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Social networking can easily create a false sense of support and contacts. Many people who have hundreds of connections on LinkedIn combined with friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter may think more positively than they actually should of the power of contacts.
Aside from the clear difference in relationship between what you have with a real-life business contact and someone who is mostly an online connection, the expectations are totally different. And if you're looking for help landing a new job or a reference, you may not find a lot of help coming from the folks online.
With that in mind, the amount and quality of help can be better if you've paid a close attention in building your contacts. For example, if your contacts include past coworkers and supervisors as well as close-industry contacts with whom you worked over the years, you may have a better chance in getting solid attention and help.
In all cases, keep the following points in mind before you assume that your online contacts will be able to step in and rescue you should you need a new job or recommendation.
It is not uncommon to receive connection or friendship requests from people whom you hardly met with in business or life. In many cases, they are simply friends of friends or second-level contacts who are trying to build their network or simply misguided about having the right people within their database. Although having these people in your network of contacts can be useful if you have a potential business relationship, it is not really a reliable business connection.
You don't know much about these contacts' business practices, background, records, etc. And similarly they probably don't know much about you. So if you think of an actual life scenario, say, a job opening, your best shot is just to know about it from your online contact. But don't assume that because you have had a connection with this person for years, you will have a leg up in the race to score the job.
If you and your company post jobs on social and professional networking sites, do not assume that others do as well. You can simply be surprised at how people revert to traditional methods that they have been comfortable with when it comes to hiring. Some may not even mention to their broader network that their employer is hiring to avoid any misinterpretation of and gossip about why, who and how.
So don't take for granted your online contacts will keep you posted about vacancies in their companies. If you have other routine ways to check websites, job boards, and so on, make sure you don't drop that effort.
In addition, if you're employed, you probably won't be highlighting your desire for change online. So even if an employer has a job opening, this person has no clue that you might be interested.
Although your contacts may not be a great help in terms of opening doors, they can be a good resource when researching a particular employer. Even if you don't have a personal connection with some of the employees among your contacts, browsing through their profiles — on LinkedIn for example — can give a good insight into the teams that work for the employer, professional advancement opportunities (see if they have been going up the ranks), and the overall tone and outlook for the company's staff.
If you have a contact you can trust inside the organisation, reach out to this person about the details of the job, corporate culture, overall environment, etc. But don't just reach out blindly to someone you don't know simply because this person is a LinkedIn connect or a professional Facebook follower.
You may be walking into a minefield of office politics that undermines your chances of scoring the job. Or at the least, you may be getting inaccurate information.
Your online network
* Make sure to include the right people.
* Keep an eye on other job sources.
* Don't expect random recommendations.
* Use contacts for help with research.
Source: Rania Oteify, Special to gulfnews.com
The writer, a former Gulf News Business Features Editor, is a Seattle-based editor