I’m moving ever closer to the actual field work stage of the PhD process, which is both exciting and slightly unnerving. I’ll explain why.
Firstly, it’s exciting because conducting primary research is essentially what a PhD is all about (in the majority of cases – I’m sure some arts and humanities projects may differ). Your work contributes to the field, and so should be suitably distinct from the other work which is already out there. This means (in theory at least) that I will soon be collecting data which will provide a unique perspective to online networking during job search, within the paradigm of information science.
At a more basic level, it will get me off my backside and mingling with people from the real world again (as opposed to the academic world). Be it day-to-day research work, seminars, conferences, symposiums or teaching, I have spent a substantial amount of the last year in a bubble of intellectualism (or pseudo-intellectualism on my part, as the cynics amongst you may note). There is nothing wrong with that world per se (ach, I like it), but if I’m being honest, it will be nice to pick the brains of somebody who is not preoccupied with an overarching theoretical framework*.
And that leads me on to what I am finding quite unnerving – the prospect of trying to extract meaningful data from jobseekers about their social media use. For the last few days I have been surfing through and hoarding as much online advice as possible which relates to seeking employment with the help of social websites. The process has thrust a realisation to the very forefront of my mind that I have been desperately trying to suppress for months:
Using social media to find a job is terrifying.
Okay, that’s not a very scientific statement, but let me qualify it.
There are loads of great web pages out there (a significant portion of which are linked to academic institutions) which offer jobseekers advice on how to channel their social media use to develop useful networks, and find relevant employment opportunities. See here, here and here for example.
The problem is the sheer amount and diversity of the information which is on offer. You see, reading tips about online networking reminds me a wee bit of what it was like when I started the literature review phase of my research. There is a mountain of advice out there on yonder internet, and after a few hours valiantly battering away at it with a meagre pickaxe, you are eventually swamped by an avalanche of disillusionment and uncertainty. Basically, it is bewildering.
Also, reading the advice, it soon becomes apparent that being effective in the online battle to secure employment will take, if not a gargantuan effort, then at least dogged persistence and consistency on behalf of the jobseeker. Notwithstanding a decent grasp of language, an understanding of how to judge information sources/where to find them (see information literacy), some technological nous, and the ability to promote a positive and personable brand self-image that is a fair reflection of reality.
Ironically, when you put it like that, being ‘good’ at social media during job search appears to be quite a difficult job which requires a carefully nuanced skillset. Which begs the question: who out there is bothering with all of that effort?
Thankfully, there is a flipside to all of this (isn’t there always). For example, simply having a Twitter account, or being a member of a certain Facebook group, could be the gateway to the job information we need. After all, digital technologies can be very powerful platforms for passive information acquisition. Online communities such as public discussion forums, provide ideal opportunities to mine information with very little input required on behalf of the user.
And of course, these things are seldom black and white. It is very unlikely that a simple divide exists between avant-garde social media afficionados, and shadowy, passive receptors.
For me though, this presents its own challenge when it comes to collecting data – if social media tools can be useful for both highly proactive and largely inactive jobseekers, then conceptualising user activity is unlikely to be a straight forward process. I will try my utmost.
* Crude exaggeration, for effect.