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Home  > Article

Rules of Engagement for Online Networking

By Robert Half International
Robert Half International

Online networking sites have become increasingly popular with career-oriented finance and accounting professionals. These resources allow participants to quickly and easily expand their circle of contacts, share information and keep abreast of industry trends.

Executives involved in hiring decisions are finding these online communities to be a valuable tool as well. According to a recent Robert Half International survey, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of those interviewed said professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn and MeetUp, will prove useful in the search for job candidates in the next few years. And one-in-three (35 percent) cited social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, as a recruiting resource they plan to tap.

The popularity of online networking suggests that it is here to stay but, like any new technology, it offers both advantages and potential pitfalls to professionals looking to advance their careers. Here are some rules of engagement to observe when using these services:

Keep it professional. Although the Internet may seem like a casual environment, don't let your guard down when networking online. Project the same professional image in the electronic world as you would on a resume. On sites that include information about your hobbies or interests, it's fine to offer certain details about your nonwork life, such as the fact that you're a film buff or an avid runner. However, avoid revealing anything that you wouldn't discuss during a job interview. This is especially true when it comes to posting information on social networking sites.

Some professionals, especially those just beginning their careers, fail to consider that hiring managers may use these sites for recruiting purposes or to learn more about prospective hires. For example, if a potential employer discovers your profile on Facebook, complete with an unprofessional photo and a reference to your hobbies including "partying like a rock star," your employment prospects are likely to dim. Although you should always think twice about posting anything online that could detract from your professional image, be sure to use privacy settings if you're determined to disclose certain types of private information.

Connect with care. Invite only trusted friends and colleagues to join your networks. Keep in mind, however, that your ability to control your personal and professional information may still be limited. For example, using your posted work history, prospective employers and recruiters can search sites to locate others who worked for one of your former employers during the same period as you. This capability enables a third party to potentially ask questions of others who know you but who may not be among your approved references. If you have something negative in your employment history, it could come out without the chance for you to present the information from your perspective.

Be selective. Online networking can be a time-saving way to develop contacts, assuming you don't spread yourself too thin. Choose services that are well-suited to your professional area, interests and networking goals. For example, you might join a general business site such as LinkedIn, in addition to financial industry discussion forums or professional association chat rooms.

Before joining any online community, do some research to verify the credibility of a service. Also, make sure that any sites you register with have adequate privacy and anti-spam policies to protect both your personal information and that of your contacts.

Exercise discretion. Try to be as helpful as possible in responding to queries from your online community, but take care not to reveal confidential information. Before posting anything, think about whether your employer or clients would be comfortable with what you've written if they were to read it.

Be conscious of your online persona. Be especially aware of your tone and how your comments may be perceived in the online world. What is intended as dry humor could easily be mistaken for sarcasm, for instance, and a tendency to weigh in on every issue might cause you to come across as a know-it-all. Review your grammar and spelling, too, before posting comments. A string of poorly written entries won't reflect well on your professional abilities.

It's also important to be respectful of others' ideas and opinions in online environments. Even if someone responds in an adversarial way to one of your comments, resist the urge to answer harshly, which would probably only serve to portray you in a negative light. Always remember that many others, including prospective employers, may be viewing your comments and forming opinions about you based on your cyberspace communications. Moreover, there's a good chance your comments could be archived, providing a long-lasting record of your posts.

Seek recommendations. Make the most of the career advancement potential of online networking by asking colleagues to post recommendations or comments about your work alongside your profile. Strong testimonials might sway a hiring manager or recruiter to pursue you as a candidate.

Finally, keep in mind that even though online networking provides a highly efficient and productive way to cultivate and maintain business contacts, it's not a substitute for personal interaction with other professionals. Career advancement still depends on the strength of one's relationships, and face-to-face meetings can build rapport in a way that electronic communication cannot. Continue to make time for tried-and-true networking methods such as get-togethers over coffee or lunch, mingling at professional events and personalized outreach to key contacts and prospective employers.


Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International Inc., the world's largest specialized financial recruiting service and a leading authority on workplace and management trends. The company has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. Learn more at www.roberthalf.com.

Copyright 2008 Robert Half International. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.






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