I spent a good chunk of the last two weeks, my vacation, setting up a social media presence for some of my nieces and nephews who are either in the process of applying to colleges or have just begun their careers.
Geek that I am, I bought them domain names, set them up with a basic presence, and have heaped upon that the advice I can give them informed by my experience in online communication.
The responses thus far have ranged from emphatic cooool!s to uncertain oh-kaaaaays; to which I’ve responded yeah! and trust me, respectively.
Back in the day when I was coming up, there were no such thing as “mentors;” they were the guys who taught apprentices, and apprenticeships were a relic of the 18th century. Consequently, while I had no one giving me the advice I so desperately needed but didn’t know I needed, on the flip side, I wasn’t called a “mentee,” so I had that going for me. Which was nice.
Anyway, I’m all too happy to offer the advice I never got, so in no particular order, this is my career advice for college students (and it applies for the most part to those just starting their careers). I’m not saying I’m the best at all of these, I’m only saying do as I say, not as I do.
[UPDATED: 1/8/10. I knew I would be adding to my original list as I think of more advice, and so I have. If you’ve got career advice you want to add to this list, please do so in the comments!]
- Your generation has far more tools and resources for shaping your own future than any preceding generation: Take advantage of them.
- Most of those tools are online.
- Dot.com yourself! Buy your domain name and get something online. I recommend a blog (if you’ve got a passion you want to talk about…and who doesn’t, really?) but if it’s only a two page site that includes a resume, do that.
- Get an adult email. Now that you have your own domain, use it for your email. firstname.lastname@example.org looks a lot better on an application or a resume than email@example.com.
- Get found! Whether it’s a college recruiter, someone who is reviewing your college application, or a potential employer, they will search for you online. Make sure they see what you want them to see.
- Brand yourself! Think consciously and deliberately about who you are, who people think you are, and what you want people to think of you. What is their first reaction when your name is mentioned? What do you want their first reaction to be?You know that person whose phone call you send to voice mail because you know talking to them will be an unpleasant experience? That person has branded himself. You know the email address of the person you will happily read their message before others’ emails that might be more important? That person has branded herself.Your brand must be consistent with who you actually are, but once you decide how you want to be perceived, deliberately try and convey that perception online and in real life. Your personal brand may be your single most important career tool.
- You are what you post. Share content that helps convey your brand. College recruiters and potential employers are interested in well-rounded people when considering acceptance. Share your talents. Are you artist? Upload your creations to Flickr and Facebook. Are you a talented athlete or musician? Upload your videos to Facebook and YouTube. Do you know a lot about a given subject? Share that knowledge through your status updates on Facebook and Twitter, contribute to conversations on blogs about that subject. Are you well-read? Share links to the articles you’re reading.
- But be careful what you share. Anything that you put online has the potential of being broadcast on national television or becoming the next viral “hit.” Even if it’s behind your privacy wall (one of your friends could copy a photo from Facebook and upload it to Flickr). Think about what you put online, be it photos, or video, or comments on a blog or reviews of a company. Could it come back to haunt you?
- Learn to use privacy tools. Facebook has very sophisticated privacy tools. Think about who you want to see what and implement a system that works. Learn the privacy tools for every online venue you use. Inside and out.
- Manage your reputation. This is a crucial part of cultivating your personal brand. In real life, this is your behavior. Have you got a short temper? Get a handle on it. Are you undependable? Learn to deliver when you say you will.Online that means, as mentioned above, sharing positive content about yourself. It also means monitoring and responding, when appropriate. Google yourself and set up Google Alerts so that when your name is mentioned online, you know about it. It may only be your namesake, not you, that’s mentioned online but people may confuse that person with you. You need to know that.
- Start your personal network. You probably already have the foundation of a personal network built with Facebook. Think about using it beyond your circle of friends for your career. Become friends with students you meet at the colleges to which you are applying to learn more about what the college is like. A recruiter might know the student with whom you are friends and that association might work in your favor when it comes to getting accepted.
- Be consistent. Use the same photograph and username across all channels.
- Get on LinkedIn. Though it feels like a quiet and scaled down version of Facebook, LinkedIn is fast becoming a go-to source for recruiters and HR professionals. You need to be there to be found there. Start building your LinkedIn network by connecting with employers, colleagues, professors or people within the industry you hope to join. Build as many connections as possible. A potential employer may know someone with whom your connected; that connection will engender a degree of trust that did not previously exist. Use it for research as much as for networking: Learn about people with whom you’ll be meeting or about a company and your interviewer before an interview.
- Tweet. Twitter can be an excellent tool for learning about the industry in which you’d like to work by following the people in your industry who are using Twitter. They are often leaders of their industry and the information they share can be invaluable. Twitter is also a great venue to meet people in your industry simply by engaging with them there. Retweet their content. Join their conversations.
- Blog. If you’re up for it, blog. Blogs are the best platform from which you can demonstrate your knowledge and talents by sharing them. Demonstrate you thinking by writing. Share other content such as photos and video that demonstrate your talents. Engage in discussions with other bloggers.If you’re a passionate about your subject and engage in the online conversations about your subject through your blog, people might start linking to you. Pretty soon, you’re an authority. Social media analyst Jeremiah Owyang credits blogging with getting him a job: “My last two jobs, I was primarily found through my blog, and to a great degree it helped me to get my job.”
- Follow. Follow the thought leaders in your field and/or industry. They are likely online. They probably have blogs and/or are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Search your field/industry + blog and you’ll probably find them.
- Subscribe. Set up Google Reader and use it to follow your field/industry. Subscribe to bloggers, news sources, Web sites, searches. Make checking your subscriptions a daily habit.
- Read. In addition to bloggers and leaders in your industry/field, read books. Most industries and/or fields have certain definitive books that anyone who wants to understand that field should read. Find out what they are and read them. Read other books. Unrelated books. Ideas can come from anywhere. The more you read/learn, the larger body of knowledge you’ll have from which to come up with ideas; the greater pool of resources you’ll have to tap for your creativity; the more dots you’ll be able to connect. The world is a fascinating place: devour it.
- Join. Join groups and associations related to your field. You’ll meet more people like you and they’re great for networking.
- Network in real life. Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter are great for developing new relationships and maintaining existing ones, but nothing beats face-to-face meetings. Go to events and conventions related to your field. Find industry happy hours and show up. Go to workshops. You keep showing up at these events, people get to know you as someone who is active in your industry and/or field of study.People are much more likely to help those they’ve met than people they have not.
- Buy people lunch. Ask people to lunch in order to order to learn from them. They’ll be flattered and usually will be happy to help. Pay for lunch.
- Seek out smart people. Learn as much as you can from them.
- Figure out what people want, and do what you can to help them achieve it. People are grateful for help. The more you give, the more you get.
- Return phone calls. Promptly.
- Return emails. Promptly.
- Thank people.
- Show your enthusiasm. If you genuinely like what someone’s done, tell the world about it. Flattery will get you everywhere and you’re probably sharing something of value, anyway.
- Connect. Introduce people. If you think two people have something in common or could help one another, connect them. You’ll have helped them both and they’ll be grateful.
- Remember. Remember what people like and give them more of it. If you come across an article one of your acquaintances might like, pass it along. It reminds them of you and that you were thinking of them. They’ll remember you remembered.
- Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You won’t get what you want if you don’t ask. Most people don’t like saying no to requests.
- Remove barriers. When asking something of someone, ask onlyÂ for the essential thing you need them to do in order to achieve your goal. Make it as easy as possible for people to help you; don’t make it unnecessarily burdensome for them.