Social Media: Career Boost or Time Suck?

by Heather Rast |

Much has been written about how social media can (and has) helped online-savvy young people find jobs with companies anxious to acquire employees with certain talents. There are presently 12.76 million unemployed in America, 2.05 million of those ages 20 to 24. Presumably, members of this generation matriculated alongside classmate Social Media. Have the young minds used the tools and trends available, coupled with accumulated “offline” skills, to edge out the competition on the job hunt? Or simply for less ambitious pursuits?

The more industrious of the educated and peppy (or overly caffeinated) job-seekers write blogs, produce photography galleries, build demo websites, host Twitter chats, publish useful tools to GitHub, and lead meetups and barcamps. Their goals are to use these channels and venues to showcase skills ranging from design and research/writing to programming, leadership to community-building. In many ways, these activities are the digital equivalent of the unwieldy leather portfolio schlepped around by previous generations. Those who have spent any time on either side of the interview desk know how valuable those portfolios are to distinguishing candidates from one another and exposing a sliver of the depths and potential within.

The blogs and galleries, sites and code bits are tangible evidence of what my grandmother would have termed “grit and spit;” ambitious people carving out a competitive advantage in a challenging job market. Theirjob hunt portfolio work products, constructed in part with technology, mark them as capable, qualified, and clever. Initiative and curiosity has created many opportunities for those willing to devote time and energy to their quest, all without guarantee of immediate reward. Still they keep creating and building.

Indeed, social and digital media can be a means to achieve a career objective, one with broad societal benefits (reducing unemployment) and personal rewards (generating income, launching a career path).  But social and digital media can also be a time-siphon, and in the hands of the unmotivated or self-absorbed, a distraction rather than a channel for productivity.

On the one hand, there’s awesomeness with social and digital. On the other, possibly where self-discipline and initiative are week, there’s less awesomeness. And sure, there’s gray in between.

The deal: when student loans mature and the rent is due, some hunker down and push hard to make stuff happen. Social and digital are two tools in a toolbox of resources accumulated over a young lifetime. And some wait for it to materialize. Social media – along with many other things – may be a factor in the career equation. It’s a factor that a parent of a teen, I want to be mindful of.

I’m not suggesting social media in itself creates sloth or discourages ambition among youth. Some are born with intellect, drive, and an inner fire to make the most of their lives. Others choose a path with less resistance. Those inclined to skate by and ask for a boost will do so, that’s the wheat and chaffe of human nature.

What I’m suggesting is that our general preoccupation with staying connected, sharing the mundane, and compulsion to own the latest equipment sometimes clouds our vision of the real world. One where bosses want to have conversations with junior employees who have the poise, self-possession, and communication skills necessary to stay engaged in a business conversation and think in complex patterns.

Technology alone is an inert ingredient. When combined with some know-how, a bit of hustle, and creativity, a new potential emerges from all that effort. It’s the heavy leather portfolio, now supercharged. It’s happening every day, leading people to build things we never imagined.

But as with most good things, too much (to the exclusion of other stimuli and real-world experiences) is debilitating rather than productive.  My concern is that there’s a growing subset of young adults for whom a mobile data plan, high-speed access, and a Facebook timeline are part of their DNA. A 24-hour-per-day “given,” rather than an earned privilege used as a springboard to leap ahead. And a means of unregulated, personal escape that narrows their perception of or experience with the real world.

Parents, it’s time to make sure our kids understand the cost of our technologically advanced lives, and inspire our kids to combine their smarts with their social to get ahead. To find balance between their virtual world and their mechanical one.

It’s graduation day. Are our kids ready for what’s next? Technology is only part of their educational coursework.

Image courtesy of The Art Institute of Portland on Flickr.


About the Author

Heather Rast

Heather is Principal of a boutique Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. She develops brand positioning strategy and marketing communications plans to distinguish small businesses from the competition and attract their ideal customers. Her content planning, writing, and online community-building work helps larger businesses better serve their audiences with useful information that solves problems as it builds affinity for the brand.