests or charitable activities can make it easier for other like-minded folks on a site — including potential employers — to strike up a conversation. “If you just put your resume on LinkedIn, you’ll be like 500 other people who share the same skill set,” says Hain.
Antoine Dubeauclard, president of the Web-development company MediaG in Troy, Mich., says his company routinely researches potential hires on social-networking sites to figure out what type of projects would be a good fit for them. If he found from a person’s Facebook page that a candidate was really interested in music, for example, he might try to see if he could have them work with music-industry clients. “We want to get to know them,” Dubeauclard says. “What are the things that get them really excited? When we can dovetail, that makes them much happier.”
3. Don’t remain invisible
Put up a photo, even if you haven’t lost that 30 pounds or tried Botox. It makes the process a little more human and warm. And if someone is going to discriminate against you because of how you look, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.
4. Don’t market yourself on anyone’s Facebook page — or even look like you’re trying to
“Some people really cross the line,” says Matthew Fraser, a senior research fellow at INSEAD and co-author of Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking Will Transform Your Life, Work, and World. “As soon as you accept an offer to be their friend, they’ll write a note on your wall: ‘I’m Bill Jones. I’m a life coach. I help people solve their problems.’ You realize someone is using your personal space as a billboard for their business, and it’s irritating.”
5. Don’t goof around
“I get a lot of people poking me on Facebook and sending me goofy stuff,” says Sharon Rich, founder of outplacement consulting and coaching firm Leadership Incorporated. “If I’m working on building a business relationship with them, I’ll respond and say thank you. But privately I find that I think of the person as being less than professional.” It’s better to just stick to direct messages on Facebook with your professional contacts.
6. Don’t let your networking end online
Many people rack up new connections on sites like LinkedIn without ever solidifying the relationships they’ve started there. Try to set up an in-person meeting when you can, or perhaps even arrange a “virtual coffee,” where you both chat by phone over a cup of coffee at your desks, advises Rich. “Once you’re in a real relationship with someone, you find out who they are and how they’re doing,” Rich says. “And when you help them, they’ll try to help you back.”
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