You attend job fairs, show up at networking events, and go to industry conferences whenever you can, all in hopes of meeting people who can help you land a job. While you’re spending hours each day surfing the net (c’mon, we all do it!), why not turn that pastime into another networking opportunity?
That’s what Priya Gupta did. Gupta is working on her Ph.D. in atomic, molecular and optical physics at Rice University. In December of 2006, she started looking into a career in industrial research—but she had no industry contacts who could share information with her and help her find job openings. So Gupta joined the professional networking site LinkedIn, which uses the “six degrees of separation” concept to help people create extensive networks. “I got in touch with some engineers, researchers and recruiters who are working in industries that interest me for career opportunities,” Gupta says. “Once I got in touch with them, they were able to provide me with more information about the industry and job openings and also help forward my resume to the right people.”
You’d rather watch YouTube videos of people pretending to be Jedi warriors than spend your online time doing yet more tasks related to your job search. Why bother with online networking? Here’s why:
- If you join a site that allows you to post a resume or profile, hiring companies can find you instead of vice versa. “Headhunters use networking sites, corporate recruiters use them, managers use them,” says Martin Yate, CPC, an executive career strategist and author of Knock ‘em Dead 2007, the Ultimate Job Search Guide (Adams Media). “If you’re visible and your resume or biography has the right keywords, when headhunters are searching for someone with your background, they’ll find you.” Take it from Joe Slevin, owner of the recruiting consultancy JJ Slevin & Associates: “As a recruiter, I go to all those sites and find people on them,” he says.
- You expand your reach. “You could go to local Chamber of Commerce meetings until you’re blue in the face and would meet the same universe of people,” says Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of the women’s technology networking group WorldWIT, Inc. “Online networking gives you the power of technology and the mechanisms to reach people you would never have been in contact with otherwise.”
- You can get referrals. On some sites, like LinkedIn and Friendster, you make connections through people you already know—it’s the “six degrees of separation” concept. You wouldn’t believe some of the people your friends know (and some of the people who know the people your friends know)!
- You can glean insider information. People in the industry you hope to land in participate in networking sites, post in forums, and run blogs—so they’re visible and approachable online. If you play your cards right, they may share information with you on job openings, industry happenings, internships and other important data.
- It’s better than a resume. On sites like LinkedIn and MySpace, you create a page or profile that lets you present yourself in creative ways and convey more information than a standard one-page resume.
- You can do spin control. “We’re in a world where everything about us is public,” says Yate. “So the pictures of you projectile vomiting at a fraternity party are the pictures you show to the world. When you start your job search, you can go to Friendster and MySpace and anywhere else you’re visible and fix your image.”
Working the Web
Ready to start networking your way to a new career? Here’s a list of some of the most popular sites for networking. And don’t knock non-professional sites like MySpace and Friendster: “The connections you make that become valuable to you aren’t always the ones you meet in professional organizations,” says Allan Hoffman, a tech jobs expert for Monster.com. “You may meet someone through a running club, for example, and those connections may end up also having professional value because those people are also working people.”
- Classmates.com (www.classmates.com): Search for old classmates by company from among 2.5 million members and 2.3 million companies.
- Facebook (www.facebook.com): Facebook is made up of many networks—individual schools, companies or regions—that are independent and closed off to non-affiliated users. You can create profiles to connect with friends, share interests, join groups, send messages, write notes and post photos. There are 13 million users in 40,000 networks.
- Friendster (www.friendster.com): Meet new people through people you already know. There are 36 million members.
- LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com): Create a profile that summarizes your professional accomplishments, connect to people you know, and add connections by inviting trusted contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you. This site, which has 8.5 million members, lets you contact people in your connections’ networks as well.
- MySpace (www.myspace.com): Create a private community. You can share photos, journals, and interests with a growing network of mutual friends.
- Ryze (www.ryze.com): Members get a free networking-oriented home page and can send messages to other members (there are 250,000 of them). They can also join special networks related to their industry, interests or location.
- Tickle (www.tickle.com): Connect with groups of people by company, university, interests or other criteria. There are over 14 million members.
- Women in Technology International (www.witi.com): Network on WITI’s message boards, search for members in the membership database, and join the WITI Group for networking on LinkedIn.
- WorldWIT (www.worldwit.org): WorldWIT is an online and offline network for women in business and technology. Men are also welcome!
- Tribe.net (www.tribe.net): This site lets you find groups of people with similar interests.
- ZoomInfo (www.zoominfo.com): Not a networking site per se, ZoomInfo delivers searchable information on over 33 million business professionals and two million companies across virtually every industry.
Hone Your Profile
Sites like LinkedIn, MySpace and Ryze let you create a profile page. The profile is like a resume, but with more room to brag about your accomplishments, personalized elements like photos, and a style that differs depending on the type of site, from hip to professional.
You’ll want to create a profile that jibes with the site you’re on. For example, don’t create a profile on a site like MySpace, which is all about youth culture, that talks only about your job interests and the projects you did in college. Along the same lines, don’t create a LinkedIn profile that brags about your air guitar prowess. Instead, keep your profile in sync with the atmosphere of the particular site. On the less job-oriented sites, “Use your profile in very subtle ways to make clear you have goals beyond listening to music and other interests,” says Hoffman. “You really need to be honest and genuine and in tune with what that site is about.”
Since these sites give you plenty of room to talk about your accomplishments, don’t skimp. For example, you can list the technologies you’re proficient in, the classes you’ve taken, responsibilities you’ve had at jobs or internships, and even projects you’ve worked on. “A lot of times recruiters will ask team-related questions,” says Slevin. “List a couple of projects you’ve worked on and what your responsibilities and contributions were.” But even though you can put in as much data as you want, don’t make potential employers’ heads hurt with too much irrelevant info. “Don’t put down that you worked as a bartender,” Slevin says. “How will that help me? You’ll be competing with individuals who are working in a lab. Also, don’t put down your whole curriculum, but only core courses.”
Finally, be sure to include your email address in the profile so potential recruiters can contact you. Avoid cutesy or personal addresses like email@example.com, which look unprofessional. Instead, create an address that includes your name or something relating to your professional background. You can create multiple addresses for free on Gmail (www.gmail.com).
Do It Right
Want to become a pro at online networking? We asked the experts for their best tips that work with networking sites, forums and blogs.
- Start early—like now. “Networking is something you need to start thinking about as early as you can,” says Hoffman. “You can’t network your way into a job in the two months before you graduate. Networking takes many months and many years to pay off.”
- Don’t forget blogs. People from all different industries run professional blogs. “You can email the creators about their articles and post comments about their weblogs,” says Hoffman. “That’s a way to enter the conversation and get noticed, and it will potentially yield some contacts.” Or take it one step further and start a professional blog yourself that offers news, your insights on the industry, and other information of value to readers. You can get started with a free blog host like Blogger (www.blogger.com) and a book like Blogging for Dummies by Brad Hill (For Dummies, 2006).
- Be a joiner. Join and participate in email lists that relate to your industry; members have gone out of their way to find and join these groups, so they’re likely to be serious about their profession and full of helpful advice and contacts. “They’re not official professional associations, but there are so many Yahoo groups or listservs or even usenet groups that can be useful,” says Scott Allen, co-author of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online (AMACOM 2005). To find groups, check out Yahoo! Groups (yahoogroups.com), Google Groups (groups.google.com) and the search engine tile.net.
- Make it easy. You’re more likely to get help from people you network with if they can give it on their own terms. “People are amazingly willing to help when it’s very low risk and fairly low effort for them,” says Allen. “Ask if they’ll agree to one email exchange or ten minutes of their time on a phone call. Leave it up to them, and let them tell you which medium they prefer. They may want to meet for coffee or have a phone call, but if they want an email dialog, don’t question that.”
- Check your spelling. On both your online profile and in your emails, you want to present yourself as the smart and professional person you are. That means checking your spelling and grammar and double-checking every online communication you have. “Don’t do what I did this morning and send an email to the wrong person,” says Yate. “Spell-check and make sure it’s properly punctuated...especially check the name of the person. This is all they have to judge you on.” Don’t rely on your computer’s spell-check function, which doesn’t know that you meant to write “friend,” not “fiend”—read it over yourself or ask someone to do it for you.
- When you ask for information, advice or a referral, give the person a reason to want to help you. “I don’t mean you have to offer to mow their lawn, but say something like, ‘I notice you also went to RIT, and I was wondering if you had a minute for a chat,’” suggests Ryan. Read the professional’s profile if they have one and look for commonalities you can mention in your request, such as the same hometown or alma mater.
- Don’t ask for a job. Rather than using online networking tools to ask people to hire you, which can turn off some professionals, use them to gather information that will help you in your job search. If you’re on a forum or approaching a professional on a networking site, ask questions about what industry resources other members recommend, which companies are doing exciting new things in the industry, and other advice. “People respond very well when you ask for advice instead of ‘do you have a job,’” says Hoffman. “You can develop a relationship with the person beforehand by asking questions. People will see that you’re young, enthusiastic, and driven, and then they’ll be very willing to respond when you ask about the next step you should be taking.”
- Networking for informational interviews. On that same note, instead of coming right out and asking for a job, use online networking to find people you might be able to interview informally to learn more about their company, position or profession. “If you know the job title or company you want to work at, try to find people in a similar career trajectory and contact them on an informational basis,” says Luo. “Ask them how they got to where they are, pros and cons, things they enjoy, and advice they can give for someone a few years behind them.”
- Say thanks. Nobody likes to feel used, and that’s how he or she will feel if they give you a referral and never hear from you again. This happens often, which is bad news for many online networkers, but good news for you, because when you send a thank-you note you will stand out in the crowd of rude job seekers. “It’s easy to be rude online, and that can give people a black eye in terms of their reputation online,” says Ryan. “You have the responsibility to treat people well, and not just because of who they know. It’s basic etiquette.” If someone goes out of his or her way to give you a referral or share industry information or advice, send an email or, even better, and hand-written thank-you note.
- Stay in touch. Don’t network and run! If you network online, by the time you graduate you may have a contact database with hundreds of names on it. Email them occasionally (using the BCC function to keep their addresses secure) to let them know when you score a coveted interview, take on an internship or land a job, suggests Ryan. “You’re cultivating a relationship of value over time, not just during the job search,” she says.
- Don’t dis real-life networking. It’s true that online networking expands your reach, lets you provide plenty of information about your skills, and helps you gather information about industries and job openings, but sometimes nothing beats a firm handshake. Use the Internet to make initial contacts and gather information, but try to set up real-life meetings and interviews when you can. Says Ryan, “Online networking doesn’t replace face-to-face networking, but in terms of getting things started, it’s a drastically different world for job seekers.”