Whether you want a more lifestyle-friendly career or a job that offers a bigger paycheck, transitioning to a new field can be a daunting task. It requires making new contacts, acquiring new knowledge, and maybe even gaining new skills.
That's where social-networking site Twitter comes in. Because Twitter allows you to showcase your expertise and connect with people you want to know—compared with Facebook, where we tend to connect with people we already know—it can help you gain the momentum you need to change careers. Or, if you're a new graduate entering the workforce for the first time, the site can help you build credibility in the field where you want to work.
"[Twitter] is one of the most powerful tools for anyone who's changing careers," says Miriam Salpeter, job-search coach and author of Social Networking for Career Success. (She also blogs for U.S. News.) People often think job-searching on Twitter means learning about openings through their feed, Salpeter says, but positioning yourself as an expert in your field is a far more effective strategy.
Berrak Sarikaya, 26, used Twitter to move from an administrative and communications position at a petrochemical trade association to an internship at a large public-relations firm. After losing her job at the trade association last June, the Washington, D.C., resident tapped her Twitter network of 2,300 followers to land freelance and pro-bono projects, where she built upon her digital marketing skills.
"It was through the network I created and the brand I created and the connections that really helped me jump into the field that I wanted to be in versus the field I was in at the time," says Sarikaya, who goes by @dc_pq on Twitter.
Here are some ideas for how to use Twitter to work your way into a new career:
Use your real name as your handle. Whether it's your first and last name, or one or the other, using your name as your handle gives you a jump start on personal branding. When it comes to moving Twitter connections offline, your contacts will recognize you based on your name alone, which eliminates that middle step of recognizing your handle and then remembering your name. Plenty of Twitter users, including Sarikaya, build brands around non-name handles, but the easiest way to gain visibility is to go by your name.
Know what you want. Job seekers often make the mistake of diving into a search before assessing their needs and desires. What kind of job do you want? What transferable skills do you have that will help you reach that goal? Once you've got that down, you'll be far more effective with any online campaign.
Build your knowledge base first. Have at least a general understanding of the field you want to enter before following industry experts on Twitter, because they won't follow you back unless you offer useful information, says Alison Doyle, job-search expert for About.com. Then "use Twitter as a vehicle to promote those qualifications," she says.
Use your bio to your advantage. "[Job seekers should] make sure their bio is about their future and not about their past," says Salpeter. This is your chance to position yourself and showcase your strengths. Include keywords that resonate with people who work and hire in your target industry. Along those same lines, tweet about where you're going more than where you came from.
Showcase your expertise through your tweets. Provide links to valuable information, insight into related events, referrals to experts, tips for doing the job well—anything that shows, in a helpful not boastful way, that you know what you're talking about. When it comes to proving your understanding of your industry, Twitter can be more useful than a resume.
Follow industry leaders. Identify the top players in your industry and follow them for insight. Occasionally respond to or re-tweet their tweets to give them the chance to notice you; if they follow you back, you've opened the door for a direct message, or private communication. But keep in mind that networking etiquette exists on Twitter just like in person, Salpeter says. Don't immediately tweet at a new contact asking for favors, just like "you wouldn't walk up to a stranger on the street and ask for a job," she says. "The same nuances apply online."
Understand the power of lists. One way to identify those thought leaders and influential people to follow is through lists. Piggyback on someone else's list—Listorious is one resource that helps you find them—or create your own list of experts, which shows you know who's who in your target field. To easily keep up with your lists, pull them into a Twitter application like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck. "It's just a matter of following the industry that you want to be in," Sarikaya says, "and just absorbing and jumping into the conversation when you can, because that's how people get to know you."
Follow industry hashtags. This will help you find new information and more relevant people to follow. To figure out which hashtags might be of interest, look through streams of industry leaders you've identified. Some hashtags represent chats, yet another opportunity to interact with people who work in your target field and earn their respect. If you're under 30, Sarikaya suggests following #u30pro—that stands for under-30 professionals—for career-development conversations that can apply to any field.
Attend tweetups. These in-person meetings are excellent opportunities to bring Twitter connections offline and develop personal relationships so your contacts feel comfortable recommending you. Most tweetups have an accompanying hashtag, so identify the hashtags in your industry and you'll likely stumble upon these networking opportunities.
Maintain focus. It's easy to get sucked into Twitter and forget why you're there, Doyle says. Look to broaden your horizons and acquire new knowledge and contacts, but don't lose sight of your goal. Remain professional and look at your own Twitter stream every few weeks to make sure you're presenting yourself in a way that will help you move forward.