The words ‘Social Media’ can stir up all sorts of thoughts. For some, it’s that Facebook picture they shouldn’t have posted; for others, it’s that tweet they wish they could take back. For many professionals, though, Social Media or Social Networking is a must have/must do item. And they maintain these types of sites very consciously.

Because there’s a continuing shift in how employers find employees, having a solid and active online presence is essential. Skills and experience are always necessary, but that’s pretty much all an employer sees on a cover letter and resume. For most employers, this just doesn’t cut it anymore.

So employers are turning to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to get a more comprehensive view of who you are—what you value, who you know, whether you stay current in your industry, and what you contribute in way of discussions and posts, for example.

And more and more, employers are using the web to find employees they think will fit with their company instead of relying on the traditional application process. Job boards are becoming a thing of the past, and many employers are posting ads directly on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Craigslist, Google AdWords and blogs

What to do-

If a simple Google search of your name turns up stuff that you don’t like, or if you’ve created a LinkedIn account, but haven’t maintained it, it’s time to take action. Because even worse than no online presence, is an online presence that is inaccurate, dubious, or outdated.

Let’s face it: staying on top of your online reputation may be the thing that gets you your next job, even if you’re not looking. Let’s say an employer finds you on LinkedIn, sees that you post interesting comments from time to time and put out a fairly popular blog. On top of that, your Facebook and Twitter pages don’t jeopardize you. This is all good.

In fact, one of the nice things about having an online presence it involves stuff most of us are doing anyway. And, even if you like your job at the moment, there may come a time when you’re laid off or find that you’re ready to move on. If you keep everything current and stay involved in your industry, the next job is going to be a heck of a lot easier to get.

If you wait to make connections until you’re looking for work, it’s just a bad way of going about things. You will definitely look desperate (and you kind of will be), as opposed to putting the time into building connections beforehand.

So start connecting now, get involved, and build your presence thoughtfully. Your work will definitely pay off.