By Barbara Safani
By now you’ve probably heard that networking is one of the best ways to find a job. And perhaps you’ve heard about online networking and even dabbled in a few of the popular social media sites like Facebook. But with so many sites online, social networking can feel overwhelming. Career Consultants Diane Crompton and Ellen Sauter have broken down the ins and outs of online networking for career management and job search in their new book, Find a Job Through Social Networking.
AOL Jobs recently spoke with the authors to learn more about social networking’s implications for job search.
What are the main benefits of social networking?
Regarding career management in general, it’s no longer good enough to be known only within your company. All professionals need to establish credibility and visibility outside of their organization for their own career security and success. Also, if you are looking for a job, most professionals still land their next job through who they know. So social networking can play a critical role by providing an “at your fingertips” method of networking more efficiently and assertively with greater results in less time. Social networking tools can…
- Provide a way to establish a professional online presence that showcases your skills and accomplishments.
- Be an excellent way to affiliate with other “like minded” people and get useful information and advice.
- Particular to job search-help to identify employers and key contacts within those companies to target to elevate your visibility as a candidate.
- Attract potential opportunities by being more visible to recruiters and employers through having a well developed online profile.
- Stay relevant and abreast of industry trends through ready access to information and resources.
- Feel supported through the ups and downs
- Build business by using a time efficient tool and broad pool of individuals to prospect.
- Identify vendors, business partners and generate referrals.
What are the biggest mistakes people make when they network online?
- Not having a complete online profile. If you engage someone online in a dialogue or make a request, one of the first things they will do is to check you out online. By not having a complete profile, this could dissuade the person from connecting with you due to not having enough information about you to make a decision.
- Inconsistent, unflattering information. It’s a good idea to do an audit of your online presence before you begin to network online. As easy way to do this is to “Google” yourself and see what kind of an online presence you already have. Make sure all your online profiles are in sync and consistent in terms of the information shared, and that all the information is on brand, relevant information that portrays you in a good light.
- Poor etiquette. With the transparency of online networking tools it’s easy to forget that the same rules apply regarding networking online as in face to face networking. In other words, you would not walk up to someone in a social setting and push your rÃ©sumÃ© in front of them. You would most likely make small talk and try to build rapport with this person initially, knowing that several passes might be needed before a level of trust is established. The same principles apply to online networking. It’s Also important not to ask for too much too soon in the networking process.
- Non-thoughtful approach to making engagements. Be strategic but open minded when it comes to making engagements online. Even though someone is not in your literal industry, they could still be an asset in making new contacts. Also, make sure that you include your complete contact information in your messages to allow for seamless connections.
- Under leveraging social networking tools and applications. In addition to having a complete profile, leverage the applications that could further enhance your online image and interactions. For instance, on LinkedIn, there are applications which you can download which could showcase slide presentations, upload marketing material and share expertise-all of which could further enhance your professional image and make for better connections.
What are the top sites for networking online?
- LinkedIn: With over 80 million members in 200 countries worldwide and all of the Fortune 500 companies represented at senior management level, if you’re going to do one thing online for professional networking, this is it. It’s strictly professional and more buttoned down in terms of how you connect with others than other sites. There is a lot of privacy protection built in-which can be good or challenging depending. Open networkers may find LinkedIn constraining unless they pay for an upgrade to their membership.
- Facebook: Now busting at the seams with over 500 million members, this large population of members deserves attention. Over 50% of active Facebook members logon to the site every day. Facebook still has a more personal vs. professional feel, but it’s also evolved to include more functionality and applications for job seekers. So it’s a site to consider leveraging in addition to strictly professional sites.
- Twitter: Unlike the formality and buttoned down feel of LinkedIn, Twitter has a very casual, informal and “stream of consciousness” quality. Communication is rapid and constant with tweets about tips, relevant articles, musings and insight shared in short bursts of communication (140 characters or less). This is definitely a medium that is unlike any other and one that requires daily involvement to be effective. Could serve as a catalyst for other social networking sites, to increase traffic to a blog, for example.
How can people create an online presence without compromising their privacy?
If your first thought about social networking is that you’re scared to begin the process due to privacy protection, then you’re missing the boat. Think of it this way-you can either steer the ship regarding your online presence by developing a robust and relevant online profile(s). Or, you can let nature take its course and have more random bits and pieces of information online define who you are. LinkedIn already has a lot of privacy protection built in and there are steps to take to ensure that other online profiles are still more controlled (as on Facebook) through monitoring and managing privacy settings. You can leverage the transparency of social networking while still monitoring your privacy.
What about people in non-office roles? Do truck drivers and plumbers need to care about social media?
Even though you may be in a non-office position, you could definitely benefit from some of the beneficial aspects of social media. For instance, by having a professional profile on LinkedIn, you could more readily be found by consumers who may want to use your service, and you could also use this to prospect for new business. This will also provide a sort of electronic calling card where others could go online and check you out prior to hiring or contracting with you. This is also an excellent way to showcase your professional background and also find business vendors and partners. The fact that you are leveraging these tools could give you a distinct advantage over others in your field that may not be taking advantage of this medium.
How can people with very common names make themselves digitally distinct?
If you have a common name (e.g. Joe Smith), you may first want to “Google” yourself to see what and who else is “out there” who may share you name. Checking on this will trigger what kinds of actions you need to take with your digital naming convention. If you find that there are others who have a similar name to you and, if your name is buried under other search results, consider using a middle initial or including a middle name. To make this most effective, if you choose to include an initial for instance, it will be advantageous to make this change in all your related online profiles and self marketing material for consistency.
What can people do if there is negative information about them online?
The term “digital dirt” describes negative information lurking on the Internet that can damage reputations, cause embarrassment, prevent job seekers from getting hired, and even get people fired.
Digital dirt comes in all shapes and sizes and varying degrees of lethality. Typical examples of digital dirt are the following:
- Personal information you’d rather not share in the workplace.
- Controversial associations, opinions, or memberships.
- Embarrassing evidence of unprofessional behavior (such as photos of yourself appearing drunk and wild at a party).
- Public records or references to lawsuits or felonies.
- Information about your credentials that contradicts data on your resume or business marketing materials and therefore suggests you might be lying.
- Evidence of a moonlighting business that could be a conflict of interest with, or distraction from, your primary work.
Digital dirt doesn’t have to be disastrous. It can be simply something that is irrelevant to your professional reputation and distracts people from the real message you want to get across about who you are and what you have to offer.
If you have negative information or irrelevant information that bugs you, you have three choices for getting rid of it:
- Wash over it. Create so much new online content about yourself that the negative or irrelevant information is buried under fresher, more relevant, and more positive content. This method is also useful when you’re dealing with digital content that relates to someone else who shares your name. The more positive, relevant content you can create that is truly yours, the more you’ll stand out from the pack of Jane Smiths and John Does.
- Wash it out. Get rid of it entirely. Having online content deleted is not easy. Unless you or someone you know well created or posted the content in the first place, you might have a difficult time getting the owners of sites to remove the offending content.
- Wait it out. Take no active measures to hide or delete the content, but just let nature take its course. Nature, in this case, is the natural sequence of events in most reasonably active, visible professionals’ lives. We recommend this approach only if you write, speak, or blog fairly often.
Any closing thoughts on the importance of networking?
For all of us, the most important resource we have for managing our careers is our network of professional and personal contacts. These are the people who can benefit from our expertise as well as share their expertise and advice, introduce us to new contacts and opportunities, and support us through the ups and downs. By networking online, we can stay in touch more easily with people we already know and greatly expand our reach to new people who might otherwise be difficult to reach due to level of responsibilities, time constraints, or geographical location. Online networking shouldn’t be a replacement for face-to-face / traditional networking. But it’s a great addition to our networking activities.
In our roles as consultants for a career transition (outplacement) company, we hear the same lament over and over from people just starting their job searches…..if only I had gone to those professional meetings and kept up my network! Well, if you are currently in a job search, let us reassure you that you can build a network very quickly using online / social networking tools. And if you are currently working and just trying to manage your career, you should utilize online networking as a very time-efficient way to build those relationships for now and for the future!
The online networking landscape can seem confusing and overwhelming. We wrote this book to help alleviate the confusion. Whether you’re a beginner with social networking or already in the thick of it.
Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, has over fifteen years of experience in career management, recruiting, executive coaching, and organizational development.