A chance to use your online network for good

May 12, 2011

I’m helping Think Out Loud, a radio show in Oregon, with an experiment: Can a few digitally connected people help a job seeker who’s not networked online?

Carol Castle worked for a paper mill in Portland, Ore., for 25 years before getting laid off two years ago, one of the recession’s many victims. She has looked for a job since then, but to no avail. Her unemployment benefits are about to run out.

I first spoke with Carol during a radio segment about looking for work, and later interviewed her for a story about how the digitally challenged can navigate the world of online job search. Then Think Out Loud approached me about this experiment, one that would test the power of online networking. If we put our social networks to use for Carol, who is not active in the digital world, would she be able to find a job?

So I ask: Do you know anyone who’s hiring an administrative assistant or secretary in Portland, Ore., or a nearby city? Or can you forward this along to someone who might know someone?

It’s intriguing, this idea that our networks might fill Carol’s digital gap. And I’m happy to help because I’d love to see Carol get hired.

But the truth is, lending Carol our digital Rolodex isn’t as powerful as what Carol could build herself. Here’s why:

Your online brand gives you credibility. My online brand does not give Carol credibility. It might give her some, if I vouch for her, but I can’t even do that in this case because I’ve never worked with her (or met her in person). My digital network might offer access to more people and companies who are hiring, but if they can’t check out my online brand and know Carol would be a smart and dependable worker, we’re only halfway there.

Your online network is about long-term relationships. Not a one-day request for a job. You can’t put word out that you’re looking for a job and expect to get an immediate response from your contacts. The best responses don’t come until weeks or months later. That’s because once you let your network know you want a new job, they’ll keep you in mind and think of you when an opportunity arises.

In Carol’s case, we’re asking whether anyone knows of an administrative position available at this very moment, but our networks probably won’t think of Carol when a job opens up a month down the road, because her face is not appearing in their Facebook or Twitter feed. I’m no longer actively job hunting, but I still get references from people in my network who remember I was looking for a job months ago. That works to my advantage because it means my next opportunity is likely to come to me before I go looking.

Your network is primarily in your industry. I know journalists, social media types and travel writers, people who are interesting and helpful to me. That network might be somewhat useful for Carol, but it won't be nearly as helpful as the network she could build herself around her own interests.

I’m not shooting this experiment down before it begins; on the contrary, I’ll be sleeping tonight with my fingers crossed in hopes that Carol gets a job. But this shows, once again, how important it is to build your own online presence. Because when it comes to your digital footprint, your social network, your personal brand or whatever you prefer to call it — no one can build that for you. This is one career move you’ve got to make for yourself.

For more on the job-search experiment, check out Bridging the Digital Job-Search Divide.

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    4 Replies to “A chance to use your online network for good”

    • Emma says:

      Interesting idea! I sent the info to my two LinkedIn contacts in Portland. Good luck to Carol!

    • This is a great idea…somewhat like a large community of headhunters:) Online presence is really crucial, especially when you try to keep abreast of any industry. People tweet about what trends at any given moment. That said, I recently found a job (part-time, which works for me as a mom of a toddler) that grew from my volunteer efforts. The job did not exist before I filled it. The organization offered me a position as a grant writer, though that was not my field before maternity leave. My hard work, competence, my years working toward a literature PhD (I stopped when writing my diss. as my priorities had shifted and I no longer need the degree), and my years teaching persuasive writing to undergrads all helped me. Online presence had little to do with getting me the job, but networking did–volunteering, telling everyone I was on the hunt for a job, advice from Alexis–thank you!–and everyone I know. Every connection helps even if you do not see the effects at the time…

      I have high hopes for Carol. No one can do anything alone and this community will help her, even if to show her a new path or the benefits of networking when you like your job and it suits you at that time in your life.

      Thank you for sharing and good luck to Carol!

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