By the time Herrema met with Accenture, he brought skills and confidence that he reckons gave him a two-year jump on peers. “I was extreme in terms of building exposure,” he says, “but I wanted to get it out there: look at what I know as a college grad compared to kids you’re hiring from Ohio State.”
While Herrema exploited a network built by SAP to support its own products, others are taking advantage of less proprietary communities. Take Jordi Muñoz, CEO of 3D Robotics, a maker of kits for unmanned aerial vehicles. Muñoz was a Mexican high-school graduate awaiting his green card in 2007 when he encountered the company’s founder and chairman, Chris Anderson (the editor in chief of Wired), on DIY Drones, a Ning.com group Anderson had set up to discuss home-brew UAVs.
Impressed by Muñoz’s knowledge, Anderson invited him to form a company. Only later did he learn that Muñoz was 19 years old and entirely self-taught. “In my world, it doesn’t matter who you are but what you can do,” Anderson says. “You prove yourself by answering questions in discussion forums, showing demos on YouTube, and committing code on GitHub.”
GitHub is a site where anyone can build software, and for up-and-coming programmers, contributing to such open-source code repositories has become another essential way to raise one’s profile. “If you have a GitHub account, it validates you as someone who’s a passionate contributor to the community,” Jobspring’s Forehand says. Programming sites like CampFire, StackOverflow, and TopCoder provide further opportunities that can be amplified through broader social outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, or the question-and-answer site Quora.
Employers are catching on. In January, clients started giving Amish Shah, CEO of tech recruiter Millennium Search, a laundry list of sites that candidates must participate in to be considered.
“One company wouldn’t look at candidates whose LinkedIn profiles had less than 100 connections,” Shah says. “Candidates had to be tweeting actively about the right things. They needed to be blogging and answering questions on Quora. A home run would be a presentation they’d given at a conference, with a video on YouTube and slides on SlideShare.”
Earlier generations might view such naked exposure as a double-edged sword. After all, answering a question online can reveal ignorance as well as expertise. In the emerging online ecosystem, though, it may be more important to contribute to the community than to demonstrate individual mastery.
“Community isn’t just about relationships—it’s about becoming smarter and better at what you do,” says Jonathan Reed, an enterprise staffing consultant. “You may think you understand something, but blog about it and you’ll get 20 comments telling you you’re wrong. It’s an accountability loop between you and your colleagues, and it changes the way we think about careers.”