The Promise and Perils of Social Media

Reflecting on the art of networking, Ambassador Kenton Keith jokingly paraphrased Woody Allen, saying, "Success is 99% showing up." The rise of social media has called into question exactly what "showing up" now means for networking. If you've only connected with someone via electronic means (like a LinkedIn request to someone you've never met), have you actually "shown up"? Have you actually cultivated a personal bond that will be helpful in your career contemplation and job search?

On these points I agree with Karl Dedolph, who told us in his profile interview:

Social media is a certain form of networking, but to me, you network in person. You might set up a networking opportunity virtually, but if success is based on relationships, the only effective way to have relationships is in person. And that's a piece of advice that I give to people in any kind of work. If the opportunity is there to do it in person, then you do it in person.

Social media platforms have created beneficial ways for us to find potential informational interview targets, to reconnect with college classmates, or to stay in touch with former coworkers. But virtual connections can't—and shouldn't—take the place of personal ones. It's not enough to gain a connection on LinkedIn, a friend on Facebook, or a follower on Twitter. When this is the extent of your tie to this person, your network has grown in number only.

Remember that all social media presence now has professional implications. You're creating a perception of who you are via your social media channels. Make sure what you're projecting is consistent with who you are, what you believe, and the perception you want to convey (see chapter 4 for further discussion on the importance of perception).

While the misuse of social media can definitely damage your career, its constructive use has potentially powerful benefits. As Menchu Mendiola-Fernandez, the vice president of communications at The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars (see chapter 7), told us:

You also want to use social media to help you, and you can do this in a number of ways, including creating a brand for yourself. Your connections will see your updates, or your tweets, or your blog posts, and this can show that you care about what you are doing.

Posting, tweeting, and blogging on issues you're passionate about—and using social media to highlight this activity—can, as Mendiola-Fernandez said, "give people the perception that you are serious and professional." But be consistent and have a plan. Intentionality in your social media use can turn it from a diversion, distraction, and potential downfall to a powerful networking tool.

Every Day, in Your Own Skin, You're Networking

Despite my affinity for informational interviews and social media, I still believe networking can't be forced. Like informational interviews, networking is not, in and of itself, about getting a job. While a job, an internship, or some other career-propelling benefit may come out of networking, we have to understand that networking is not predictable. It's building a platform; it's not a lock-step formula:

Going to this event + meeting that person + applying for a job + sending a thank-you note = CAREER SECURITY.

It rarely works this way.

If we view networking not as a grim necessity but as organically developing a web of reciprocal relationships, then we realize that we're networking all the time. Paul Binkley, former director of career development services at the George Washington University School of Public Policy and Public Administration and now an independent education consultant working in West Africa, phrased it in this way: "Every day you walk around in your own skin, you're networking." Every time we meet someone and a conversation ensues based on mutual interest, we're networking. Every occasion we meet a friend of a friend and talk about our interests or jobs, we're networking. Every day we do our work to the best of our abilities, we're networking.

Networking is an ongoing process with no end point. Larry Bacow, the president emeritus of Tufts University, told us that you have to take responsibility for your career, which includes being proactive and learning to "recognize opportunity when it walks up and hits you in the face." But as Dr. Bacow was also quick to point out, careers are often "a series of fortuitous accidents." You can't possibly map your entire career. Nor can you plan how your network will develop. Instead, let it develop organically, naturally, with genuine interest as a guiding principle.

"Get to know people for who they are," Belinda Chiu told us in her profile interview. "Some people you meet shut down when they think you can't help them now. You can tell when people turn off."

Malcolm Butler, former president and CEO of Partners of the Americas, put it another way: "There are a lot of relationships that are valuable to establish even if you don't know why at the moment. You don't have to have an agenda at any given point when establishing a relationship."

I take all of these points to heart. I never could have anticipated that getting to know Sherry would lead in the directions it has—namely, her invitation to coauthor this book. Also, I could not have known that when I first met Michael McCarry (my current boss), our relationship—based on a shared alma mater and similar interests, appreciation of humor, and compatible working styles—would lead to a job at the Alliance five years later.

As Sherry says, we're forever at the crossroads, forever in the position to take our careers in unexpected directions. We have to remain open to establishing the relationships that may take us in those directions, even if, at the moment, we've no way of knowing our exact destination.

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