These days, it is axiomatic in career-search circles that using the social web in your job hunt is just a smart thing to do. Why turn your nose up at Twitter, Facebook, blogging and LinkedIn when they are rife with opportunities to network and connect with prospective employers? I agree with this line of thinking, but I think there are some very particular reasons why employing web 2.0 technologies is especially wise for academics considering a career change.
1. It's about identity construction. The Lacanians among you are going to love this. When you create a profile on a site like LinkedIn, for example, you have the opportunity to present to other professionals a narrative about your career trajectory that makes sense to them -- and to you. Using words to help create a post-academic identity is something that will translate your skills to a wider audience and also does wonders for your own sense of self. Note: Lying is out. But, as with the process of creating a resume, you can accentuate the positive (creative, hard-working, whiz at troubleshooting) and minimize the pesky details (turned down for tenure? No one need know).
2. It boosts your sense of professionalism. If you're a graduate student, you're likely an avid Facebook user. But are you on LinkedIn? You might not be, thinking that LinkedIn is for professional networking and you're not a professional. Well, guess what? You are apprenticing for a professional position, even if you do spend most of your days in your pajamas and do your writing during the commercials aired on Ellen. But your contacts on LinkedIn don't need to know that. What they do need to know, however, is what you're doing now, any interesting work you've done in the past, and what kind of opportunities you're looking for in the future.
3. It's an alternative to job banks. On Twitter, there are people (like @thejobsguy) who simply write 140 character blurbs about job postings. This is a fast and easy way to get a sense of jobs that are on the market, so you can gauge what interests you and what doesn't.
4. It makes networking easier. Following someone on Twitter -- especially if they follow you back -- provides you with an opportunity to connect with any number of people you wouldn't ordinarily have access to. Fostering an online relationship with someone is one important aspect of your job-hunting networking campaign.
5. It showcases your current self, and the self you want to be. One of my clients has had tremendous luck at leveraging LinkedIn. She's a tenured prof, and she discovered through LinkedIn that people she knew in and before grad school work in precisely the organizations that she's applying to. She's using those contacts to find out more about what it's like to work for the company and who the people with the decision-making power are, as well as to get introductions. These old contacts likely would never have thought of notifying her about job postings, for example. But LinkedIn is a polite, professional way of signaling your interest about your next career move to people who may be in a position to help you.
6. It shows how committed you are about moving into your next career. Writing regular status updates on Facebook and Twitter about your professional ambitions is just a smart thing to do when you're on a job hunt. Another way of really showing off that you're serious about changing fields is by starting a blog. Launching one on a topic that has nothing to do with your current area of research but has everything to do with what you dream about for your next career signals to future employers that you're in it for the long haul. Blogging can be a powerful way to signal what you know about a topic, but it's also okay to start a blog on a topic you know nothing about. Ironically, chronicling a learning process is something that contributes to you becoming an expert in that field because you are providing concrete evidence for the knowledge that you are accumulating. Who's going to be interested in that expertise? Your next employer, of course.
7. It opens your eyes. On Twitter, you find out about all kinds of things people do for a living (and certainly the number of people who call themselves "marketers" trying to sell you their services!). It gives you an opportunity to learn about all the different kinds of work everyday people do. Right now, I'm following life coaches, a prostitutes' rights organizer, a burgeoning film producer, a movie critic, Web developers, researchers, stay-at-home moms, bloggers, etc. Every day, I learn a little bit about their corner of the world.
8. You can meet cool people. I have met and fostered connections through Twitter, which is just plain old fun.
9. It makes you employable. More and more companies are Tweeting, launching Facebook pages, and even building their own social networking tools. Whether you dream of going corporate or self-employed, corporate or public sector, being able to note on your resume how handy you are with web 2.0 technologies will only impress.
10. It helps combat stereotypes about Ph.D.s. One stereotype about Ph.D.'s is the idea that we all have our heads tucked neatly up our own behinds. There are a number of ways to combat that, but running a blog on a topic that has NOTHING to do with your area of study is a quick and easy way to demonstrate to employers and other contacts in your network that you do have your finger on the pulse of one aspect of business and contemporary culture. Running a blog in particular will show that you can write in plain English, for example, thereby beating back the notion that you can only use $10 words and run-on sentences. It shows that you can -- and do -- come down from the ivory tower once in a while.