(RNN) - We've all heard about how ill-advised photos on Facebook can cost you a shot at a job.
But, used wisely, your social network presence can also help you stand out from a crowd of candidates.
A survey by CareerBuilder shows nearly 30 percent of employers who research potential hires on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have discovered information that gave them the confidence to make - not reject - a hire.
The kind of information that put a candidate over the top? Employers surveyed cited as positives content that gave a hiring manager a good feel for a potential employee's personality or conveyed a professional image.
Around half who utilized social networking to research a candidate discovered the person had a wide range of interests and great communication skills, and 44 percent found the candidate of choice was creative.
The survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers and human resources professionals shows 37 percent of companies research candidates through social media. Employers overwhelmingly utilize Facebook and LinkedIn to research candidates. A few use Twitter.
The key to creating a great profile means realizing Facebook and other social networks are not your diary, where you can safely vent your personal opinions or share your life under lock and key.
"Trusting Facebook privacy settings as a way to make sure employers don't see bad pictures or [comments about] how much you hate your job, that's not really safe or a good idea," said Angela Connor, vice president and director of social media at Capstrat, a communications firm based in Raleigh, NC.
Not only are you beholden to the ever-changing Facebook privacy landscape (who can keep up?), Connor says you're also at the mercy of your friends' privacy settings. Just because your Facebook wall is private doesn't mean your comments on a friend's wall or photo are private.
And the recently added Facebook stalker feed, errr, news ticker means if you comment on a friend's status or picture, people who aren't mutual friends of both parties are likely to see that.
"The best approach is to assume anything I say can become public, even if you think you're locked down like Fort Knox," Connor said.
"If you're locked down, an employer really can't get in. But you don't know who they're friends with. You could be a second connection by chance and you never know it."
Even if your Twitter account is private, followers can retweet what you say.
So how can you create a "viral footprint" you'd want an employer to follow?
It's not just about what you don't post, but about what you do post.
"When I give you my resume, I'm giving you a two dimensional view of who I say I am. If you check out my viral footprint, you see a much fuller picture of who I am," said Michael P. Grace, founder of Virallock, a company that specializes in helping teens and young adults clean up their online reputation and establish a more positive presence.
"Right, wrong or indifferent, social media platforms have changed the reality of our lives. Facebook wasn't intended to be an extension of your resume, but the reality is, it's become that."
Grace recommends embracing the idea that your social media page is an extension of your life and using it to your advantage.
If you list "camp counselor" on your resume, make sure there are photos on your Facebook or Twitter page that illustrate that.
"If you have it on your resume, you need to have some trail of that on your social media presence," he said.
Such photos, Grace says, are part of how you brand yourself.
Connor says those personal photos, statuses and tweets also paint a picture of you as an entire person, not just an employee.
"It's smart to have a good mix of who you are professionally and personally.
You don't want to go too far personally, but if you're establishing yourself as an expert on a subject, it's OK every now and then to say you were at your kid's soccer game or that you love to cook because it shows you're well rounded," she said.
"That tells a bigger and better story and so many people leave that out because they think the only thing that's going to sell them is their last five jobs."
Both also recommend blogging on a subject of interest to establish your voice in your industry of choice.
"It gives someone an idea of what your writing skills are like. There's a clear way to differentiate yourself if you can show a track record of blogging about something," Grace said.
And unless you're applying for a job as the Chick-fil-a cow, use proper grammar: Itz not fun 4 any1 2 hav 2 figure out wat ur really saying.
"You're not showcasing your communication skills when you use text lingo, whether it's bad or not. To me, it shows a lack of maturity, quite frankly. Laziness, a lack of effort," Grace said.
Finally, put some thought into your profile picture. Obvious no no's are photos that imply excessive drinking, any kind of drug use or pictures of you in barely-there attire.
And no duck face. Just don't.
But a photo doesn't have to be inappropriate to turn off a potential employer.
"Don't take a picture in the bathroom. Go find a wall [to stand in front of] if nothing else. Don't have on clown makeup. I see this all the time, don't crop your wedding photo. Don't have on a swimsuit. Don't be at the beach, don't have a drink in your hand," Connor said.
"Be conscious of everything. You never know what's going to cause any employer to say 'yay' or 'nay' and it could be your picture."
The bottom line?
"When I was growing up, the saying was, 'Don't do anything you wouldn't want on the front page of a newspaper.' That doesn't even make sense to kids now. Now it's, 'Don't do anything you wouldn't want tweeted to your mom or dad or school,'" Grace said.
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