Networking for Scientists Part III: Tips and Tricks for Online Social Networks

It’s 2012. Odds are you’re on a social networking site. And if you’re not, you need to be! At least for your job search. There are two kinds of social networkers: those who post every tiny detail that happens in their lives and those who do not. For the job search, you want to be somewhere in the middle. How you tailor your online profiles is very important. While you can keep the most stringent privacy settings, you never know who you know and you never know who will see what you post. An often overlooked fact about the internet that you should always remember is that everything you post is public! Always expect that potential employers WILL Google you.

That said, social networking can be a very powerful tool for the job search. You may argue that there is nothing like face-to-face contact or a phone call, and you would be right, however, in this modern age where the philosophy is “Go! Go! Go!” our interactions are becoming more limited to the electronic methods. One nice thing about social networking is that it takes nearly all the anxiety out of talking to strangers (see Networking for Scientists Part I). Contacting people online allows them to reply to you at their convenience and is not intrusive. Think of who you know, and, especially if you don’t have any other contact info, search for them on your social networks. Think of old high school or college buddies you don’t talk to anymore. Where are they working? What can they tell you? Can they get you a recommendation?

Different social networking sites can be used in different ways to help your job search. You may want to set up profiles on a few to increase your odds of making a useful connection. The key is using sites that are already used by lots of people (i.e., if you’re still on MySpace and nowhere else, you might want to switch) and that facilitate interaction. Here are some pros and cons and strategies to use for the top three:

1. Facebook

  • Pros: You have the ability to find people from your past who may be already working in your field or who know someone who is.
    Cons:
    Profiles often contains too much personal information and privacy settings change often without warning.
  • Privacy Settings: Check them! Facebook has made a number of changes over the years and some of the default settings are public. It is a good idea to change all your settings to “Friends only.” This way you are reducing your chances that potential employers will get to take a peek into your personal life. Don’t be fooled, however. If you are tagged in any photos or comment on someone else’s wall, what you post may be viewable depending on your friend’s privacy settings. Bottom line: remove any tags and anything from your page that you would not want an employer to know about you. Let your friends know you are job hunting and ask them to be discreet when it comes to your page. It is also a good idea to tailor your info section in a way that makes you marketable. Make sure relevant education and previous employers are listed.
  • Etiquette: Only look for people you have met before, or people with whom you may have an indirect connection. Send them a private message, leave it up to them to send a friend request. For people you have met before, you should ask how they are doing and then state that you’re currently job hunting and wondering how they like their current position. For people you only know indirectly, make the message more formal stating who referred you to them. State that you’re currently job hunting and that you would love a few minutes of their time to talk about what they do (See Networking for Scientists Part II).

2. Twitter

  • Pros: People are very approachable because the interaction is limited.
    Cons:
    People only tweet intermittently, so it is not easy to catch opportunities. It takes longer, relative to Facebook, to build a following. You cannot directly message (DM) someone who is not following you.
  • Privacy settings: Unlike Facebook, it is better for Twitter to remove your privacy settings to allow your followers to retweet you. This allows your tweets to reach a broader audience and possibly lead to more connections. Just remember to only tweet things that will be acceptable to employers. Assume that everything you tweet is 100% public. People that aren’t following you can’t see what others tweet to you unless you retweet it.
  • Etiquette: When someone you want to connect with tweets something of interest you can retweet it and reply with something interesting on the subject to catch their attention.  If someone follows you, follow back! Even if you don’t know them, you never know who will be following them and who could potentially see your tweets. Don’t play the follow/unfollow game: it is rude to follow someone with the sole intention to get them to follow you back and then when they do, immediately unfollow. Avoid spam tweets: don’t send a similar tweet tagging random people you don’t know. Take the time to build the connection by showing an interest in what they tweet.

3. LinkedIn

  • Pros: You can post your resume, ask previous coworkers to write recommendations for you or “introduce” you to people you want to connect with. There are also several common interest discussion groups you can join.
    Cons:
    There is less social interaction, so it may take more legwork to make connections than with other sites.
  • Privacy Settings: You want your information to be public here as the site is designed specifically for job connections. Allow anyone to see your connections as this may help you build credibility.
  • Etiquette: If you don’t know someone, look at their connections. If they are connected with someone you know, ask to be introduced. Don’t request a connection with someone you don’t know without an introduction.

When used properly, social networking can be a great resource for your job hunt. It takes a lot of time to do it right, but can be just as valuable as sending out resumes.  (For some tips on how to structure your days click here) If you are unfamiliar with any of these sites, set up a profile and explore! Make sure you check privacy settings first, and only interact with your close friends until you have a feel for how the site works.  When in doubt, handle social networking connections as you would like others to handle connections with you. You can always delete your profile if you decide it is not for you. Good luck!

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Karen Reece

Senior Research Scientist at Promega Corporation
Karen is a Senior Research Scientist in Nucleic Acid Technologies at Promega. She has a BS in Biochemistry and MS and PhD in Physiology, all from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Karen was born and raised in Madison, WI and every time she would think of moving away something would come up, so she just decided to stay. When she’s not doing research and/or development, Karen enjoys the local music scene (particularly Hip-Hop), playing the cello and singing, and fighting for social justice.

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