Building Your Career Requires More than a Smartphone

CP Railroad, Bensenville, Illinois

Does anyone in the construction & engineering industry believe that LinkedIn is your ticket to a high-paying, secure job?

I just read an article in Fast Company magazine that got my blood simmering a bit.

I consider myself to be a “dabbler” when it comes to social media. I use LinkedIn. I have a Instagram account that I use occasionally. I have my website & my podcast, but I don’t consider either of them to be social media, they are my platforms to teach & mentor. I don’t strive to be an “influencer,” I just want to be a voice and an advocate for our our industry. 

The generations that are coming behind mine haven’t know a world without apps and smartphones.

There’s an interpersonal divide that is concurring. I see it in my own kids. There is a belief that human-to-human communication can be modified to typing & texts.

I don’t need to answer the phone, just leave your message on my voicemail and I’ll send you a text in response.

I don’t want to call and talk to anyone, can’t I just schedule my appointment on-line?

Reading this article and the summary findings, to me, are disturbing. It’s pointing to what is wrong with how younger people are viewing work.

Yes, LinkedIn allows all of us to connect. To meet for the first time. To read each other’s credentials and see if we have common interests. We can see each other’s resumes, see if we follow the same things. We get the opportunity to go to a “mixer” without actually going. And yes, it affords us the opportunity to send a blind/cold message to someone we’ve never met before as an ice-breaker. A cold call. In inquiry.

All that is well-and-good. Back in the day, you had to have a lot more resilience when it came to networking and opening doors. Finding job postings in a newspaper took work. Finding out information about a company that you were interested in took actual research, trying to find magazine articles or trade publications that might mention something about the company. You had to send cover letters and resumes and then wait by the phone or the mailbox to find out if the company was interested in having you come in for a sit-down interview.

And now, of course, that system has changed. LinkedIn has become all of that. It has taken the friction out of the pursuit. Some would say that’s a good thing. I am on the fence.

Look, having the ability to mine information about a potential candidate, or a company, or a job position using the Internet is here to stay. And I’m OK with that. I’d be a hypocrite if I said that I don’t “follow” companies. Of course seeing social media posts from other engineering companies or people in my network shed light on what they are up to. And yes, it’s all good intel on the pulse of what’s going on.

But here’s where I jump off: LinkedIn is turning into a “human-being search tool.”

Back in the day, the term “head hunter” brought an interesting vibe to employment seeking. If you were an employee looking to switch companies, you could try to find a head hunter in your industry, and they would do the cold-calling of people in their Rolodex who might be looking to hire. Or, they might be able to provide a lead to someone in there network who might be looking to hire.

And the reverse was true. Companies might hire a “head hunter” to do just that: Make cold calls and do outreach to try to find individuals who might be interested in a role that they were looking to fill. 

It was usually a blind phone call that caught you off-guard. I remember how upset I would get when a head hunter called my office and left a message. Why the hell is this guy bothering me? How did she get my number? Who gave it to them? Why are you calling me? Do you think I don’t like my company?

But here’s the rub: Back in the day, to be a head hunter was a tough gig. It was work. Your success was based on the vastness of your network. Head-hunters were networkers. They were the “nodes” in the web diagrams. A good head-hunter had their fingers on the pulse.

That was then.

Now, anyone who can use a search engine can call themselves an “executive recruiter,” or “recruiting consultant” or “professional search manager.” LinkedIn is the new Rolodex – You don’t need a network of your own, you build it by searching hashtags and keywords.

Recruiting has become like trying to find an air fryer on Amazon: Type it in the search bar and you get dozens of results.

There are, what I consider to be, some stunning AND worrisome findings in the survey of 1200 Gen Z-ers:

“More than 8 in 10 (respondents) believe that messaging an employer may lead to a job opportunity.”

“Half of respondents said that they were consistently searching for new job opportunities. Even among those satisfied with their current job, more than a third said that they are constantly searching for new job opportunities.”

“A majority believe you don’t need to meet in person to forge a professional connection.”


From My Perspective

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m somewhat of a throw-back. While I like having a laptop with a touch screen and that I can use rechargeable earbuds to listen to my music, I’m built the way I’m built. I use paper & pencil. I prefer a hard copy book to an e-Book (although I own a Kindle…go figure….). I like simple.

And I realize that I’m a throw-back. The world is changing on more fronts than I’m willing to keep up with. And I’m OK with that. FOMO doesn’t plague me.

What I am deeply concerned about is the deterioration of human interaction skills amongst young people. I’m seeing it in real time. I see it with my kids, both of whom are in their 20’s. I see it in my students. I see it just being out-and-about in society. I’m constantly reading about it.

I know that I can’t solve it. The onset of mobile devices and the addiction that it’s created in young people is negatively impacting society. I have no problem in being the fuddy-duddy saying it, I’m reading about & seeing it happen.

So in the same way that I’m managing my email, I am now being much more disciplined with LinkedIn. I will vet the inbound messages. If the message is a cut & paste job (which are pretty easy to spot…), I’m not going to waste my time with it. Time is currency, and my time is my own, I choose how I spend it.

I am very conscious of my on-line browsing time. I’m not a doom-scroller. 5 minutes of LinkedIn scrolling is about my maximum. Find a few posts from friends, co-workers, people I know in industry, and then I’m moving along to a book, my journal or the website/podcast.

I was a very early adaptor of LinkedIn. It’s still my social media channel of choice. But now there’s more ads, more bot accounts. More junk to have to cipher through to get to what I want to see & read about. It’s too bad, but like everything else in the virtual world, I can’t control it, I can only control how I engage with it.

We all know the phone has become an appendage to many. Resist. Resist the temptress that it is. Choose how you spend your time. OODA. Stay vigilant. Value & spend your time like it’s the currency that it is.

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