Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The opposite of Facebook

Last week, I learned that college students define the entire world of online networking as Facebook.

I spoke about job hunting to two groups of SUNY at Buffalo students: the first, an informal lunchtime group of English majors; the other, a mixture of communications and English students with graduation on the horizon. When I asked them to raised their hands if they had ever heard of LinkedIn, hardly one could be seen.

Facebook, of course, they were intimately familiar with.

I began speaking about LinkedIn with students last fall, and now it takes up a good portion of my conversation with them. I don't pretend that LinkedIn is going to solve all job problems, but if the name of the game is improving your odds in getting a foot in the door and moving you up the Google ladder, the site is one excellent tool.

Not surprisingly, graduating liberal arts majors are nervous about finding any work and it is my job to prevent them from jumping off any high ledges. They are amazingly unprepared, and still seem stuck in antiquated ways of job hunting.

I present LinkedIn as "the opposite of Facebook": Facebook was the rage of college students until the company flung open the doors a couple of years ago and let all the adults crash the party. Facebook allows students to post all kinds of silly photos and comments to each other online and it really underscores the "social" in social media.

On the other hand, LinkedIn has been the domain of post-college professionals looking to network and advance their careers, and you won't find a drunken photo anywhere. The doors have always been open to college students, but it seems they are barely peeking inside.

I describe LinkedIn as a "road map of people's connections" to undergraduates, a valuable tool for networking, a concept that they really barely understand. To them, it's all about blindly sending out cover letters and resumes to anything that resembles a PR firm or in-house entity, which is probably why when they get real jobs, they do the same things with pitch letters and press releases. Nobody has taught them about how to really network, much like nobody seems to have taught junior level publicists how to create real relationships with the media.

There are still many college career advisers who insist resumes should have objectives written on top of them. Nearly 99% of the cover letters I receive start with those dreaded words "I am a senior at...." and they don't seem to know anything about me, my company or my clients. It's really the same as e-mail blasting.

Student career counseling has to come out of the Stone Age. They should be explaining what LinkedIn and other professional networks are and how to make the best of them. Why it's important to have a good search engine profile and probably register their name as a domain so they can always own it. The game plan has to include real networking, hitting up your profs, TA's, parents, their friends, your internship employers -- everybody -- and ask for informational interviews and referrals. Personize your job search, much like you should be personalizing your journalist relationships when you're a PR pro.

You can imagine my delight when I see students taking detailed notes during my presentation and afterwards, they come up to me and say "Thanks for pointing out all those bad cover letters. I was about to send mine out and they looked just like that. I'm going back to rewrite them."

Any student who is smart enough to LinkIn to me after my talk is one step ahead of almost everybody else. Unfortunately, there are so few of them.

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