Social Networks and Your Job Search

Bob Larson, CPC
Bob Larson, CPC

Social Network as a Career Safety Net

If you have avoided social-networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook with the excuse that they are the domain of desperate job hunters or attention-seeking teenagers, it’s clearly time to reconsider, according to an article in The New York Times. In a world of economic instability and corporate upheaval, savvy professionals are keenly aware of the benefits of brushing up on their online image and keeping it polished.

Take technology consultant Josh So, for example. When the 32-year-old from Dublin, Calif., learned he had 45 days to find a new job before his company eliminated his division, he turned to friends online. Within hours of updating his job status on the social-networking site LinkedIn, So won four interviews through his contacts there. Within a week, two of the interviews resulted in offers. And within less than a month, his employer counteroffered with a position in another division and a $25,000 bump in his annual salary.

While other job-hunting avenues are still extremely important, such as working with recruiters, the old business adage that it’s not what you know but who you know has taken a twist in the Internet era: it’s what you know about social networking sites that can get you ahead, the article pointed out. “Build your own inner circle of people you know are good—people you know will get you places,” So told the newspaper.

LinkedIn “is the place to be,” if you want to make professional contacts online, said the JupiterResearch media analyst Barry Parr.

LinkedIn has more than 200 million members and, according to the article, it is adding new ones at a rapid rate of every month—or about one new networker every two seconds. With that kind of mass demographic, LinkedIn is hard to ignore. But with that kind of scale, can it be useful? The answer is that it can be, if you use it judiciously.

LinkedIn is intended to appeal to its average user: the 41-year-old white-collar professional with an income of $109,000 a year. User pages are spare: a brief professional summary, a photo and a résumé. As you create your network, the site shows you people you may know through past jobs or educational institutions

And there is a search function so you can find people you don’t know but would like to—for instance, at a company where you want a job, the article noted. Granted, you might be shy about calling or e-mailing people you have neglected, but the social-networking sites let you avoid that. You are simply renewing the connection when you add a contact.

Further, you don’t have to fear you’ll be perceived as using them; they are on the site for the same reason. They might well intend to use you someday. Even so, don’t go crazy trying to connect with everyone you brushed past in the hallway 20 years ago, or friends of friends. Too many people can weaken your network.

But don’t be afraid to network strategically. You want to connect to people who can get you jobs. “People usually invite up—people above them in hierarchy,” said a spokeswoman for LinkedIn. “When you’re talking about a professional network, quality is so important.” So if the No. 1 tactic is to connect with people who are successful, how do you make sure you’re one of their worthy connections?

There are a few approaches, according to the article. Foremost is to ask for recommendations. Job-hunter So, who quickly parlayed his connections into job offers, said that having updated recommendations with his résumé on LinkedIn was crucial to being noticed. “The only way to get recommendations is to go out and ask for it,” So said. “It’s kind of a weird system. I typically go to my bosses and peers and say, “Do you mind?”

The flipside of that system is that it behooves you to be generous. Jeremiah K. Owyang, senior analyst at Forrester Research, has watched the growth of online social media since 2005 and advises social networking users to follow an 80-20 rule. “Give information and answer questions 80 percent of the time, and 20 percent of the time ask for help,” he told the newspaper. When a contact asks for a recommendation, write it graciously and promptly. If you think that person isn’t worth a recommendation, think again about being connected to that person.

And remember the other social-networking sites, the article pointed out. If LinkedIn is the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, then Facebook is the after-hours party.  The site makes it easy to carry on a casual conversation or ask group questions.

But the social ease of Facebook makes it easy to look frivolous, all the experts warn. If you tend to overshare, people in your network will quickly learn about the breakup of your marriage or your love of Jell-O shots. So perhaps the best tip of all for online social networking would be: Keep the social separate from the networking.