Finding a Guide for Online Networking
By ELIZABETH POPE
Published: October 14, 2009
THE last time Mac McCabe looked for consulting work with sustainable businesses, it was a different world. “Back in the early ’90s, the socially responsible business world was so small I knew everyone coast to coast,” said Mr. McCabe, 62, of Portland, Me.
These days Mr. McCabe, the head of an organic restaurant chain where business has slowed, is in the market for consulting work again. So he pulled out his Rolodex and started phoning old friends. “I soon discovered there’s a whole new generation and they communicate in different ways,” he said.
To get up to speed, he registered a domain name and tried to start a blog, linking it to social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. “Pretty soon I was in over my head and I knew I needed help,” he said.
As networking has migrated to the Web, many older adults find themselves unfamiliar with online job-hunting tools. They are likely to be “digital immigrants” who must learn the language and culture of the Internet Age, said Marc Prensky, the author of “Digital Game-Based Learning” and an expert on generational change and education. “And your best cultural guide is a younger person,” he said, “a digital native, born into a world of computers, video games and instant messaging.”
According to an online survey by Knowledge Networks for the Center for Work-Life Policy in New York, older adults are actively seeking technical help from younger generations. Forty percent of the 1,595 people surveyed reported asking younger colleagues for help with iTunes, text-messaging and social networking, said Laura Sherbin, an economist with the center.
“Gen Y and boomers who are close to retirement have incredible synergy because they want the same things — autonomy and flexibility,” Ms. Sherbin said. “So they work very well together.”
In September, Mr. McCabe sought help from Bethany Round, his wife’s colleague at the University of Southern Maine, who has blogged personally and professionally since 2001. After a couple of tutorials, he started a blog (www.macmccabe.com), linked it to Twitter, wrote a Facebook profile and sent a mass e-mail message to his friends.
“I could have figured all of this out myself, but it would have taken ages,” Mr. McCabe said. “Beth’s fingers just flew over the keyboard.”
Blogs and social media are excellent marketing devices for job-hunters and much cheaper than Web sites or newsletters, said Ms. Round, 37, who is assistant director of the university’s honors program. “It’s amazing how quickly people start following you,” she said. “You’ll reach people seeking advice or information or who ask provocative questions. It’s a good way to get your name out there.”
More than 60 percent of Generation Y — those born between 1979 and 1994 — participate in online social media, according to the Center for Work-Life Policy research. Young people can sometimes spot job leads overlooked by their elders.
Dick Goldberg, a playwright in Philadelphia, always enjoyed using his musical and writing skills to raise money for his favorite charities. One day he told his family that if the right nonprofit position came along, he would leap at it.
“My daughter Rosa, said, ‘Well, Dad, if you’re serious about becoming a social change agent, you should take a look at Idealist.org.’ ”
Mr. Goldberg, 62, had never heard of the site, which lists paid and volunteer positions with nonprofit organizations, but through it he landed a job as director of Coming of Age, a Philadelphia nonprofit that helps adults 50 and older find paid and unpaid work in the social sector.
“I freelanced for more than two decades and this was the only job I applied for,” he said. “All because Rosa, who just turned 29, sent me in the right direction.”
After five years of running Coming of Age, Mr. Goldberg is now replicating the program in other cities and helping Idealist.org with a national training program.
IN the online world, job-hunting assistance from a younger generation can even come from the other side of the world. Claire LeSage, 62, of Norton, Mass., was pondering a second career after retiring last year from a Boston-area moving company. Her 31-year-old nephew, a Navy officer stationed in Okinawa, Japan, was her adviser as she began a relocation business, At Wittz End.
“He thought this was a great business idea,” Ms. LeSage said, adding that her nephew set her up on Skype, an Internet telephone service, “and talked me off a lot of ledges, particularly in the early stages when money was tight.”
Encouraged by her nephew, Ms. LeSage developed a Web site and joined the Chamber of Commerce and BNI International, a business networking service, to build her business. Chamber members in their 20s and 30s have also given her advice on how to set fees and manage clients.
“It’s amazing what information you can learn from younger people,” she said. “I hate giving public presentations, but they coached me and now I’m 100 percent better.”
For Mr. McCabe, mastering 21st-century social media and blogging tools for job-hunting is a continuing adventure. “It’s like learning a new language,” he said.
The comparison is apt, according to Mr. Prensky, who says some digital immigrants may always speak with an “accent,” printing out e-mail messages or reading the user’s manual instead of experimenting with new software.
But bewildered older job-hunters are not alone, he added. “Smart immigrants have always relied on the younger generation to learn the language,” he said. “Kids today are eager to help, because sharing information is part of their culture. Get their phone numbers and call whenever you have a question. They love to pass this stuff around.”