Get Connected and Hired: Your Guide to Professional Social Networking

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Spring 2011

Lean to groom your online presence, build your network, and manage privacy controls with this guide to the dos and don'ts of social media.

When Facebook launched just over 8 years ago, it was easy to imagine that trivial conversations exchanged on the site would eventually disappear into the ether of the Internet.

Today, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything you do online—from mindlessly chattering on Twitter to “liking” pages on Facebook— is potential fodder for a job interview.

A recent study found that 20% of pharmacy residency program directors look up candidates and current pharmacy residents on social media sites. A vast majority (89%) consider the public content “fair game” for judging an applicant’s character. At the same time, student pharmacists appear to have a very limited sense of just how public their profiles are and what constitutes an appropriate post.

Of the directors who consulted social media sites, 52% found questionable photos and posts that revealed “unprofessional attitudes,” according to the study. Reporting in the February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, lead author Jeff Cain, EdD, MS, wrote that “offensive or inappropriate photos and written comments were the two areas that respondents found most disconcerting.”

Whether you’re just completing PY1, starting a clinical rotation or internship, or looking for a full-time position to launch your career, it’s critical not only to be found online, but to project your best qualities to anyone who might be searching for you. This means grooming your existing online presence, building a network of professional contacts, and finding creative ways to earn recognition online for your accomplishments.

First Impressions

In Dr. Cain’s study, residency program directors were asked to choose between two fictional candidates based solely on their Facebook profiles. Although the candidates were equal on paper— they had the same grades, interview scores, and extracurricular activities—their Facebook profiles told a different story.

The first depicted a model candidate, aptly named “Mark Pharmer.” He participated in professional networking groups, volunteered in his spare time, and held an internship at an independent pharmacy. His only visible status update was “getting lots of job interviews!”

The second fictional candidate, “John Student,” was a case study in unprofessionalism. His profile was rife with evidence of booze-fueled shenanigans, including photo documentation and a wall post that read, “Dude! I saw the cops talking to you on Main St. last night.”

It’s not difficult to guess who won the hearts of residency directors in this hypothetical Goofus-and-Gallant-style matchup. More than 80% of survey respondents said they’d choose Mr. Pharmer.

Clean Up Your Act

Whether you’re a Mark Pharmer or a John Student, social media is messy. Most people dive right in before devising a strategy to keep their professional and personal activities separate. This is manageable in the beginning when your profile is a clean slate and the only people following you are your parents and your best friend from 6th grade. But as your network grows, so do your chances of alienating an important professional contact.

Consider the real-life case of Nina Yoder, a University of Louisville nursing student who made disparaging comments on Myspace about patients she dealt with during her clinical rotation. University officials became aware of her posts and expelled her on the grounds that she violated the school’s honor code and confidentiality agreement. Yoder eventually graduated after a judge dismissed the charges against her, but accounts of the ordeal on blogs and news sites continue to dominate Google searches of her name.

Although hers is a worst-case scenario, Yoder’s cautionary tale serves as a useful reminder that it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is especially true for student pharmacists, who are preparing for a very public role in which professionalism and ethics are paramount. Even if you aren’t posting vitriolic rants about patients or professors, it’s a good idea to clean up your existing online profiles and create a strategy for each going forward.

Before you think strategically, take inventory of what you’re already doing online. Revisit past postings, photos, and group memberships and ask yourself this obvious question: “If I were a recruiter or pharmacy program director, would I want to see this?” Your cleanup needs will vary depending on how long you’ve had your social networking accounts and the degree to which you participate on each site.

Purging your profiles of questionable content is often a tedious, time-consuming task, but it’s worth the effort. Familiarize yourself with privacy controls on each site, utilize Facebook’s friend lists and custom privacy settings, and be prepared to make difficult choices about what to keep and what to cut.

Build a Positive Presence

When you’re confident that your online profiles won’t sabotage your career prospects, it’s time to begin building your professional network in ways that will boost them.

Creating a profile on LinkedIn is a great way to start. Although the site tends to be dominated by more traditional business types, it’s a quick way for pharmacy students to exert control over the information that turns up when potential employers Google their name.

Because all of LinkedIn’s 90 million users share a similar goal, the site fosters a unique social environment. It’s completely acceptable and encouraged to share your accomplishments, solicit recommendations from past and current colleagues, and reach out to relative strangers for information that can aid your job search.

Students often feel they don’t have enough experience to build an impressive profile on LinkedIn, but that simply isn’t true. If you haven’t yet had formal work experience in the pharmacy field, you’re a professional student. Use your profile to showcase classes you’re taking, any special projects you’ve completed, or extracurricular activities related to your degree and professional interests.

If you already have a LinkedIn account but haven’t updated your profile in ages, do so. The site recently added applications, making it easier than ever to customize your profile and expand its capabilities. Consider using apps to add a pharmacy-related Twitter feed to your page, share slides from a presentation you’ve given, or publish posts from your personal blog. Distinguish yourself from other candidates by adding peripherals that show you in your element.

If, after creating a profile, you find that just a handful of your offline contacts are members, don’t be discouraged. LinkedIn registers legions of new members daily, and the network is constantly evolving. Continue to use your profile as a hub for all your professional achievements and qualifications, and you’ll be one step ahead when it’s time to submit job applications.

Maximize Your Network

It takes time and effort to build a strong foundation on LinkedIn, but here are steps you can take now to speed the process:

Add pharmacy school professors and advisers, current and former supervisors or preceptors, and classmates. Don’t discount friends and family, who may have connections that could benefit you. If you’re a recent graduate, join your pharmacy school’s official alumni group. If a group for your school doesn’t exist yet, start one!

Use the site’s group directory to connect with like-minded pharmacists. Consider both official groups that represent national and state pharmacy associations, and unofficial ones that unite users with a shared interest, such as pharmacy entrepreneurship or medication therapy management.

If your goal is employment at a national retail chain, use the site’s company directory to learn more about each chain, receive updates about events or job openings, and browse profiles of current employees.

Before going on interviews, look up the people you’re preparing to meet. Take note of their professional backgrounds, interests, and anything that might come up in an interview scenario.

Share Your Passion

At the heart of social media is the unfettered exchange of ideas. Finding new ways to share yours will help you not only stand out in a crowd of qualified candidates, but also connect you with experienced pharmacists who can guide you in the right direction.

Pharmacists share an intellectual curiosity that is infectious. Nowhere is that more apparent than on Twitter. The site’s freewheeling atmosphere inspires creativity, and its egalitarian structure gives those with less experience the opportunity to swap ideas with experts in the field. If you don’t have an account, create one with the sole purpose of discovering what topics are engaging your professional peers in discussion.

As for participating, the same rules apply to Twitter as to all social media sites. Always be positive, authentic, and polite when offering or asking for expertise. Remember that although sharing is the goal, listening is just as important. Once you’re familiar with the landscape, join the conversation. What happens next is up to you.

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