Following a conversation sparked by my LockedIn manifesto, I exchanged a few thoughts with some of my Oberlin peers — recently graduated, employed, and young developing professionals in their fields (mainly science/research based) — questioning the value of online social presences. A Mashable article appeared as a conversational detour, on the external (work, personal, social) implications of not participating in one of the most popular of social networks: Facebook.
I don’t want the world to work like this, but I’m not naïve. I don’t think the world will not work this way in the future. So it’s time to prepare ourselves.
Like it or not, I fear that we must consider more broadly the expectation of this kind of internet presence as a requirement should most of us desire to be working professionals in the future. I work in higher ed. This is the space where we’re supposed to be preparing our students for the big world outside our campus. This is where we teach! This is where we learn! For our students, the ones present for the act of learning, the expected (desired?) outcome of that input is getting a job.
Right now, we are sending off our students in to a professional world that requires a basic understanding and application of social media and social networking for any number of things, including but not limited to gaining employment.
Big question time.
Where are we learning this? Who is teaching it? And above all else, why are we placing so much weight of something that is considered a skill that certain generations just “have” based on being born in a particular decade?
From my casual observations of my peers, millenials (ugh, this word) are floundering at vitalizing social presences for professional purposes — from knowing what’s out there to trying it out on our own. I work with social media constantly and I believe that the best way to demonstrate that you know to do something is to DO IT. I’m not particularly convinced that my generation “gets” social media the way everyone thinks that we do. Just because we grew up as the tools were developing alongside us doesn’t mean we automatically internalized them. To obtain these skills (and note that I say skills, not generation-based we-added-it-to-our-milk talent), we must observe, be trained, and above all else, practice.
But how do we do this?
I don’t mean that we need classes in LinkedIn (though this post by Mallory Bower should prove to you that a simple offline workshop can and should convince you that they can definitely help). I am suggesting, however, that we prepare our students for presenting themselves and their work as they leave our midsts.
This may appear to be the job of a career-oriented, future-forward office like career services, but not just. Career services offices most often help students outside of the usual academic bubble, and yet, academia is only one small part of a higher educational experience. If I discovered anything in college, it’s that everything is a learning opportunity, and that most of the “real learning” will come from outside of the classroom, in particular, from the people around you.
If we in higher ed work with students in any way, shape, or form, it is all our responsibilities to assure that they are prepared for a world that expects these skills… even if it’s not outright stating that social skills a part of the professional world they’ll soon be occupying.
“But Ma’ayan,” you protest, “I don’t ‘get’ social media or the internet! How can I help?”
We help with confidence.
This is the most important of all. We are so lucky to know our students as people, and can see first-hand how they are developing as smart, thinking humans. One of the best things we can offer them from our positions as educators is perspective.
Confidence boosting comes in many forms; for me, it took someone who could recognize what I was doing, see an additional outlet for it, and then give me a quick boost into place. It was the knowledge of “something bigger,” the context I might have lacked because I was so deeply entrenched in being a student. Later, this nudge helped me state with confidence: “I am a writer, I am a photographer, I am a creative individual, and I CAN DO THIS!”
I empower people with talent.
I aspire to embody that mindset with every fiber of my being.
We help by being references.
As a second year student, I started writing recommendation letters. Crazy, right? Not to me. Serving as a part of the foundation of someone’s dream is a beyond incredible experience. You begin to see skills and talents everywhere as you frame through the lens of a referrer. As much as I want to rock the world to its core, I want those close to me to rock it, too. We’re all in this together. Let’s make this world dance!
As a manager, the greatest thing I can offer to my student employees in return for their excellent work is the opportunity to tell someone else that they are willing and capable of applying what they do best to what their future employer does best.(You want endorsements? I’ll give you endorsements! This is how I kick it with my social networks: it’s all about the authentic approval of what you’re doing, whether it be strategic or spontaneous.)
We help by providing resources where we may lack.
Yes, this means doing a little research into where you can help your students learn, in particular when you can not necessarily teach them. As educators, the most humbling moments come when we know that we don’t know something. They can quickly become our proudest ones when we recognize that we still have something to learn from someone else.
Know what professional expectations exist for your field (and perhaps for your students’ interests, too) and take a bit of time to learn about whatever career assistance exists at your school. If you don’t have a solid answer, you need to at least know where to point your students to get more information.
We help by being role models.
Surprise! We have jobs! And somehow we got to where we are today. Even if obtaining your job had little to nothing to do with the internet, the skills you had to demonstrate in searching, writing, presenting yourself, and connecting with other people are applicable to any medium, to any individual, on or offline.
Our social networks — the ones made of people, not on third-party sites — are our greatest resource, more precious than gold (or in my foodie world, saffron), but they can not exist based on us alone. Networks rely on constant strengthening and conditioning, and these developments will only occur if we exercise our social muscles: take a deep breath, then log some face time with a few folks over coffee or on Twitter (or virtual coffee in a G+ Hangout). Are you ready? It’s time to do some heavy lifting.
- CEOs of America’s Largest Companies Embracing Twitter and LinkedIn (Facebook, not so much) (domo.com)
- What social network is right for your business? Taming the big five (hiscox.co.uk)
- CEOs Avoiding Social Media Are Missing Out (domo.com)
- Social Media: Best Place to Look for a Job? (afitzgerald66.wordpress.com)
- How to make your business social (hiscox.co.uk)
- Connectivity Cognizance: A Social Media Strategy (jasonorous.wordpress.com)
- 14 Social Media Resolutions for 2014 (socialmediatoday.com)
- Young Professionals and Social Media: Join These 4 Platforms (usjaycees.wordpress.com)
- A Social Media Professional’s Holiday Wish List (solomonmccown.com)
- What I have learned in Social Media Marketing (clairesocialmedia.wordpress.com)