Originally published on Job-Hunt.org: 

A very successful executive career placement specialist was telling me how hard it is for her Baby Boomer clients to adopt social media in their job search. But, in my experience, I’ve found that all generations experience very little reprieve when it comes to feeling comfortable with social media at first and then successfully using it for their job searching.

In fact, from recent grads to the almost-retired, job seekers go through a similar 6-step emotional cycle:

  1. Total denial of the importance of social media.  Then…
  2. An acceptance that social is somewhat useful. Then…
  3. Realization of the complete and utter adoption of social by hiring professionals today, and a fear that they are missing out. Then…
  4. Frustration at the total lack of instruction on what to do about it. Then…
  5. Anger that their non-strategic and inconsistent use of social is not producing any of the promised results.  And finally…
  6. Determination to figure out social media and seek expert advice.

My father is 70+ years old. He was the one who initiated my interest in social media. Meanwhile, I’ve spoken with hundreds of recent grads, and entire audiences have expressed fear and trepidation around social media.

Here are some of the struggles each generation must face when using social media in their job search.

Gen Y Issues With Social Media

This generation may be tech-savvy, but they aren’t born social media experts either. From early on, they’ve texted and Facebooked their way through life. And in many ways, they are way more aware of the real-life consequences of online behavior. After all, what they said on Facebook might get them beaten up or ridiculed at school the next day.

And because their use of technology has been for play, by the time they face college graduation, they fear what those past rumpus messages might do to their employability.

Gen Yers must focus on two key areas when adopting social media:

  • Clean up any “digital dirt.
    You had your fun in high-school. Now it’s time to brush off the dirt, and put on some nice clothes. Revisit those privacy policies, and delete what you can.
  • Adopt LinkedIn, and shift your mindset to the intention behind a professional network. 
    Consequences of your online behavior will now have financial consequences, not just social ones. Learn what a good LinkedIn profile requires.

Gen X Issues With Social Media

We didn’t get email until our senior year at college or shortly after. When we grew up, we were still mailing our thank-you notes to grandma, and hoping we didn’t die in nuclear holocaust.

I needed prodding from an ex-girlfriend even to look at Facebook because I had already invested my time in Friendster and didn’t want to fill out another dang profile.

Those of us lucky enough to have signed up for the right social networks label ourselves “early adopters” and glean over the 100 other social networks that failed miserably. We approach new technologies with small amounts of weariness. “Oh, another one.” But often our curiosity gets the better of us and we fill out a new profile.

Gen Xers must focus on these areas when adopting social media

  • Leverage the proven networks.
    Yes, you may have spent countless hours filling out profiles on networks that don’t exist any more, but LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are no joke. These networks have proven themselves to be the largest and highest leverage tools to advancing your career. Take your time and write your profiles with your brand in mind.
  • Understand Facebook privacy.
    Bear in mind that Facebook will probably usurp LinkedIn as a professional network in the next two to three years (my opinion), so don’t wait to understand your privacy settings. Force yourself to spend a half-hour in Facebook’s privacy area. It will pay off.
  • Manage your public message.
    Remember that you are publishers when you use social media. The consequences of getting off topic or off brand in your public facing networks could be disastrous. Many Gen Xers were fired for careless Facebook and Twitter posts. Focus on staying on message.

Baby Boomer Issues With Social Media

Since Boomers often look at the younger generations and assume social media is easy for them, they set themselves up for failure. “Oh, those kids text and play X-box. This stuff is easy for them. But I’m older and don’t get technology.”

And with this thought, every learning curve becomes ten times more frustrating. This is what psychologists call a false schema, also known as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The truth is, every generation has their hurdles when using social media,and there are many advantages to being a Boomer in the social media world.

First, you are uniquely qualified to recognize the impact social media has had in the world of hiring. You have seen the rise of many new technologies and you know the power they have in transforming our world. You saw color television emerge, you saw FM change from talk to music, and you saw computers shrink from the size of buildings to the size of fists.

Second, you are less likely to screw up with social media than other generations. You approach technologies cautiously because you’ve had computers that would break if you pushed the wrong button.

These are some areas of focus for baby boomers when using social media to find work.

  • Use online training and help.
    Don’t be overly cautious, sometimes you need to just bite the bullet, and fill out that Twitter profile, even though you don’t know if you are going to screw it up. Job-Hunt has several articles on using social media for job search you can read.  And, plenty of other training and Youtube videos will help you through it.
  • Be yourself (within reason).
    Don’t be afraid to show a little more personality online then what you are used to. Your job search paradigm is very formal. All of your resumes are written in third person, and you have been trained to be “professional.” Know that, these days, fit and personality may outweigh capability. Let your hair down a little bit when using social media. For you, this will probably feel uncomfortable, but will be seen as refreshing.
  • Leverage your knowledge and experience.
    You understand strategy. You have 20+ years of professional experience and know how to take your time, watch, and make important decisions. Apply some of that strategic thinking to your social media presence. Know who you are targeting in your job search, and then approach them with a plan to add value. You know how to do this!

 Bottom Line

Overall, each generation must face their own unique hurdles when adopting social media. So never fall into the trap of thinking that “those other people have an advantage over me”. With social media, the playing field is level, and those millions of Americans winning their jobs with it are the ones willing to go through the stages of adoption and take their time to educate themselves on something new.