Professional networking is an essential aspect of job hunting, but it is also important for keeping up with people, companies, and trends in a field. Social networking in general can help with these endeavors, but there is a reason this “thing” was separated from “thing 6” in the 23 Things for Archivists list. First, the approach to creating a professional network is a little different than creating a social network; the etiquette and structure on sites such as LinkedIn is different. This, of course, fits the overall purpose. You won’t read about people having lunch with their kids, or other such niceties that take up space and can become distracting in a social circle. While Facebook can be used as a professional tool, it isn’t really designed for that. Professional networks emphasize work and contacts related to school and business, and the contacts really are derived from people you know or share a connection with.
Despite reading about what a great tool LinkedIn is on all sorts of tech blogs, I have never created an account. Discovering that using professional networks was on the list of 23 Things gave me an opportunity to learn more about the service and to sign up for an account. To start, I reviewed the learning materials, including an overview of LinkedIn profile creation, a LinkedIn for Dummies article, and Guy Kawasaki blog post. From these materials I gleaned that using LinkedIn requires some finesse, including showing some personality in order to stand out, but not so much so that you appear unprofessional. This is good advice; I also got a sense of the protocol for acquiring contacts. Basically, professional networking emphasizes quality over quantity. Instead of acquiring 400 friends, it’s better to have around 20-50 contacts that can truly be helpful in job searching or recommendations of other professional contact. In fact, job hunting is a major focus on LinkedIn, and the reasons for completing a full profile and making it searchable are clear–it gives people exposure as professional candidates and offers a site that employers can search to get background information.
Some of the more interesting suggestions in the articles and videos had to do with using LinkedIn as a research tool. Among the specific examples were researching companies, many of which have profiles, as well as people associated with organizations. Searching interviewers’ names was one novel suggestion, as was searching for past employees. The latter was aimed at digging deeper into the culture and politics of an organization–basically, getting beyond the glossy stuff that a search of the company website will yield. This approach to researching a potential employer is not for everyone, but it is certainly a powerful tool for those that choose it. In dealing with students, it would be good to share this as a tool for building a professional network and exploring industries and companies.
Moving on from job searching, a professional network can be used to stay abreast of trends in a field. LinkedIn has a search feature that tracks groups by name or keyword. The groups are organized around common interests and/or professional associations. I did a quick search for library and located the ACRL and ALA groups, which provide an instant connection with others that share similar interests. Discussion forums in such targeted venues tend to be richer than those in more generalized environments. Following such groups can be a great way to get timely information; making intelligent contributions could boost your reputation among colleagues. In short, all the features offer a way to connect and stay connected with people you work with, meet at conferences, or have been introduced to via a mutual acquaintance. It is a pretty sleek way to keep up with these individuals.
Information Literacy Applications
Professional networks can provide an important source of information, but that information seems to be largely career-focused on LinkedIn. Question and answer forums and groups revolve around industry topics, so this could be a good source for filling information needs in these areas. I would not use LinkedIn for broader classroom applications in the same way as I would incorporate Twitter or Facebook; for instance, creating a LinkedIn group for a class might be too cumbersome as students may or may not have genuine reasons to be linked on such a website. However, it could be a good exercise to assign students to create a profile and then join relevant groups. For an extended IL class, students could be asked to identify three groups to join and then keep a log of interactions and information they acquired over the length of the class. This would be an excellent spotlight on a tool useful for staying current, which is essential in many fields.