Leveraging Social Networking to Advance Skilled-Trades Careers

September 23, 2013

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White-collar professionals have seized the social networking phenomenon to showcase their skills, build strong connections, and improve their odds of landing a new job. Blue-collar workers have been a neglected social-network demographic. However, new online resources are emerging to help skilled-trades workers extend their job searches.

“The majority of jobs are still found through word-of-mouth, so the more people you know, the more likely you’ll be on someone’s mind when a suitable opportunity arises,” said Patrick Cushing, the founder of WorkHands, a new online career platform geared toward the blue-collar worker. “When it comes to social media, the process and presentation are different, as you’re not face-to-face, but the same principle applies. Knowing more people in your field -- even online -- simply extends your reach to increase the number of opportunities that come your way.”

Much like a worker in a white-collar industry, a worker in the trades will be better off if he or she is well connected. Social networks offer blue-collar professionals not only the opportunity to connect with their peers, but also access to experts around the world, enabling them to learn from and engage with influential people in their field. Because of social media, working professionals today have the power to maximize their learning in ways their parents and grandparents couldn’t.

LinkedIn is the largest professional network in the United States today, providing an effective place for career-oriented members to network and make contacts. The social networking site ended the second quarter of 2013 with more than 238 million members, up 37 percent from the same quarter last year.

Yet while LinkedIn is a valuable resource for white-collar professionals, including many in STEM professions, it doesn’t cater to blue-collar professionals as well as it could and should, Cushing said.

“For many white-collar professionals, LinkedIn covers your needs. Where you’ve worked and gone to school tell most of your story," he told IMT Career Journal. "That’s simply not the case in the trades. Your work tells your story. Your years of experience and craftsmanship are important in the trades.”

That's why Cushing and his colleagues earlier this month launched WorkHands.

The new online resource essentially functions as a LinkedIn for trades workers. The website states that it serves as “a meeting place for the American workers who build, maintain, fix, and haul, heroes who spend their days getting their hands dirty to make our country run.” There, trades workers can show off not only their credentials, but also their actual work.

“At WorkHands, you feature your work in the trades the way you would in the real world. If you work for a small fabrication shop for years and suddenly find yourself needing a job, the name of that shop won’t really tell your story,” Cushing said. “You can also feature tools and machinery you know how to use, certifications you’ve earned in your field, and yes, where you’ve worked and been trained. It’s a much more complete picture of what you can do in skilled-trades industries.”

WorkHands features an online resume template designed exclusively for blue-collar workers. It highlights images of users’ work, verified certifications, tools and machinery they operate, and more. This enables trades workers to provide evidence that they are as exceptional as their paper resumes say.

For employers seeking welders, carpenters, or any number of other skilled-trades workers, the new online resource enables them to extend their recruiting in a simpler way.

“Companies can’t fully appreciate someone’s skills from a paper resume, and workers can’t fully showcase their abilities that way either. If workers can really feature their abilities, then companies can be a lot more comfortable hiring, or at least interviewing, someone that’s not immediately connected to them,” said Cushing.

In the past, a paper resume was all a recruiter used to screen a job candidate to determine whether he or she would get an interview. Today, a growing number of companies are relying on social media profiles to research job candidates, and many of their hiring decisions are based on what they find online.

A recent CareerBulder survey of hiring managers and human resource professionals found that 39 percent of companies currently use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 37 percent last year.

As more employers add reviewing candidates’ social networks in making hiring decisions, it becomes even more critical that job seekers be aware of what information they’re making available online.

Recent findings offer evidence that some job candidates are being rejected because of their social media profiles.

CareerBuilder reported that 43 percent of the hiring managers who research candidates via social media said they have found information that has caused them to reject a job candidate, up 9 percent from last year. A recent Eurocom Worldwide survey, focusing on the technology market, found that nearly one in five tech industry executives last year said that a candidate’s social media profile had caused them not to hire that person.

So what are hiring managers looking for on social media? CareerBuilder’s survey indicates that hiring managers are using social media to “get a glimpse” of candidates’ behavior and personality outside of the interview, and are most interested in “professional presentation and how the candidate would fit with the company culture.”

Just as it matters how you present yourself in the real world, so too does protecting your online image.

“In both cases, you need to present your best self at all times,” Cushing advised. “If that’s in person, it means speaking intelligently about your field and experience, carrying yourself properly on site, and dressing the part. If that’s online, it means featuring your best work, practicing good writing, and using good judgment about what you share.”

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