Last night I was on a panel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (as I was required to write it when I was a reporter) called "Careers in Social Media," sponsored by University Career Services and organized by Gary Alan Miller. My fellow panelists were Ruby Sinreich, Greg Hyer, Ginny Skalski and Gregory Ng. We had a nice turnout of interested students who asked a lot of great questions.
I wish I had taken notes because my fellow panelists offered a lot of great advice. Here are some of the key points, in the order I remember them.
You've got maybe a year left in which "knowledge of social media" will make your resume stand out, depending on your field. You need something else to hang your hat on. In the biz world we call that "domain expertise." Much better to be able to say, "I've interned at The XYZ Coalition and honed my knowledge of sustainable urban biodiversity education for pre-kindergarteners and here are the ways I've used social media to develop and share my expertise," rather than, "I'm on Facebook."
Find something you're passionate about and build your social media activity around that. Before you know it, it could turn into a way to make a living.
Intern or volunteer to get some real world experience. Find a topic that excites you or an organization you believe in and volunteer to create a Facebook fan page for them, for instance.
Find a niche and fill it. There are a lot of people out there making money doing something relatively specialized and esoteric online because they were the first to do it or they're doing it better than anyone else.
Here's a way that worked for me: In 2001 I went to the Iceland Airwaves music festival and had one of the best weeks of my life. I came home and created a Geocities site about the trip, the country, the food and the music (no, Geocities doesn't exist anymore). Icelandair, the organizers of the festival, saw it and liked it and linked to it, and brought me back the next two years to write the daily festival blog.
Start a blog and write about the field you want to work in. Demonstrate your knowledge, your passion and your ability to communicate about and participate in that community. Write as though you were already a knowledgeable member of that community (without misrepresenting yourself, of course) and before you know it, you will be.
Create content. Figure out how to put out something of real value and interest. The people who are standing out in social media are putting it out there all the time, while other people are on the couch watching TV.
Go to networking events and actually talk to people. Let people know you're looking for a job and what you want to do. Don't go to hand out resumes, but to make genuine connections.
Get your LinkedIn profile up to date and looking as professional as possible. Link to your teachers and ask them for recommendations.
Build your networks on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Work at it. Start when you're still in school, not the day you start your job search.
This should go without saying, but make sure when a prospective employer searches your name (and they will) they aren't finding pictures of you doing keg stands. And have a professional-sounding email address, as I've said before. Firstname.email@example.com will always work.
Decide what your online brand is going to be. Pick a distinctive and professional iteration of your name that you can own online. (If you have a common name like Dave Thomas, you'll need to work harder to find a differentiated version.)
Once you've decided on your brand, own it everywhere you can. If your brand is Camilla Q. McGillicuddy, go buy camillaqmcgillicuddy.com (it's available, I checked), register firstname.lastname@example.org, grab that username on Twitter, set it up as your Facebook vanity URL, etc. When a new service comes along, jump in there and register your username right away.
Trust me, you will never regret having a consistent online brand. (Google "David B. Thomas" and you'll see what I mean. I will likely never be the top result because I missed the chance to buy davidbthomas.com a long time ago, thinking that dbthomas.com was better.)