The following post is compliments of Ben Barr, a 2009 magna cum laude graduate of the Walton College. Ben is also a Walton Scholar and a member of Beta Gamma Sigma.
As a senior Finance major from Hot Springs, I aspired to get a job in a larger city than my beautiful hometown. My first exposure to social networking was in 2005, when I joined Facebook as a high school graduate. I greatly underappreciated the power of social networks, and only until my junior year at the U of A did I fully grasp the capability available to me.
I joined LinkedIn, a professional networking site, after Charles Davis, a distinguished alum in New York City, encouraged me to do so. Linkedin allows the user to create an online resume for the public to see through the website. I then leveraged Charles' connections, LinkedIn's equivalent to Facebook friends, by sending them messages through the site regarding internship opportunities and career advice.
As my network grew throughout my junior year, I gained a tremendous amount of insight and different perspectives on the career path I desired to pursue. Social networking provided a legitimacy that a cold call or cold email didn't. Moving one degree at a time through my network allowed strangers I had never met to see that I was a serious candidate and was worth their time to speak with and provide advice to.
I was incredibly fortunate to land an internship at an investment banking firm in the Washington, D.C. area during the summer of my junior year, and I again turned to my professional network on Linkedin for advice about this opportunity. I bounced the offer and credentials of the firm off of my growing network, and these people helped me to feel confident and reassured about my decision to work for this firm. Once I arrived at my employer for the summer, my network further grew as I added many of my colleagues from the summer and others I met during my time in DC.
After receiving an offer for a full-time job from the firm in Washington, D.C., I spent the first semester of my senior year by focusing more on strengthening current relationships in my network and slowed my aggressive growth. I got to know quite a few Arkansas alumni very well through email and phone conversations about class, work, and personal life. I made many of my professional connections on LinkedIn my Facebook friends, which most view as a more socially focused networking site. The deepening of these relationships will be invaluable for me going forward as I have several close and trustworthy confidants I would not have without social networking.
My social networking life was turned upside down in early December 2008 when the firm I had an employment offer with rescinded it due to market conditions. I immediately turned to my trusted connections I had made through LinkedIn for advice about what to do in that situation. I received much-needed honest and encouraging feedback, and I felt confident in moving forward with my job search. I immediately received several phone interviews solely through connections on LinkedIn. My case in these interviews was greatly strengthened by the tremendous respect the many alumni connections I used had garnered in their professional encounters with many very powerful and well-connected people.
As the spring of my senior year progressed, the financial markets made job opportunities in finance extremely difficult to come by, but through these challenging times, my connections managed to help me line up numerous interviews and meetings. I targeted Dallas because I found many great connections there, and the job market in the DFW area had experienced a much smaller amount of turmoil relative to the rest of the country. I began to reach out to numerous alumni in finance and accounting positions across the area and received a very positive response to my calls for meetings, advice, and job help. I managed to meet with over 30 DFW alumni over a period of five weeks in March through early May.
Fortunately, early May brought with it the incredibly timely and fortunate opportunity to meet with a great alum, Ed Lynch, who referred me to the firm I recently received and accepted an offer from. Social networking allowed me to move around the business community in Dallas and helped me set up several meetings with people I would have never run across otherwise. I plan to continue to be extremely active through social networks, specifically Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in the future and hope to learn of better, more effective ways of building both my professional and social networks.