You may have heard the old adage: "It's all about who you know." This statement pre-dates the Internet, sometimes explaining why the boss's cousin was hired or why the CEO's golf partner was promoted to vice president. It holds a lot of truth, though, as statistics show people rate their connections, both professional and personal, as the most effective means of finding jobs [source: Ott, Blacksmith and Royal].
Whether you're changing jobs, moving in a new career direction, or just trying to move up the ladder, your social network can play a big role. Your social network is the web of connections you have with the people you know, the people they know and so on. Social network data has been used for everything from analyzing retail sales to tracking terrorist activities [source: The Economist].
Social networking is the effort you make to create and maintain relationships within that social network. You can do this face-to-face at conferences or at the gym, or you can connect with others online through Web sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. Social networking uses your professional and personal connections to move your resume to the top of the stack or to move you ahead in your career.
This article describes five ways -- listed in no particular order -- that social networking can help your career, whether it's based on who you know or who you're connected to online.
Online Profiles and Resumes Are Always On
One of the advantages of the Internet is that it's always on. This means that you can post your professional skills and experience, and make that information available to people anywhere, anytime. It also means that you can search for information about others, both in and out of your social network, when you need to.
Since the Internet began replacing the newspaper classifieds, professionals have been posting their profiles, resumes and portfolios online. You can do this too, though you'll need to make sure the content looks professional. You should use a businesslike domain and e-mail address, avoid distracting graphics that detract from the professional look of the content and use a hosting service that doesn't put ads on your page. This approach gives you a lot of control, but it also leaves you responsible for promoting the site to your social network.
Social networking Web sites like LinkedIn are filling in where these personal Web sites leave off. LinkedIn lets you create a free, detailed professional profile, including uploading files like a resume or portfolio. Plus, it helps you find and stay connected to colleagues and friends who may be in your offline social network. Social networking Web sites are a great way to communicate to your social network that you have a job opening you need to fill or that you're making your own career moves.
Regular updates to social networking Web sites are just one way to use the next timely social networking tip.
Communicate Changes in Your Career As They Happen
You develop your social network by meeting people and keeping in touch with them over time. One advantage of having a strong social network is that you can keep your associates informed about changes in your career as they're happening. As you spread the news, the people in your network, especially professional contacts, can provide timely advice or help finding the resources you need.
You can keep your social network informed in a variety of ways. Start by socializing at a professional function or a casual watercooler conversation in the office. Another way to keep your network up to date is to make brief phone calls to people you know and invite input on your new career move. Online, this translates to updates to your professional Web sites and social networking Web sites, plus e-mail messages to your contacts there. Even Twitter can help you get the word out, and may even help land interviews if you're looking for something new [source: MyJobGroup.co.uk].
There are, however, some potential downsides to keeping your social network informed about your career moves. One downside is that if you start openly seeking a new job before leaving your current one, the message may get back to your current employer and put your job at risk. Another downside to posting something online is that you might reveal information that's confidential to your current employer, putting you in violation of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which could get you fired or even put in jail. Choose your words carefully when speaking about current and past jobs to prevent these and other potential pitfalls.
The next page reveals how your social network can also inspire you to look at new paths.
Discover Career Paths You Hadn't Thought Of
When you're focused on the responsibilities of your current job, sometimes it's easy to overlook opportunities waiting around the corner. Your social network can help you stay in touch with these opportunities. This could mean doing the same job in a new scenario, or taking a completely new path you'd never considered.
To make these discoveries, start by staying informed about those in your social network who have the same or similar career paths to your own. For example, if you're a nurse, look to those who are nurses or have a nursing background. If you're looking to go on a new path, including changing your career altogether, look to those who are already on that path.
After you've identified those in your social network who are the same career path, find out more about their experiences. Look at where they go, listen to what they think about each job and each employer, and learn about the innovative ideas they're pursuing. You might discover ways you can contribute to their work, like offering your sales experience to help a former colleague starting a new business. Plus, you may be inspired to link multiple skills into a single career, like combining music and marketing skills to create catchy jingles.
The next page describes how extending your social network can extend your benefits.
Make New Contacts Through People You Know
People will come and go in your professional experiences, but they all make up the fabric of your social network. Yesterday's high school classmate might be today's business partner. Today's teammates and supervisors might be tomorrow's valued contacts and references.
The benefits of your social network don't just end with the people you know. When you have a positive professional relationship with someone, you can put in a good word for that person with others you know, and that person can do the same for you. This could lead to introductions that extend the direct connections you have within your social network.
Look for opportunities to add to your direct social network connections through introductions. You can find face-to-face introductions by attending professional functions like conferences and receptions. There, you can exchange business cards and make a personable first impression. Some career experts claim that your biggest benefit comes not from the number of connections you make, but from these physical connections where you can create a sense of trust [source: Balderrama].
You can also look for introductions online. For example, LinkedIn has a tool to suggest new contacts to people who aren't directly connected to you. This can serve as a type of online introduction. If you see that one of your first-line (direct) connections has someone in his network that you'd like to meet, you can ask him to introduce you through the Web site.
Sometimes, you're the benefit that someone else finds through social networking, as described on the next page.
Let the Job Find You
Even when you're not actively using resources from your social network, you can still be a resource for someone else. This could mean helping someone in your career field solve a work-related problem. In some cases, it could mean that you're the right person for a new job that someone in your social network is looking to fill.
All the social networking benefits covered so far provide the basis for this ultimate benefit. The Internet is always on, and you can keep your social network informed about your current skills, job status and career goals. Also, your associates may have contacts who would appreciate being introduced to someone with your skills and experience. You may receive inquiries about jobs you're qualified for, but that you may have never have considered.
If you have a strong social network, don't be surprised if someone contacts you looking for someone with your skills and experience. If your profile is online, you could hear from people you've never met. Recruiters and prospective employers often look at professional Web sites like LinkedIn in hopes of making new connections (this author has had two employers find her thanks to her LinkedIn profile.) If you're not interested in a job offer, be upfront and honest about why so you can keep the trust you've built with that social network connection.
Connect over to the next page for lots more information about how social networking can help your career.
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- Balderrama, Anthony. "Is getting a job really about who you know?" CNN. Sept. 16, 2010. (Sept. 21, 2010)http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-16/living/cb.who.you.know_1_job-hunt-job-seekers-connections
- Economist, The. "Mining social networks, Untangling the social web." Sept. 2, 2010. (Sept. 19, 2010)http://www.economist.com/node/16910031
- Knutson, Ted. "It's All About Who You Know -- and Who They Know." The Washington Post. Jan. 25, 2009. (Sept. 19, 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/24/AR2009012400586.html
- MyJobGroup.co.uk. "Twitter Users Top Of The File For Job Interviews." July 1, 2010. (Sept. 19, 2010)http://www.myjobgroup.co.uk/media-centre/press-releases/twitter-users-top-of-the-pile-for-job-interviews.shtml
- Ott, Bryant, Backsmith, Nikki, and Royal, Ken. "Job Seekers: Personal Connections Still Matter." Gallup Management Journal. Gallup, Inc. May 8, 2008. (Sept. 19, 2010http://gmj.gallup.com/content/106957/personal-connections-still-matter.aspx
- Van Vlooten, Dick. "The Seven Laws of Networking: Those Who Give, Get." Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science. May 7, 2004. (Sept. 19, 2010)http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/3010/the_seven_laws_of_networking_those_who_give_get