Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Own Private Community

There's a tendency in this blog for my writing to be impersonal. Sure, I often draw on my experience in publishing websites, but (for professional and ethical reasons) I avoid explicit detail, and the fact that many of my posts are inspired by stuff I read or see on other peoples' sites ensures that, for the most part, I write as if pointing my finger at stuff out there. Thus, while online community is something I think about every day, I write about it as if I were an observer, mostly uninvolved.

My situation has changed.

Currently I find myself on the job market. One of my primary resources in the job search is my online network of friends and professional associates. I'm reaching out to them through email and social networking websites to ask for referrals, inquire about leads, and otherwise get the word out that I'm available and could use a hand in locating my next big life challenge. In short, online community has become very important for me personally as well as professionally, and I'm already feeling the effects of this new type of social connection.

The job search is still ongoing, so this story does not yet have a conclusion, but I can say that online community has changed the way I approach the task before me. I've been out of work before; it's not an uncommon situation when you work in Seattle and have a fondness for startups and telework arrangements. In the past, I've consulted online job sources, but the actual search was largely a solitary endeavor. I'd find ads, revise my resume to match the opening, and draft a cover letter that I'd submit by email. Nothing in that process touched on other people. There was no community. That might be why I tended to feel rather lonely during those points in my life.

This time it's different. When I learned that I was losing my current job, my first positive act was to draft email to two or three especially well-connected friends and associates. After that, I went to LinkedIn, and I've been spending a lot of time there since. I make a point of filling out my professional network, and every time I get a new connection I browse through their connections to see if there is someone else I should connect with. Already I've managed to set up an informational interview with a business that I respect, because I noticed that someone I know knows someone who works there, and I was able to use my existing connection to get an introduction to someone new. This is something that I never would have managed before. I'm not a good networker, and I tend to lose touch with people I haven't seen in a while. But now, Gmail contacts, LinkedIn, and my new Facebook page have vastly extended the list of people with whom I'm in contact. I'm still not a good networker, but with these tools I'm a lot better than I used to be.

This post is part one of a two-part series. When I have my next job in hand, I'll come back and take stock of the full impact that online community had on my search and post here with the results and conclusions. One thing I already know, though, is that my life has changed because of these new tools, and I'm excited at the further changes I'll see as online community matures.