Will Social Networking Get You a Job?

Peter D. Weddle

Networking is one of the best strategies for finding a new or better job. Right? Right. And, social networking clearly involves networking. Right? Right. So, social networking is the new and improved way to land the job of your dreams. Right? Wrong.

It's hard to miss the buzz about social networking. The media has been all agog over the rapid rise of such sites as MySpace. They attract millions of visitors every month, providing lots of opportunity for individual interaction and relationship building. While this activity is indeed networking, the most important aspect of its description is the adjective that defines it -- social. That may be a ton of fun, but it's unlikely to get you hired.
# In the past, I've used the term "e-networking" to describe electronic or online networking. But with the rise of the social networking, I've redefined it as "employment networking." E-networking -- employment networking -- is unlike its very social cousin in three important ways: It has a different purpose.
# It is done in a different way.
# It takes place on different web sites.

Let's explore each of those distinctions.
Employment networking has a different purpose

Boiled down to its basic purpose, social networking has a social goal: to find a date, to connect with someone who shares your hobby or other interest, or to expand your circle of friends with friends of your friends.

The purpose of e-networking, on the other hand, is to connect you with contacts who can help you land a new or better job. These contacts include current and former colleagues, former bosses and coworkers, and even recruiters. Of course, the interaction has a social component, and you should treat these individuals with the same courtesy and respect you would like to receive -- but its goal is employment, pure and simple.

Employment networking is done in a different way

Social networking involves informal introductions and casual conversations in cyberspace. Think of it as a virtual "Truman Show" where people eagerly and pleasantly meet and greet one another online. There's no obligation to participate, no downside to not doing so, and no performance standard to meet if you do participate.

E-networking, in contrast, requires active participation, and the quality of your effort determines the return you get from your investment of time. Why? Because the key to success in employment networking (whether it's done online or off) is giving as good as you get. You have to share your knowledge, information, and job contacts if you want others to share theirs.

No less important, that sharing must be done regularly so that it builds familiarity and trust among those with whom you network. Their confidence (in you) reassures them that they can safely refer you to a business associate or colleague. That reassurance is critical -- sharing friends on a social networking site isn't particularly risky; but putting someone in touch with a business contact is. It can damage reputations or even jeopardize employment, especially if the person you refer turns out to be less than business-like.
Employment networking takes place on different sites Since the purpose of e-networking is to find a new or better job, you must do it where you're most likely to connect with people who know of or have access to employment opportunities. That means your professional peers and the recruiters who focus on your career field and industry. The best e-networking venues are the discussion forums and bulletin boards at web sites operated by:
# National and state-level professional associations and trade groups
# Technical school, college, and graduate school alumni organizations

# Some affinity sites that may be important to employers (such as women in technology, African American certified public accountants, and veterans)

To find the best associations and other networking groups for you, try:
# Association Directory at my site. It's organized by career field and industry and is free to use.

# My WEDDLE's 2005/6 Guide to Association Web Sites. This book describes the networking resources at over 1,800 professional, technical, and trade associations in the U.S. and around the world. You can read more about it at my site.

Finally, please don't misinterpret my comments as critical of social networking; they're not meant to be. Social networking takes time, but it won't do much, if anything, to advance your job search. So, here's my suggestion: First, devote some serious energy to e-networking, and then, after that's done, go ahead and relax with a little social networking -- or better yet, get out and meet the neighbors.

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