Back before the advent of the internet, those looking for a government job had just a few options. They could read newspaper help-wanted ads, contact individual agencies for a mailed list of openings, or subscribe to a service that provided periodic listings of open positions. Of course, networking helped too, but it was always the face-to-face kind: in a room, together, actually looking someone in the eye and talking. Fast forward about, oh, two decades. Now a legal services attorney posts her résumé on LegallyMinded, an assistant attorney general reconnects via Facebook with her undergrad roommate who is now a state legislator, and a law student tweets about his recently published article to drive traffic to his website.
Social media is any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations or provide a forum for information. Examples include Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and a host of sites geared specifically to lawyers. Social media differs from traditional broadcast media in that it allows anyone with an internet connection to produce content. The usual barriers to communication—cost and access—are removed. If you’re a late-comer to social media, or you’ve outright rejected it so far and you’re looking for a job, you might want to reconsider because of sheer numbers alone. Facebook recently reached 300 million users worldwide—roughly the population of the United States. LinkedIn has 50 million registered users and Twitter users send out 27.3 billion tweets (messages of 140 characters or less) per day. And lest you think that all this cyberchat is just for the kids, think again. According to the Nielsen Company, in 2009, the largest age group using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn is not the 25-to-34-year-olds or even the 18-to-24-year-olds, but the 35-to-49-year-olds.
Additionally, employers are increasingly using social media to screen candidates. In 2008, 22 percent of employers did so, while the number increased to 45 percent in 2009, according to a survey from Harris Interactive.
Therefore, before you begin any job search, Google yourself to see what comes up. If the results lead to law-related articles you’ve written or been quoted in; commentary you’ve posted on well-regarded sites; and your professionally-oriented website, blog or social media profile; you’re in good shape. “The results should not lead to rants, vitriol or other unprofessional behavior,” says Catherine Sanders Reach, director of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center. “If you find something unprofessional, you need to contact the source hosting the material and politely ask them to remove it.” Reach also recommends that if you don’t already have one, you create a website, blog or social networking profile. “The key here is that you want to be able to control your own online reputation and help combat the negative content.” Creating a blog or website may be outside of your skill set, but anyone can create an online presence—that you control—by completing a LinkedIn or Google Profile.
But before you blindly sign up for every social media site you come across, think about what you want to accomplish first. Whom do you want to reach? What are your interests, areas of concentration, your passions? What impression do you want to make? Let’s take a look at some of the popular social networking tools, along with their benefits and potential pitfalls.
Facebook—The Big Daddy
For years, colleges and law schools used paper booklets displaying their students’ headshots as a means of introducing students to each other. This concept was exactly the idea founder Mark Zuckerberg was aiming for when he launched Facebook in 2004. Now the world’s largest social network, Facebook has eclipsed similar services such as MySpace, and Classmates.com. Facebook is truly a social site, where people can “friend” others, take quizzes, play games, post and read status updates and accept event invitations.
While Facebook undoubtedly has the most users, it may not be your best bet for a job search because of the difficulty in separating the professional from the personal. While some users do not mind colleagues viewing photos of their children, others do not like the thought of professional contacts peering into their personal lives. One way to avoid this problem is to use Facebook’s “friend’s list.” This allows users to determine exactly which “friends” see which information. For example, your account could be set up to allow your family to view the photos from your 40th birthday party, while permitting potential employers to view only your résumé.
One other feature of Facebook is that you can receive email notifications when your name is mentioned on wall posts and when you are tagged by name in a photo. For anything unflattering or unprofessional, delete the tag immediately by hovering your mouse over your name and clicking “remove.” Unfortunately, you cannot delete the photo altogether, just the tag.
Professional and Legal Sites
Sites that were built primarily for professional networking include LinkedIn, Plaxo and TalkBizNow. Of these, LinkedIn is the most popular. Sixty-eight percent of its users are over 35-years-old and make over $60,000 per year; 72 percent are college graduates. The main purpose of LinkedIn is to allow registered users to maintain a detailed list of contacts (“connections”). As your contact network grows from friends of contacts and friends of friends of contacts, it becomes a valuable resource that can potentially make introductions, inform you of job openings and provide recommendations. While this service, built upon the “your friend is my friend” premise seems helpful in a job search, a downside is obtaining too many contacts with which you have no authentic, real connection. To decrease the likelihood of this scenario, Reach recommends avoiding mass invitations to join your network. Rather, a personal request to join is more effective. “One-on-one invitations are much better. People like to be personally sought out rather than be part of a large mass mailing. Also, this allows you to control your network much more effectively,” she says. Additionally, unless you have maintained tight control over your MS Outlook or Gmail contacts, there are likely to be a few people you would rather not connect with, including adversaries.
LinkedIn is used by employers to post job openings and find potential candidates, and used by candidates to post résumés. Jason Rodriguez, founder of JayRodChicago.com, a social media and business writing company, recommends using LinkedIn to post status updates to your connections. For example, you could alert your connections that you are an assistant city attorney with five years of experience and would like to connect with other assistants in neighboring cities. You could also alert your connections about your recently published article or your involvement with a newsworthy case.
Legal networking sites abound and include LawLink, LegallyMinded, MH Connected and LegalOnRamp. Also check out Justia, Avvo, and JDSupra, which provide information and legal resources for the general public. These sites work much the same way as LinkedIn but offer the advantage of catering specifically to lawyers. MH Connected and LegalOnRamp focus more on fostering relationships between in-house and outside counsel while the others are more general. The lawyer-only audience of these sites may yield more worthwhile connections.
The relative newcomer to the scene is microblogging, where users can post and read very short messages. Twitter is the most popular (others include Tumblr, Jaiku and Yammer) and its limited 140 character posts are called “tweets.” Users can both follow other people’s tweets and be followed. Senders can choose to restrict delivery to followers or can allow open access.
Rodriguez thinks Twitter has its place in a job search. “You need to think about your focus. Do you want to drive more traffic to your website or to your LinkedIn profile where people will see your résumé? Or do you want to alert followers to an article you just got published? Twitter gives you more exposure to those in your industry.” And the more you can do to enhance your professional reputation or establish a following on a particular topic to help you stand out from hundreds of other applicants, the better.
Ready, Set Go… but Use Caution
To avoid identity theft, don’t share too much personal information online. Don’t reveal your full street address, complete birthdate, or any information that provides enough detail to guess passwords, access mail, or open an account in your name. Also, make sure that the résumé or other job information you post is consistent for each social media site. This reduces the risk of résumé fraud accusations.
Once you are registered, use social media sites to research organizations, agencies and departments. And of course, after an interview is lined up, be sure to check out the profile of the interviewer. You never know, you could bond over your love of Penn State football, kick-boxing, the theater or . . . well, you get the picture.
Reach cautions against using social media sites to the exclusion of physical networking. “You want to strike a balance between each. You don’t want to rely on only one or the other,” she says. You can make plenty of great contacts the old fashioned way—faceto-face, through professional associations, personal connections or family ties. A nice mix of connecting online and in-person is the best bet.
Reach also advises against making value judgments that social media is good or bad. “The important thing to remember is that social media is just another tool to help you,” she says. Rodriguez says that once you register with these sites, you are helping build a brand, and the brand is you. He recommends using socialmention.com which is a search engine that trolls social media sites. You can see where you are mentioned to make sure your brand is consistently presented.
Social media makes communication faster, cheaper and more efficient with people you know, and those you want to know. Used wisely, it greatly improves your exposure to people who are in a position to hire.
Katherine Mikkelson is the Division’s associate director.