Following reports of US companies demanding Facebook logins and passwords from potential candidates, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office last year warned employers that it would have ‘serious concerns’ if this practice of so-called ‘shoulder surfing’ were to become prevalent here.

But be aware that an increasing number of employers are supplementing the information they glean from CVs with social media checks. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, as many as 37% of employers are screening prospective employees on social media before they make the final cut. And in a survey conducted by Microsoft in 2009, 41% of UK recruiters said they had rejected candidates based on their online reputations.

Katerina Rudiger from the CIPD says it is important to check your privacy settings and the type of information you are placing online. "We all have nights out but it is best not to advertise it," she said. So while you are polishing your CV, make sure your Facebook settings are private and you have a profile picture you’d be happy to show your next boss.

Social media can be an incredibly effective way to enhance your career opportunities, however. An attractive, up-to-date professional online profile could give your application the edge in a competitive field. LinkedIn has grown enormously – to the extent that any professional without a LinkedIn account might feel isolated, suggests the CIPD, which believes LinkedIn’s increasing use as a recruitment and recommendation site makes it central to the sort of collaborative and networking skills increasingly important in business.

“Think of it as an extension of your CV,” advises Consultant James Fairfield. “It’s quick and easy to keep current, and for some professions LinkedIn is more prominently used than other digital channels. It’s also one of the most active ways that candidates can boost their employability,” he recommends.

To enhance your online presence, concentrate your efforts on the key areas that attract employers’ scrutiny:

• Complete your profile so it gives an accurate picture of who you are and your core skills
• Include keywords in your professional summary and job descriptions that will ensure your name comes up in searches
• Don’t feel the need to describe every job you’ve ever had. Tailor your profile to the job you want
• Make sure your photo presents you in a professional light
• Increase your credibility with at least three recommendations
• Check your connections. Industry peers, past-colleagues, ex-managers will show that you are good at networking and are well respected within your industry. Avoid too many based on friendship
• Join and participate in industry Groups 
• Keep coming back – at least every month or so

Bear in mind that employers are using LinkedIn to gain a more rounded view of who you are, says Murray Dare, Marketing Executive at Randstad Technologies. “It gives a sense of a person’s character and their interests out of work. Employers can get a feel of what a candidate has done and achieved, and whether that person will be a successful fit with the company.” 

Don’t underestimate how your online presence can enhance your chance of success. Once you have established your profile, Dare advises updating skills and relevant information at least every three months, rather than in a flurry of activity only when you are actively looking for a new position. “If you’re going to have it, work at it. Some people are lucky and get noticed – but those who work harder are luckier.” 

For more reading: