A Social Networking Newbie Finds His Way

Posted by: Francesca Di Meglio on May 27, 2009

With the economy in turmoil, many MBA graduates are finding the job search tough going. To give readers some insight into the strategies they’re pursuing and the difficulties they face, BusinessWeek has recruited four out-of-work MBAs to write about their experiences for a new feature called “The Hunt” that will appear periodically on the Getting In blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.

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By Michael Janger
Since I graduated from college, the nature of my job hunt has changed dramatically. In those days, I would go to the store to buy high-quality resume paper in bulk, hit the libraries to research companies, and print out each cover letter, literally sign it, and mail it off (making sure to have the correct postage – I once sent 10 cover letters with old postage stamps the day Postal Service prices went up). Today, I use the Internet for practically all my job hunting needs. I send my resumes and cover letters via e-mail and the Web, and research my target companies and clients on Google, the world’s online library. Some people have even set up Web sites to advertise themselves. Even now, the Internet is continuing to evolve from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, as new social networking Web sites impact the job hunt in both dramatic and subtle ways.

When I think of social networking and the job search, the first thing that always comes to my mind is the unfortunate story of Jon Favreau, President Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter. At a party during Obama’s presidential campaign, Favreau posed with a life-size cardboard cutout of rival candidate Hillary Clinton, his hand “grabbing” the area of Clinton’s breast. This picture was posted on Facebook for everyone to see, and prompted an apology from Favreau to Clinton. It was nonetheless an embarrassing episode for Obama who had just been elected president and had released a list of ethics guidelines governing the hiring of people under his new administration. More importantly, it underscored the potential impact of past behaviors on the marketability of someone who is applying for a job. Although Favreau has Obama’s complete support and Clinton accepted his unsolicited apology, this story reminded me of the importance of appropriately marketing myself through social networking sites, or for that matter, the Internet in general during the job search.

I joined Facebook only this past December, and Twitter just last month. I avoided Facebook for the longest time possible out of privacy concerns, to the point that I was using my fiancee’s account to check out my friends. When she threw down the gauntlet and told me to get my own Facebook account, I decided to jump into the unknown. It has been a fascinating experience. As I reconnect with elementary school classmates who I have not seen in years, and share stories and jokes with buddies around the world, I am starting to realize that the line between professional work and social interaction can easily become blurred in this medium. Just last week, I accepted a friend request from my former boss, the first time I ever became Facebook friends with someone my professional senior. As much as I want to keep Facebook a strictly social medium where I can gab with my friends over virtual beers, it is difficult to control who sees my information. It is like facing my own paparazzi who are interested in my every move.

For these reasons, it is important that I be as presentable and marketable as possible on Facebook, and even at social events that have nothing to do with the job hunt – because any pictures of you could and will get posted on Facebook. (See Favreau, Jonathan.) Some people take a looser view of how they use Facebook, and are more comfortable posting off-color jokes and pictures of themselves at wild college parties. To each his own. In many ways, Facebook has been a terrific way for me to not only connect with old friends, but also to find out what they are doing now and, perhaps, find some useful leads for my own job search.

Twitter is a trickier medium for me to figure out. I joined the service last month (my handle is @michaeljanger if anyone wants to follow) and after some frequent use initially, my usage has tailed off. What’s amazing about Twitter is that anything I post gets read by everyone, unlike Facebook which is a closed portal where friends only see my posts. So, I try to keep my Twitter posts on the high road and try to make it interesting, as I use it mostly to search current news and information. But when it comes to the job hunt – even though people do post jobs on Twitter (@twitjobs is one example), I have not been able to wrap my hands around how helpful this would be for the job hunt. The most useful application of Twitter, as far as I can figure out, is to treat this as a mini-LinkedIn. I can search the Twitter people database for people who have the kind of interests I am looking for, follow them, and if needed, message them.

Much more so than Facebook or Twitter, the most useful social networking medium for the job hunt has always been LinkedIn, which I have been a member of for years. It is actually more appropriate to call it a business networking website, since most of the interactions within LinkedIn are business-oriented. The best, most effective use of this site for job hunting is the Groups feature, which is a powerful tool for connecting with people with similar interests. I would cold call some people I find through Groups who have the backgrounds and interests I am looking for. The response rate would be less than 50% in many cases, but the responses I have gotten have been tremendously helpful in terms of information and leads.

Web 2.0 is truly making a difference in the job hunt. More and more people are becoming interconnected, increasing the amount of nodes in a network that each of us can access. Ideally, a successful job hunt involves extensive use of networking, which Web 2.0 easily provides. The bar has been raised – it is not simply enough to have many people in your network. It is more important than ever, in an age when everyone is overwhelmed with information, to personally and proactively interact with specific people in your network to get the information and the leads you want for your next job.

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