TikTok Resumes and Instagram portfolios: How college students are using social media to find jobs

College students are on social media pretty much every day but when it comes to their job search, more than a third said they don't use social media at all, according to a survey from College Pulse.

And we're supposed to be digital natives?!

“I don't get what the hype is around not doing social media. I think everyone should be on it,” says college senior and influencer Kahlil Greene. “It's the way of the future and, if you're not on it, you will be left behind.”

Kahlil Greene, student at Yale University, known as “The Gen-Z Historian” on Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn.Source: Kahlil Greene

Greene posted his first TikTok video on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2021, and the rest was history — literally. Studying the history of social change and social movements at Yale University, he took to TikTok to educate people about Black culture and little-known stories, and racked up 1.3 million views pretty quickly. Now with more than 500,000 followers across platforms (including Instagram and LinkedIn), Greene will be trading in his post-graduation plans to work in consulting for a job in public education.

“I think that's the thing that people don't realize, that social media is everywhere, and it's congruent with every lifestyle you want,” says Greene.

In today's working world, the tailored one-page resume and cover letter seem to be going by the wayside. Social media offers a way to stand out beyond the traditional recruitment process, whether or not you're an aspiring influencer.

In 2021, as many as 92% of companies use social media and professional networks to hire for jobs, according to social recruiting firm CareerArc.

“Having a resume is great, right, but everyone has LinkedIn,” says Korin Harris, a senior recruiter at Academia.edu. “So, fill it out.”

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For most jobs, there are data and accomplishments to be shared that recruiters like Harris want to see.

According to LinkedIn, three people get hired via the professional-networking platform every minute.

LinkedIn may be the go-to place for an online resume but it isn't your only option. Between Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube, the ways that social media can be used for networking, job searching and career-starting are endless.

Tony Bancroft, a nearly 35-year veteran of the animation industry, says he cannot overstate the importance of social media for personal branding. Bancroft boasts more than 114,000 followers on Instagram, having started an account in 2015 to share his illustrations and stay relevant in the industry.

Bancroft, who is also the program director of the Animation and Visual Effects program at Azusa Pacific University, says he always tells students: “Really curate the content that you put out there so that it's uniquely you.”

And his advice works.

From working on a Netflix short to commissioned pieces of art, Bancroft has watched a number of his students get contacted directly through social media for projects big and small. Creating a personal brand doesn't have to be scary, hard or time-consuming. You just have to be yourself. Consistent posts, a few follows and some direct messaging can go a long way to open doors.

The way that third-year film student Trevor Dunnigan sees it, “The only thing you can do is help your case.”

In fact, nearly half of employers say that they are less likely to call a job candidate for an interview if they cannot be found online — and that's just for office jobs.

A seasoned “gaffer” on film sets around Chapman University, Dunnigan often does the hiring as well. And “I don't get someone's business card. I get someone's Instagram,” he says.

With just a few taps around someone's profile, from their main feed to their followers' tab, Dunnigan can gauge: What is the caliber of productions that this person works on? How frequently do they work? Who do we both know?

Trevor Dunnigan, student at Chapman University, aspiring cinematographer.Source: Ian Lock

Instagram Stories can be especially helpful for candidates if you don't want to risk tarnishing your personal account or create a separate “professional” one. Post a 24-hour Story to thank your colleagues at the end of a project, or create a permanent Story Highlight to show off the finished projects. Located right under your bio and above your posts, Highlights are in the perfect place for your most valuable content.

“There's a drone company actually here in LA that I ended up applying [to] based on their Instagram Story,” Dunnigan says. Before hitting send, he remembers thinking: “You know what, the worst thing that could happen is that they don't get back to me.”

Dunnigan never did hear back from the company, though he's glad he applied. Had he not followed the company on Instagram, he would not have found the opportunity at all. And, you never know — maybe a job opportunity doesn't work out now, but it could lead to something down the road.

For Greene, too, his current favorite platform is Instagram, “just because it has everything that TikTok can do and more.”

No matter which social media platform you use, experts recommend following influencers and pages in your industry. Stay in the know. Introduce yourself to others. Ask questions. Social media can help recruiters discover you — and it can also help you discover them.

Makena Yee is a senior at the University of Washington, Seattle. Last year, she was one of just four TikTok “campus representatives” at the university.

“When TikTok first came out, people were like, 'Oh, TikTok is for weirdos,' or whatever, but I love TikTok because I thought it was hilarious,” Yee says. “One day I stumbled across this video that was like, 'Hey, if you want to work for TikTok, you should totally apply' … So I decided to take that risk.”

Even now that Yee's time as a TikTok rep has ended, her risk continues to pay off.

In May, Yee posted a 60-second video as part of the soft launch of the “TikTok Resumes” pilot program, which she says resulted in more than 15 job inquiries and about six requests for interviews. Some of the responses she got included: “Sending this TikTok to my team,” “Hire her!!!!” and “Way to lead by example for others.”

Makena Yee, a senior at the University of Washington and a former TikTok college representativeSource: Monica Yee

Within the first 48 hours of the pilot program's official launch in July, TikTok says users had already submitted 800 videos using #TikTokResumes in their captions.

From its start, as a short-form video app with built-in creation tools, TikTok had naturally created new ways for recruiters and potential recruits to discover talent and opportunities. The Resumes program just went one step further to allow job seekers to apply directly for jobs at companies like Chipotle, Target or Shopify.

The submission period is now closed — and Yee is keeping herself more than busy with school, multiple jobs and two Instagram blogs of her own — though the senior says she would definitely use her video resume again if a company was looking for creativity.

Anyone can use social media to their advantage by following a few simple tips:

1.      Embrace the tools. 500,000 followers ago, Kahlil Greene had no design experience. Now, he runs three popular accounts himself using the platforms' built-in features as well as design apps like Canva and Bazaart. Of course, you don't need to become a “Gen-Z Historian” in the way that Greene did to reach career success through social media. There are more free tools available that make career-building easier than ever before.

2.      Do your research. What can you do that would support what your dream company is already doing? Look for the company's social media accounts, find out what values you share and make it all part of your pitch. Your job search will be more successful if you know which platforms are most popular in your industry and can speak intelligently about a company in DMs, cover letters or interview situations.

3.      Make connections. Connecting with employers through social media demonstrates three important qualities: confidence, drive and open-mindedness. You may even be able to reach staff who wouldn't be involved in your recruitment otherwise. “I've personally messaged a lot of cinematographers and just asked little things here and there,” says Trevor Dunnigan. “A kid in film school who is super interested in [what they do] wants to hear about it, and they're gonna send you paragraphs.”

4.      Show off your achievements. Your people skills may be great, but securing that interview or official offer will require that you have the right job skills. Even if you are still gaining experience, post to your social media pages about what experience you do have while you figure out how to get more. Don't worry if you don't have a portfolio like Tony Bancroft's animation students, either; using social media to showcase your work in any industry, in any form, can get you noticed.

5.      Be yourself. “You're allowed to have a private life,” says Korin Harris. Stick to LinkedIn if you want to, as the recruiter does in her work, but do at least use LinkedIn. Employers aren't looking for a perfect human being but qualified candidates. Present yourself in the best way you know how.

It is never too late — or too early — to start building your social media brand.

CNBC's “College Voices″ is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Sydney Segal is a student at UC Berkeley and is currently an intern for CNBC's social media team. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

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