Sunday, June 27, 2010

Making Social Networking Technology Work for You: A Recruiter's Perspective

Recently a job opening came up in my company for a recruiter. Naturally, I turned to my network to find candidates. Unlike the strategy I would have used five, three, or even two years ago to access my network, in 2007, I now turn to social networking technology.

Social networking sites abound and confusion swirls about the appropriateness of using them for business. While some sites cater primarily to the social needs of the millennial generation, others are not only legitimate for business use, but essential elements for any successful networker's toolkit. While millennial generation-based, purely social sites (such as MySpace and Facebook, despite the growing acceptance of Facebook as a business-related site) have been recently trying to spin themselves as sites for business, most professionals I know avoid them like the plague. As I tell my colleagues: Just as I don't look for potential employees on dating sites, I don't go looking for them on purely social networking sites. I stick to business networking sites (such as LinkedIn).

Too often as I give workshops around the country, I hear people say that they've put a profile up on a business networking site and "nothing happened." Putting a profile up is the equivalent of going to a business networking event alone, not wearing a nametag, and standing in the corner by the stuffed mushrooms. Business networking sites are valuable ways to leverage your existing networks and develop new ones. These sites also offer features that allow users to regulate the kind and frequency of contacts obtained, making it easy to “work” your network, but you do actually have to put some work into it. Here's how to make business networking site work for you:

  1. Take time completing your profile and thinking about who you want to find you. If you are looking to use a business networking site as a platform for job searching, make sure that your job history is fully described. Because it takes time to do, many social networkers simply list the title and current company. Think about the recruiter looking to find you. While I may be looking for a person with your title, I'm just as likely to be looking for key words. Describe each of your positions in 100 words or fewer.

    If you are using a business networking site to develop business, ensure that you fully describe the goods/services you are offering. You might also consider listing client companies. If I am looking for someone who has experience selling to Target, I will likely use that as a key word to query the network. Profiles with that key word will pop up for me.

  2. Understand the contact settings on the business networking site. Each business networking site has contact settings, and they vary. Read the explanations of the contact settings and make sure that yours are set appropriately. Are you interested in talking to people who want to get the inside scoop on your company? Want to talk to salespeople? Want to hear from headhunters? The reason that business networking site work so well as that these contact settings work as filters. Don't want me to contact you about a fabulous job at my company? Set your contact settings appropriately.

    As you begin to grow your network, respect the contact settings of others. Do not be a social networking slimeball: If someone's contact setting says no sales emails, then don't send one. Business networking sites are quite adamant about this protocol; violate the contact settings, and you can be reported by the person you reached out to inappropriately. In this case remember that inappropriate doesn't (only) mean solicitations for money-laundering schemes; inappropriate means sending a solicitation of any kind that is contrary to the person's contact settings. No means no.

  3. Understand keyword loading. Keyword loading is all the rage, and for good reason. People searching a business networking site will often search by keywords, and those key words may NOT be those that appear organically on your profile. Here's an example: as a recruiter, I am always looking for Power Electronics Designers (in fact, if you are one, call me right now). When I am searching a business networking site, I will use search terms including "power electronics" but also "electrical engineer," "MSEE," and "feedback control systems." For all profiles, I recommend including 35 keywords related to the job you are looking for or the service you seek to provide. In this way, you maximize the chances that your profile will be returned in a search.

    Many business networking sites do not have a section for keywords. Simply list them at the end of your profile. Do not bother to repeat words that appear in your position description already; they are already there! Instead, concentrate on job titles, concrete skills, clients, and competencies. A word of caution here: Don't bother to waste the space by keyword-loading soft skills; I will never search a business networking site for "people person."

    Here's an example of a keywords listing for an English major looking to break into advertising and PR: corporate communications, marketing assistant, greeting card writer, editor, scientific and technical writing, PageMaker, Quark, grammarian.

  4. Decide on your networking style. Most sites allow unlimited networking, meaning you can connect with as many people as you like. The social networking community as a whole seems fairly evenly split on sheer numbers of contacts vs. contacts with people you already know. Some networkers believe that the more connections they have, the better. Others believe it is important to know every person in their networks. While it's not necessarily important to immediately decide which social networking philosophy you ascribe to, you will be presented with this decision fairly regularly.

    My strategy varies according to the different networking sites. On sites where it is a practice to recommend one person in my network to another person, I take a very conservative approach; I connect only with people I know and can actually recommend. This strategy isn't as limiting as it may seem, as I operationalize "know" fairly loosely -- colleagues, business acquaintances, people who have attended a workshop of mine and followed up after. I like to know a little bit about the people in my network, and I want them to know a little bit about me. After all, when I make a referral, I am de facto endorsing this person, and I want to know whom I'm endorsing.

  5. Personalize your networking and connecting. As you reach out to expand your network, take the one or two extra minutes required to personalize your networking and connecting. Some sites have automated, canned invitations to connect. Without exception, I delete invitations from anyone who has not bothered to insert a personalized note into the invitation. Don't have the time to add five or six words to personalize? Then I don't have the time to answer.

    Remember, social networking technology is an equivalent of a big online networking reception. You would never approach a person and say as your opening salvo "can I have your business card." Instead, you would introduce yourself, chat a few minutes and then exchange cards.

    Similarly, if you are unsure if a person in your past will recognize who you are, remind him/her of who you are and your past relationship. One of my favorite graduate students of all time just reached out to me through a business networking site with this message: "Not sure if you remember me -– hope we can connect." Now because he is one of my favorite graduate students of all time, I did remember him, but if I had not, this wouldn't have been a good message. This message is the in-person equivalent of someone who comes up to you at a networking event and says "you probably don't remember me" and then stands there. Much better to say/write: "Hello Mark, we worked together at Northeastern University in Student Activities. Now I am working as an equities broker at Fidelity. So good to connect with you."

  6. Mind your manners. Some sites allow you to solicit and receive endorsements from people in your network. Small tidbits of recommendation, these help add gravitas to your profile. If asked to make a recommendation, consider if you know the person well enough and if you have good things to say. If you don't have good things to say, don't write a mediocre recommendation. The reason? Your recommendation is shown both on your page and on the recommendee's page. You don't want your profile to be diluted with a number of milquetoast recommendations.

    If you ask for and receive a recommendation or a referral for a job take two seconds and write a thank you email to your network. Social networks, like all good networks, are fed both good intentions and good actions. If someone does a good turn for you, at the very least say thank you.

Final Thoughts
Social networking on a business networking site is an essential way of doing business. It's a new technology and early adopters are getting the most out of their networks. Get out there, create a profile and get networking; you'll be happy you did!

This article are written by Maureen Crawford Hentz

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