Building a career isn’t what it used to be—and we’re not talking about the sputtering economy or the 13.3 percent unemployment rate among 20-to-24-year-olds. College graduates entering the job market are supplementing and sometimes circumventing the traditional job-search routine of combing want ads and sending out résumés. They’re using online resources to build reputations, demonstrate skills, and give employers a much clearer idea of their strengths.
“The résumé is vanishing as a way of representing who you are,” says Launa Forehand of Jobspring, a Silicon Valley recruiting boutique that specializes in entry-level and junior placements. The job seekers looking to fill the nearly 300,000 new jobs in information technology that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will have been created between 2008 and 2018—a growth rate of 30 percent—are proving their value through participation in online communities, and employers are increasingly using those venues to find and vet candidates.
The new job-search environment affects people of all ages, but younger workers may have an advantage: they’re not shy about putting their lives online. “Millennials share a greater willingness to expose themselves, and not just the good stuff,” says John Hagel, head of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and coauthor of The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Made Smartly, Can Set Big Things in Motion. “Being willing to share things you don’t know and seeking help in solving problems you’re working on are enormously powerful ways to attract people who share your interests.”
A strong online reputation is allowing some job seekers with limited qualifications to skip over the dues-paying phase of their career and move directly into a higher-level position. “Networks can shortcut their career path, leading them to higher-level jobs and better pay much faster than in the past,” Hagel says.
Take David Herrema. At age 22, he was adrift at a no-name university. Now, at 26, he’s two years into a career as a senior software developer at Accenture, the consulting firm. His secret weapon was the SAP Community Network, an online environment created by the enterprise software giant SAP to knit together the far-flung community of people who work with its products. The network hosts articles, blogs, and forums for some two million customers, consultants, and others who’ve registered.
At first Herrema, who held an internship maintaining the SAP servers at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, mined the network for bug fixes and configuration tips. Then he started contributing his own blog posts and videos. His writing on environmentally sound business practices caught the attention of organizers of SAP’s TechEd confab, who invited him to speak at the event. Later, he won an SAP-sponsored competition for innovative marketing ideas.