These days the career advice I hear most often is “go online and join a social network if you want to find a job”. While it is true that many people are finding jobs online through sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and the ACS network, it’s also true that just starting an account is not going to cause employers to beat down your door. To make the most of networking sites such as these, you must make them an integral part of your professional life, as well as a great online advertisement for YOU.
First, decide which ones you are going to join, and use. If you just set up an account and never visit the site again, you are wasting your time. Just like sending out resumes, determine where you are most likely to have success, then concentrate your efforts in that area. Surf around, or lurk on, various sites for a little while, and you’ll quickly figure out which are personal, which are professional, and which ones will work best for your particular purpose.
Once you decide to set up a professional profile on one of these sites, make sure it is a good one. Fill in as much information as possible about your current and past positions, career-related volunteer activities, knowledge, skills and abilities. Include all keywords that an employer might possibly search on, and a photo that represents the professional you. Include contact information – you don’t have to include your home address, but at least a reliable email address that you check and use regularly. In summary, make sure the entry is as complete and accurate as possible.
If possible, go beyond the basic profile. Include recommendations for and from peers and colleagues, links to additional information about your work, and join groups relevant to your professional interests. (Note that not all site have all these features.)
Next, start building your network. Find current and former colleagues, and connect with them. Don’t forget bosses, clients, and people you volunteer with outside of work. Watch the site for news of your connections connecting to others, and you’ll be surprised at how often you know the new person also. Send them an invitation to connect – but instead of using the boilerplate invitation, personalize it a little. Remind the person how they know you, and your acceptance rate will go up.
Don’t stop at just making connections. Update your status on a regular basis, letting people know what you are working on – without giving away any proprietary information, of course. Think about what new skills and responsibilities you want others to know about, and highlight those in your updates. Pose questions, and provide answers, in the discussion groups to which you belong. Over time, the information you post will provide followers with a picture of who you are, and what you can do. It becomes you personal brand, your online persona.
It goes without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that you should never post anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
Finally, don’t let your information go stale. Revisit the site on a regular basis and update your profile as your situation, or your professional responsibilities, change. Remember, this is your online resume, so you want to keep it as current as possible. After all, you never know when someone out there may need exactly what you have to offer – so make sure they can find you.
This article was written by freelance scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).