This is the final post in a series of 6 posts I've been writing for graduate students seeking employment outside academia, in conjunction with a series of workshops I presented at The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to starting the workshops, I surveyed the students to find out which sessions they were most interested in and I was surpised to learn that the session which least interested them was the session on social media. And it wasn't because they knew everything they needed to know-- quite the opposite.  When I asked them why they hadn't ventured into social media for their professional development or for job searching their responses were interesting, and unfortunately, naïve.

Here are the top five reasons they weren't interested in social media (and my response):

1. "Graduate students really don't need to be on the internet-- we need to focus on researching, writing, teaching, and studying."

Social media doesn't have to keep you from doing those things: in fact it can shed a public light on all those normally private activities that are keeping you busy. Share your knowledge of the latest publications and research. Demonstrate your great teaching skills-- or that excellent handout or PowerPoint you created for your class. Social media is actually a very efficient way to reach a broader audience for your talents. The time you invest can pay off with a job, a consulting offer, or even recognition by colleagues.

2. "I'm an introvert. I consider myself a private person. I don't want my personal life on the internet."

Then don't put it there. Keep all your postings related to your professional ambitions. Create a Facebook page which focuses on your professional life, and keep your Facebook profile at a minimum. If you blog or tweet, write about professional topics. No one needs to know what you had for dinner or where you were last night if you don't want them to know. Think of this as an opportunity to put your best foot forward: what are you like at your all-time best, and how can you demonstrate this to potential employers or connections?

3. "I don't have time."

Like anything else, social media does take some time. You'll need to decide how much time you can invest, and that may determine your activities. But once you've set up your initial accounts, simply decide on a publishing schedule. For instance, maybe you'll set aside 15 minutes twice a week to Tweet.

4. "It's superficial and I don't see the value."

Do you see a value in being published? Do you see a value in your name, interests, knowledge and research available to potential employers? Social media will help you accomplish that.
How's this for another value: most employers and search committees conduct Google searches these days. Being active on social media sites is one way to ensure that your name will bring up a page or so of interesting links and connections.

In addition, social media can be a great way to connect with your heroes in the field: the superstars whose work you've been reading or following for years. The old "six degrees of separation" is greatly reduced on the internet-- respond to a blog post of one of your mentors in the field and you may suddenly find yourself in a personal exchange with them.

Here are some sites you might want to check out.

  • Grad Share is a general site for sharing grad student issues:
  • Academia edu is an online community of researchers and currently has about ¾ of a million participants.

5. "'Real' academicians aren't into social media."

Really? Don't tell that to all the professors who have their own websites, twitter feeds, LinkedIn accounts, etc. Social media is rapidly infiltrating the academic world. Here are some sites to check out for use of social media:

Krista Kennedy is an assistant professor in writing and rhetoric at Syracuse Univesity. Her blog provides a nice example of a professional academic blog.

Psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Art Markman is clearly a serious academician with strong research and teaching credentials, yet many of his blog posts involve explaining, in layman's terms, some of the latest cognitive research findings. (Being able to explain your work in terms everyone can understand is a gift, by the way.) Check out his use of social media to promote his research and develop connections in his field: Psychology Today blog, Twitter, Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review, and his new book website.

Have I convinced you to at least consider social media?  If you're willing to give it a try, here are 10 suggestions for getting started or expanding your current online profile.

1. Not surprisingly, one of the best resources for graduate students to find information on using social media is the Chronicle of Higher Education. Their Profhacker site in particular focuses on social media quite frequently. For instance, here's a nice guide to creating a web presence from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

2. Go beyond the usual Twitter or LinkedIn sites. How could you take advantage of the information you can place on other sites like Fllckr, YouTube, or iTunes U? For instance, want to show off pictures of your latest archaeological dig? Place them on Flickr, or create short videos for YouTube. Have a great short lecture in your field of research? Again, this might be a place for YouTube.

3. Take advantage of all the blogs in your field. Even if you don't have time or don't want to start your own blog, you can still be part of the conversation. Bloggers love readers. They want to know that people are reading and appreciating what they write. So write intelligent responses and comments to blogs. Enter the conversation-- and if you use your real name (not Anonymous) it will appear in Google searches. You never know where that might lead.

4. Set up a Twitter account and start following the tweets related to your field. Not many tweets in your field? Great-- be the leader. Here's an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education on the value of Twitter and tweeting. One of the advantages of Twitter is how quickly you can make contact with fellow academicians and researchers (including leaders in your field). Think you can't sum up anything you do in so few characters? Sure you can. First, you can tweet links to the latest research or articles in your field. You can voice short opinions on aspects of your field. Find a blog that has a great post? Tweet the link.

Use your (short) bio as a quick introduction. Note key professional interests, maybe a hobby (to be interesting), and include a link to your key online source (your website, blog, or LinkedIn profile). Read up on hashtags and use them in your tweets to ensure that they reach a larger audience than your followers. Don't confuse personal with professional-- the quickest way to lose followers is to tweet uninteresting personal asides such as what you had for dinner.

5. Make the most of your LinkedIn account. The tendency is to treat LinkedIn like a resume or vita, just listing the pertinent facts of your career. But If you work in a field which has potential for consulting opportunities, LinkedIn can be one of your most valuable assets. Some of the LinkedIn features you will want to take advantage of are: the "what are you reading" feature where you can list the latest writings in your field that you've been keeping up on-- or readings which link you to your new field of interest.

You can also post PowerPoints you created for your students-- or for potential employers. For instance, let's say you're getting a doctorate in anthropology and you're considering a career in human resources. How could your knowledge of anthropology fit into that field? You might want to create a PowerPoint which would cover some ways to help different cultures adapt to one workplace. This is a chance to advertise knowledge that might not appear in your vita.

6. Another enhancement to your social media branding is to take advantage of your University's publicity department. Are you conducting research that might be interesting to a broader community? Are you teaching a class dealing with a current newsworthy event? Are your students writing papers on interesting topics? There is no end to the 24/7 news cycle and media outlets are often searching for that interesting new topic or idea-or information that bolsters knowledge of a traditional topic. Want to enter the conversation? Start with your publicity or public relations department at your university. They can often broker your story to a variety of news outlets-- or even feature you on University publications or websites-- which might ultimately get picked up by local or national media. If an article appears based on your work, Tweet it out!

7. Decide on the platforms you want to use and which ones will best demonstrate your talents: Linked in? Twitter? Flickr? Develop a general plan for posting and interacting online that will help you maintain a consistent message on each platform.

8. Determine your brand. What/Who do you want to be? Can you name the 3 strengths/skills you want to convey? Why should people want to interact with you? What do you have to offer? What career fields are you most interested in working in-- and how can you begin to link yourself to those fields through social media.

9. Connect and be part of the conversation. Follow Twitter feeds, blogs, and other social media related to your field of interest. Participate in discussions.

10. Have some patience and see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Need to catch up on your job search plans? Here are the links to my series of posts related to helping graduate students find jobs outside academia:

The Graduate Student Job Search: Welcome to the Chaos

Leaving Academia: The Transition Begins

Career Transitions for Graduate Students and Others

Writing Effective CV's and Resumes

10 Tips for Developing an Alternate Career While in Graduate School

©2011 Katharine Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit Mike Licht

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