Job-Hunting 2.0

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Traffic to the popular business social networking site doubled following the stock market meltdown of last fall, according to media reports. That’s not surprising, given LinkedIn’s utility as a way to create and nurture business relationships. Business professionals have a vast variety of tools available to them today to look for jobs and in an economy like this one, it behooves you to use as many as you can.

I’ve hired more than 200 people in my 20 years of management, and I’ve learned what makes a candidate stand out as memorable and potentially hirable. Here are some ideas for incorporating Internet services into your search.

Get recommendations — One of LinkedIn’s more intriguing features is the ability to ask business colleagues for recommendations. You should do this on an ongoing basis, not only when you’re looking for a job. The best time to ask is when a person’s impressions of you are still fresh. They’re more likely to give you an enthusiastic endorsement if you’ve just help them with a big project. Always give back a recommendation as a way of thanking them for their time.

Find jobs that aren’t advertised — aOne of the coolest features of social networks is their continuous status updates. Whenever someone in your circle of contacts gets promoted or takes a new job, you can find out immediately. Remember that when someone assumes a new job, it usually creates an opening in their old one. That’s an opportunity for you. Also, when a person assumes a new role, they often want to hire people they trust to work under them. Be sure to send in a congratulatory note and let them know you’re available.

Research opportunities — Even when I worked for an Internet company hiring people who are supposedly Web-savvy, I was often stunned by how few job candidates showed up with any knowledge of the company or job they were interviewing for. There simply is no excuse for that today. Before you arrive for your interview, be sure you spend at least a half hour learning about the company’s business, its objectives, competition and challenges. Be ready to tell the hiring manager what you can do to help. Believe me, they will remember that.

Research people — People reveal lots of information about themselves in social networks, blogs and online profiles these days. Even if they don’t volunteer that information, you can often learn about them from the groups and organizations that they frequent. Spend some time learning about the person you’ll meet in your interview. Mine some personal nuggets that can help you establish a more personal relationship. Perhaps you share an interest in a particular author, film genre or sport. That’s a basis for discussion outside of the business context. Anything you can do to personalize the engagement will help your chances.

Make yourself memorable — I can’t emphasize this enough. Hiring managers often interview 30 or 40 candidates before making a selection. Names and faces tend to run together, so anything you can do to distinguish yourself will increase your chances of making the cut. Create a video or a screencast demonstrating some special skill you bring to the assignment. If you’re musically inclined, send an audio clip of yourself singing a song of introduction. Write a personalized letter describing three ways you can address a challenge the company faces. Show that you’ve invested some time and brain power to apply for the job.

Next week, we’ll look at how the Web can help you nail down the position and how to prepare for future job hunts. We’ll also talk about how you sometimes need to abandon the keyboard to cement those personal connections.

Web 2.0 Carrots

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

Back in the dark ages of the early Internet, some colleagues and I got hooked on instant messaging. We loved its immediacy, and IM quickly replaced e-mail as the preferred way to communicate among our far-flung staff. This frustrated our IT organization, which didn’t even know about our activities for over a year. IT briefly tried to restrict IM use but ultimately gave up and just shrugged its shoulders.

The group didn’t have time to wrestle with the problem. It was too busy trying to shove a corporate mandated group collaboration package down our throats. This expensive and over-engineered solution had been selected by someone at the corporate level without any input from the people who would have to use it. For two years, our IT organization tried to teach users how to tap the software’s powerful but Byzantine capabilities with little success. By the time I left the company, the collaboration suite was basically a bloated e-mail client. Meanwhile, IM flourished.

Mandates From Above
Top-down implementation comes naturally to IT organizations. Much of what they’ve been tasked to do over the years has involved driving technology into their organizations to achieve executive mandates for efficiency. But the new breed of Web 2.0 tools presents a new challenge.

New research by McKinsey reveals that Web 2.0 tools are turning in decidedly mixed results in organizations that are experimenting with them. Half of the 50 respondents to a detailed set of interviews indicated that they are dissatisfied with the performance of these collaborative tools so far.

Successful innovators are learning that a “high degree of participation” is required to make the tools pay off. This involves not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.”

That’s a cultural disconnect for the traditional command-and-control approach to IT management. Big hairy systems projects like enterprise resource planning, supply chain management and customer relationship management have always been mandated from the top in the name of efficiency and cost reduction. The technology didn’t work unless everyone used it, so employees had no choice.

But knowledge capture tools like wikis and social networks don’t succeed unless users embrace them, researchers found. “Efforts go awry when organizations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies…rather than observing what works and then scaling it up.”

In fact, Web 2.0 initiatives often yield results where least expected. McKinsey researchers cite the example of one company that put software in place to quickly train new hires. The package failed in that context, but the company’s human resources people discovered that the same application was effective in sharing information about job candidates. They turned out to be the ultimate end users.

Culture of Sharing

Web 2.0 technologies excel at helping people capture and share information, but that process works best when the motivation comes from within. The “give to get” culture of the new interactive web has tapped this human compulsion in a powerful way. It turns out that the desire to help one’s peers is more powerful than the motivation to fulfill a management mandate.

Not surprisingly, McKinsey found that incentives work better than commands in making organization successful with Web 2.0. Steel producer ArcelorMittal, for example, “found that when prizes for contributions were handed out at prominent company meetings, employees submitted many more ideas for business improvements than they did when the awards were given in less-public forums,” the report says. Celebrating the generosity of individual employees was also effective in stimulating activity by their peers.

Which means that when it comes to Web 2.0 technology adoption, the carrot proves far more effective than the stick.

Let a Thousand Networks Bloom

News that the American Bowling Congress will launch a social network arrived last week, raising the question of whether this social networking thing has gone just a little too far. There are, after all, nearly 2,700 social networks on the Internet according to Facebook and MySpace together command over 85% of social networking traffic, so what’s the point of starting another?

This is just the beginning, folks. The boring job of picking the social network winners is already done, and now the action shifts to the small communities where innovation can really flourish.

I’ll give you one example. About two years ago, my wife Dana and I took up geocaching. It’s a global game that uses global positioning satellites (GPS) technology to create a worldwide treasure hunt. Players use handheld GPS receivers to find containers full of trinkets placed by other enthusiasts in locations ranging from city street corners to remote mountaintops. People log their finds on a website and try to make up elaborate clues for others to unravel.

Dana and I became so captivated by this game and the culture that has grown up around it that we decided to write a book about it. In the process of interviewing some of the most active and successful geocachers in the world, we’ve come upon some remarkable stories.

Geocache hidden in a hollowed-out rock

People have told us that geocaching has brought their families together, introduced them to new friends and reinvigorated their lives. One man credited the game with helping him shed 150 pounds and give up smoking. Several have said it saved their marriages. One disabled war veteran even told me geocaching gave him a reason to live at a time when he was contemplating suicide.

The online street corner for caching enthusiasts is a website called This is where people can log their discoveries and share their stories. People go there to seek out others and start relationships that may develop online or in one of more than 100 local geocaching clubs around the U.S.

There are probably a couple of million people who love to geocache. That number is a rounding error on MySpace’s member list, but for active geocachers, it’s a lifeline so strong that enthusiasts often put their personal safety in the hands of other geocachers they’ve never even met. It’s a perfect example of a micro community.

There are two points to this story. The first is that small communities tend to be more engaged than large ones. The more time and effort someone has invested in learning a craft, skill or sport, the more passionate he or she is likely to be about it. People at Communispace, a company that manages private communities for corporate customers, tell me that they advise their clients to break up communities into smaller subgroups once their membership surpasses a few hundred. Think of it: No one is particularly passionate about Facebook, but they may be very engaged with communities within Facebook. Small is beautiful.

Secondly, the folks at didn’t set out to organize an existing community. They created the community. It was almost impossible for people to play the game until a resource existed to coordinate their efforts. This is a great example of the Internet actually enabling special interests to flourish.

Have social networks gone too far? On the contrary, they haven’t gone nearly far enough.