When we think about our web presence and connectivity, many of us have a number of overlapping networks roughly sectioned-off – public versus private, personal versus professional, all-encompassing versus interest-based.
This is all too obvious for a large group of professionals that leverage LinkedIn to network, generate sales leads, recruit, and get hired for jobs. LinkedIn effectively brought recruiting to the 21st century, by mirroring our offline behaviour with online equivalents. Work experience? Check. Education? Check. References in the form of recommendations? Check.
LinkedIn took offline professional networking online, thus creating a space where all the schmoozing can take place, plus it stores your Rolodex for all to see. It works extremely well on many levels – its popularity and profitability is a testament to that success. But I wonder whether if it will be comfortable with its current demographic profile – middle-aged, manager-and-above wealthy clientele, or innovate along with its younger generation of users.
The biggest flaw I see with LinkedIn, is how closely it parallels our offline career trajectory and all the limitations that come with it. A resume is backward looking, because it reflects choices we’ve made in the past, whether they be our educations or careers. And it can be incredibly constraining, because it doesn’t open one up with more opportunities, should they want a chance at a non-typical, cross-industry move. At least not without a degree or piece of paper to signal that intention.
When I was in university, we had a bunch of career counselors that implored us to develop “transferrable skills” by telling us how people our age will have more likely than not, have between 5-10 different careers throughout our lives. Not jobs, not industries, but careers. That seems fantastical, even in today’s economy, where fluidity is at its peak. Moving into an entirely different career path without connection, a huge break, or getting further educated in that field, is next to impossible.
For example, many companies return to the same university campus to recruit year after year, because they are after that ultimate “fit”. And the school – through its molding and cultural immersion, will more likely than not spit out the type of candidate the firm is looking for. Some even go as far as putting a premium on applicants belonging to a specific sports team or fraternity, all in that illusive search for fit. Surely, the signaling effect of attending a certain institution, belonging to certain clubs, and playing a certain sports is strong. But as recruiting matures in a post-campus environment, there are more signals that can be, and should be taken into account when it comes to assessing candidates.
Right now, LinkedIn does little to facilitate and gather signals of change, should one become curious in an area outside of his/her immediate career path. That is a great shame, because so many of us are, in every age range and point on the career ladder. And given an outlet, a channel, and a community, many of us would take the plunge and invest our time and energy into learning, participating, and even contributing to a knowledge base of our “curiosities”, that may or may not eventually blossom into a change.
There are a number of networks out there that cater to our self-expression outside of the professional realm, even if they are not treated as such at the moment. The sharing capabilities now available in GoogleReader, the vast information net that is Delicious, and the inherently social tool that is Twitter, all in one way or another, operate as outlets for our interests. And with such tools, what it giveth – information, it taketh – indication of our interest and keeper of our input. And it surprises me that professional networks the like of LinkedIn as not been able to filter, absorb and internalize its members’ other social activities as part of their data set.
A year ago this time, I was stuck in the middle of a career transition. After two and a half years of working for two companies since graduation in a very stable, but not terribly dynamic industry, feeling restless but not knowing what else to do or where else to turn, I packed my bags and headed back to graduate school. After one semester, it was clear a future in academia was not in the stars for me, and I had to re-think the plan.
LinkedIn was not much help. It presented my profile in a chronological and two-dimensional state. The career possibilities open to me were almost identical to what a recruiter offered – the same industry as what I worked in before, in the same kind of role I performed before. It was infuriating, because breaking out of an almost arbitrary trajectory that your graduation job put you on, seemed next to impossible. And there came the limitation of LinkedIn: it binds you to the same network you already belong to.
And then Twitter came in and opened up a whole new world. Once I navigated my way through the noise, opening up dialogue, learning and participating was not only possible, but inevitable. And it serves just as effectively in signaling someone’s interests and intention, because keeping up with a social network, day in and day out takes the level of engagement and passion on a project that you cannot pinpoint on a resume alone.
Some would say Twitter flip, it’s glib, and it’s not deep or insightful. But it’s a starting point. Output from Twitter is not something easily digestible without some major filtering. There’s a torrent of other firehose one can readily plug into to probe further. You can find out a lot by about someone by reading their blog, tweets, their Delicious bookmarks, shared GR, and favourited Scribd or Slideshare files.
So on the professional side, our activities and participation across a wide spectrum of networks can very effectively augment our professional profiles. It can take the lifestreaming model of FriendsFeed to the next level, by having it serve a more impactful goal. On a more personal level, why aren’t online dating agencies crunching data from their members’ online profiles to provide better matching? If we are already online and sending out signals on a daily basis, why aren’t more services capturing that information and sending it back to us in a packaged business model?