Twenty-two year old Nonhlanhla (Noni) Motanyane is a Wits student who will be graduating in December 2016, with a BSc in Mining Engineering. It’s a four-year degree that has taken her six years to complete – the average for most students, I’m told, thanks to the challenging workload and stringent requirements needed to advance to each new level. Mining engineers are the guys who figure out how best to pull out minerals (coal, gold, copper) from the earth so that the rest of us can reap the benefits of their use in the form of electricity, jewellery and money.
Come January 2017, freshly minted degree in hand, Noni will be amongst the thousands of South Africa’s young graduates who will be knocking on corporate doors, looking for that all elusive first job. Pick up any business magazine or newspaper, listen to a radio talk show and you’ll have a fair idea of just how dire our levels of unemployment are and how the local mining industry is not doing nearly as well as it once did. Add to that the fact that many young people typically do not have the necessary network to call on for opportunities, the ability to flip their qualifications and/or life experience to a different field or the financial muscle to pursue entrepreneurship. Noni, and those in a similar position will have to find and use every available trick in the book to give herself exposure, fill her proverbial black book with connections that can link her to opportunities that can ultimately make or break her future. Creativity, initiative and innovation will be the name of her game. Therein comes the power of social media.
Given the context that I have already laid out, we know that Noni’s primary focus is professional and LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional network, is the obvious go-to social media platform that she will need to focus on. Let’s look at some of the different elements of LinkedIn and see how she can use them to help her find a job in her chosen career of mining engineer.
Profile, Summary and Experience – This is the section that introduces you to the world because it is typically the first thing that people see when they look you up on LinkedIn. It is where you share your story about who you are, where you come from, what you have achieved so far and even a little about your aspirations moving forward. Making sure that you have completed every single part of this section, as indicated by the directions you will find as you going along, means you stand a far greater chance of showing up in searches for your kind of expertise. Being fresh out of school, Noni does not have any work experience to share, apart from the holiday jobs while she was studying. She does, however, have 6 years of university studies. So instead of naming a company and title, she can put her level of study (first year, second year and so on), the courses she did in each, why she chose those particular courses, emphasising the foundation of the career path she was putting in place, as well as the value she gained from each course. Here she can also include the mandatory vacation work, perhaps even using the journal she was required to keep, to give more insights into her work experience and what she gained out of it. This might also be a good place to mention some of the assignments that she did particularly well in, not necessarily the marks, but what she brought to the exercise that enabled her to do well. How can this be applied in a real-world context?
Connections – This is where a lot of people get put off on social media – overwhelmed by the influx of invitations, irritated by the number of complete strangers who are looking to connect with you and ‘friend’ recommendations given by said platform. But let’s not forget that LinkedIn, as is the case with other social media platforms, is about networking. This is not a foreign concept since many regularly attend any number of professional networking events precisely so that we can meet new people who were, up until that point, complete strangers.
Earlier I mentioned the proverbial black book, this is where Noni should do the work of filling the pages and building her network. Ideally, the network should be made up of potential employers, I mean the actual individuals who are recruiting and making decisions pertinent to employment. But it also includes following the different companies where she might look for work. Let’s not forget other kinds of people, like former classmates from throughout her schooling years, teachers and lecturers, people she may have met when they gave talks that she attended. Based on information included in her profile, LinkedIn, will also continuously provide suggestions of more people it thinks she might like to connect with as well. Others, after having seen her profile, might send a request to connect, which she can choose to accept or decline. Any of these people can represent a potential opportunity, a window that might open just as a door is closing somewhere else, now or sometime in the future.
Endorsements & Recommendations – These are essentially testimonials provided by other people on particular skills and capabilities that you bring to the workplace. Ideally, these need to come from people who have firsthand knowledge of how you operate, but LinkedIn doesn’t have that filter. So a connection who has experienced Noni’s cooking may endorse her for her culinary skills, but that has no bearing to what she actually does for a living. The good thing is that Noni can go into her LinkedIn profile and simply hide the endorsements that are inappropriate or irrelevant. Recommendations allow people to drill down a little more by providing a description of why they think you excel in a particular area. So those referees that you would include in your CV, can go ahead and provide some of their input here.
Slideshare – A final project that Noni and her classmates are currently busy with is something called Mine Design. Their lectures give them sector in mining, like coal, provide them with all the raw data and working in groups the team needs to literally design that particular mine, working out the best methods to mine the commodity in question, expected life span and all other resources and variables that would need to be put in place to get the mine up and running. The last stage is for the students to do a formal presentation to the lecturers and mining companies. On LinkedIn’s Slideshare Noni can upload her team’s presentation for public viewing, linking it back to her profile so that her connections know that it is there. Again, this is yet another opportunity for her to showcase how she might implement the theory that she has accumulated through her studying for her degree.
Share an Update & Long Form Posts – These are the areas of LinkedIn where Noni can begin to consistently keep her connections as well as prospective employers in the know. In updates she can share interesting content from others, things like articles, quotes, events she may be attending. Essentially this is about sharing quick snippets to help her stay connected to her LinkedIn tribe. One important thing to remember here though is that the information you put here does not always have to be about you, but it is a reflection of you. Here you want to showcase your diversity and range in terms of what you read and who you follow. An interesting article in Mining Weekly about the future of the mining industry and the impact of artificial intelligence, for example, would be a good fit. Not only that, but she also has the ability to create her own original content and posting it as an article on her profile. In Noni’s case, she could, for example, take some of her school assignments and repurpose them as articles, thereby showcasing her knowledge and understanding of her field.
Groups – Groups are different types of communities that can be formed by anyone using LinkedIn. In turn, anyone interested in a particular group can request to join and the group admin can choose to allow access. Noni, could join a group that focuses on mining engineering, for example, or one that with the even narrower focus of a specific commodity, like gold. The benefit of using this feature for her is that not only can she network with people with a similar interest, it is also a place where she can ask questions, possibly find job postings and make contact with and maintain people in the industry.
As I’ve already said, come 2017 Noni will have to hit the ground running to find her first formal job. I’m sure she will make use of the traditional methods that others have followed for years with varying degrees of success; I am not suggesting that she needs to disregard them completely. But incorporating LinkedIn as part of her modus operandi is like amplifying what she will be already doing ‘in real life’. Plus it will be a good habit to adopt because she can maintain relationships long term, expand her personal networks and continue with her professional development.