Today, you probably checked your Facebook page to see what your friends are up to. Perhaps you retweeted an article from BBC News or the Guardian, or posted some photographs on Flickr. You may even have updated your LinkedIn profile with some new extra-curricular activities you've got involved in over the past few months. Social media is now woven into many aspects of our lives - and finding a graduate job is no exception. Tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn are playing an increasingly important role in connecting students and employers - and there are likely to be some interesting developments on this front in the future. To find out more, we spoke to social media strategy consultants Malik Aberkane and Christophe Mallet of Carve Consulting.
Malik and Christophe start by underlining how involved many graduate employers are getting with social media. "They're on Facebook, and Twitter, and increasingly on LinkedIn," says Christophe. "They realised that people were talking online about their brands, the way they recruit, their processes, their salaries, and saw an opportunity to engage with graduates through these communities."
Social media has quickly changed the way in which the graduate recruitment market works. Christophe explains how students can now get a much broader perspective on a particular employer than they could a few years ago: "The information you can gather as a jobseeker on social media is amazing compared to what was available before." This shift is partly down to the ease with which students can now chat honestly to their peers on careers forums about their experiences with particular employers, and also because employers themselves are joining in, often happy to answer questions and gather feedback through these channels. Employers are also making the provision of their own graduate recruitment content more of a conversation: "It's not like the old web", says Malik, "where employers just built websites that users could read but not react to very easily. Now users can give their opinions and share content."
So will traditional methods of recruitment like careers fairs and interviews be entirely replaced by social media tools any time soon? Christophe thinks not: "Social media helps a lot with gathering information, looking into what you want, and hearing what an employer's actually like from the people who work there. So everything that happens before you make an application can be enhanced by social media, but talking to a recruiter, getting a human feel for who you might work with, and meeting people face to face is absolutely priceless." What about from an employer's perspective? Will they be scouring the internet for potential candidates instead of asking for formal written applications? No, says Christophe, as employers also value a personal touch in the latter stages of the recruitment process: "Someone who comes in with a proper CV and cover letter probably has a greater chance than someone who just uses the same LinkedIn profile to apply for 200 jobs."
But there's no doubt that there are exciting developments to come in the use of social media in graduate recruitment. What potential future trends have Malik and Christophe spotted? Christophe flags up the way in which many employers are using websites like Facebook and Twitter to build deeper relationships with students: "They want to use social media to create communities of talented students who are interested in working for them in two or three years, and to keep those people interested in them throughout their course, giving them news, and help with their studies and career choices."
Malik and Christophe then share their thoughts on which social media networks will be worth watching over the next few years. Malik picks blogging site Tumblr because of the flexibility it offers its users, while Christophe chooses image sharing platform Pinterest as he feels it reflects a general shift in social media towards a focus on the interests, rather than the social lives, of users. Malik thinks that sector leader Facebook is currently showing signs of undergoing this metamorphosis, meaning it's likely to retain its dominant market position and become an increasingly important recruitment portal: "Look at all the new things you've been able to do on Facebook in the last nine months," he says "- you can now share what you've been listening to on Spotify, what you've read in the Guardian, and what you've been watching on Netflix." He thinks that this new use of the site will soon include the sharing of careers resources and job-hunting activity, meaning that the site will be an increasingly significant way for employers and job-hunters to link up for mutual benefit.
Using social media is not a shortcut to the perfect job - getting it will always require effort and time. But what Christophe and Malik have made clear is that social media has the power to multiply the ways in which students and recruiters can interact and collaborate, giving both sides more opportunities to share information and more options, which should lead to ever more fruitful employment relationships.
The employer perspective
What does a leading graduate employer think about the rise of social media in recruitment? We spoke to Emily Bryant, Head of Campus Attraction (Markets & International Banking) at RBS
Why are employers keen to use social media to interact with students?
We know that students spend a lot of time on social media platforms and over the past year there's been a huge increase in the number of them who want to get in contact with employers in this way. So there's a need for organisations like RBS to understand and provide the information that students want from us in this format.
How are employers using social media?
Many employers are watching and learning more about how social media might support students in their decision processes before they decide how they can best engage and invest their resources.
Some employers have recreated their websites as a Facebook page, and while the information provided is no different to the information available on the website, it does allow students some access to recruiters.
Other employers use social media for a specific initiative. For example, we use social media to communicate with the students involved in our "Indian Summer" programme, where students get to spend three weeks in India working in RBS's Mumbai office and with the city's street children. Using social media in this way can work really well - our "Indian Summer" students post pictures and videos of what they're doing on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
We've also gone one step further, launching a careers advice app, CareerKickstart (for more information, see below).
Why should students consider using social media to engage with employers?
With social media you can get a much better feel than you would have otherwise for an organisation's culture. Through the information you receive and through interacting with employees, you get to understand what it offers, what its people are like, and whether it's a good fit for you. It can almost be like having an insider's view of the organisation.
Social media channels are a brilliant forum in which to ask a question or raise an issue because employers track them closely and respond quickly. If you post a message on our Facebook page, for instance, you'll get an answer within a few hours.
Finally, social media is a very easy way of communicating with employers - if you "like" their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter, you'll get regular updates automatically and won't have to trawl through the internet to look for information about relevant careers events. And there are some opportunities that recruiters only publicise through social media - a lot of employers promote their campus events solely through Facebook and run online-only competitions. So these forums offer you the chance to make the most of all the opportunities available to you from the employers you're interested in.
We asked recruiters, social media experts and current students how you can best use social media to get ahead in the job market
1. Promote yourself
You can use social media to market your qualifications, skills, experiences and personality to potential employers. It's great to list your exam results and career-related extra-curricular activities on LinkedIn, but remember that social media profiles can be more than just an online CV. "Use them as an opportunity to showcase your brilliance," says Christophe. "You're a student, so you probably don't have that much experience of professional life, but you might be a member of a particular association, or have an interest in music or cinema, which is relevant to employers because they're interested in your special abilities and your uniqueness as a person, and you can bring these to life through social media."
However, this advice comes with a warning - you need to think very carefully about what pieces of information and images are displayed on your social media profiles and what recruiters might make of them. Employers understand that you have a social life and interests that are nothing to do with your chosen career path, and, in many ways, these aspects of your identity will be positives are far as they're concerned, but, says Emily, "use privacy settings appropriately so that nobody can see anything that you don't want them to see."
2. Gather information
Social media platforms can be powerful tools for collecting information about employers you're interested in working for. Forums such as WikiJob can help you find out what other applicants think of a particular employer, and what questions to expect in an interview there. Meera Kotak, a first year student at UCL, found these forums particularly useful when she was applying for internships: "I used sites giving interview questions and describing other people's application experiences quite a bit. It's also useful to use them to get an indication of how the whole application process works, even just small things like how long it would be before I heard back after an interview."
Employers' social media platforms, like their Facebook pages, Twitter feed or employees' LinkedIn profiles, can also help you find out more about an organisation and impress recruiters. If you can name people in key roles and have perhaps had some interaction with a current employee to find out more about the organisation, it shows that you're really interested in working there.
Christophe stresses the importance of starting to use career-related networking sites well before you leave university: "You can be a student and still on LinkedIn - you don't even need a CV. Look at the profiles of people who work for organisations you're interested in and join some groups related to industries you might like to enter."
Connecting with students in a similar position to you is a great way to start building up your own network. Meera used social networking to stay in touch with fellow interns: "You can then ask them how their applications are going, or for tips." Facebook is ideal for these purposes, but more professionally-orientated networks, particularly LinkedIn, are better for non-student contacts. Meera advises: "Stay connected with people you meet on internships or at careers fairs and try to liaise with them regularly." Ian Wright, a second year student at Nottingham Trent University, adds that you can also use LinkedIn to get endorsements from people you've worked with: "I think the first contact I had on LinkedIn was my manager from an internship I did. He recommended me through the site, and that was really useful going forward into a similar role."
But while it's good practice to use social media to cement relationships you form in person, don't forget that you can build connections purely online too. "It's really important", says Malik, "that students understand that social media is about more than connecting with people you already know in real life. For instance, you can take part in online conversations on Twitter about what you're watching on TV, but also about potential jobs, potential career opportunities and employers."
You can also contact those working at employers that you might like to join, comments Ian - "you could add them on LinkedIn and leave them a message saying that you're interested in the opportunities that might be available at their organisation." But don't take a scattergun approach to this process. Pick those you contact carefully - try to choose people who have roles or experience of particular relevance to you and who you think will be open to connecting. And make sure you always include a polite and clear message with any connection request.
Find out about this brand new careers app for students
What is CareerKickstart?
CareerKickstart is an all-in-one careers tool app that you can access through Facebook.
Who's behind it?
CareerKickstart is powered by RBS, but users can access information from a wide range of sources.
Why was it set up?
RBS had noted that many students were struggling to get access to really good careers information and wanted to assist them.
Who's it for?
The app is designed to be useful to anyone from school leavers through to recent graduates.
What does it offer?
There's general careers advice, for example, on CVs, assessment centres, interviews, and also on "softer skills", such as communication and networking. There's also advice targeted at particular groups, for example, on work experience for first and second year students, and a graduate section for those about to leave university that includes options you might consider and information about which employers are still recruiting. Once you've read an article, you can easily "like" it, or forward it to your friends.
**Ian Wright, Nottingham Trent University**
It's very engaging. I liked the way in which it links to other sites - the content is very comprehensive. The simple layout is easy to navigate.
**Meera Kotak, UCL**
Brilliant tool for gaining access to useful tips, links and contacts that will aid your search and preparation for a future career.