Chaim Shapiro of Touro College on Networking, LinkedIn, and the Future of Career Services

Chaim Shapiro.

Chaim Shapiro.

Chaim Shapiro is a lot of things. Award-winning Assistant Director of Career Services at Touro College. Speaker and writer. Highly regarded consultant.

We interviewed him about networking online, recent changes to LinkedIn, and the future of career services.

Below is our conversation in edited and condensed form.

What is your networking strategy?

What I always tell people is to identify on LinkedIn, engage over Twitter, and seal over coffee. Though LinkedIn is a great identification tool, great for identifying leaders, it’s not the best of engagement tools.

The best place to engage is on Twitter when you can wait for the appropriate moment when someone is talking about something you share an interest in. Then after you build that relationship, the final thing to do is arrange an in-person meeting where you’re able to interact with them and seal the deal, or “seal over coffee.”

In my experience, not many people actively use LinkedIn. People are far more active on twitter.

Exactly, that’s where the real engagement and interactions happen, as opposed to on LinkedIn. The idea is to follow someone on Twitter, either through a private list, then wait until they talk about something that’s of mutual interest—I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan, The Princess Bride, etc. Whatever it is, when a person makes a comment like that, that’s your opportunity to respond. Then when they interact with you, start building that relationship and continuing that conversation until you have something, some rapport built, so that when you’re asking for that eventual meeting, they think, “Oh yeah! This is a good friend of mine, I talk to him on Twitter about topics that we’re both passionate about.”

If you ask somebody for something, for an interview for a job, the simple answer is “No.” But when you build that relationship, and you have that credibility where the person knows who you are, it can be a very effective way of circumventing the question, “Who in the world are you, why should I pay attention to you?”

LinkedIn has made a lot of changes recently, in particular to LinkedIn groups. What do you think of these changes?

I think LinkedIn is making a mistake when it comes to its groups. I understand they’re doing it because of the groups that became spamfests full of people that were self promoting, but there has to be some medium between fully public and fully private.

The idea of a group that’s fully public that’s around a particular area of interest, it’s like we used to say in college when I was an undergraduate. What happens if I go to the chess club and I say, "We’re going to start playing checkers"? It loses its status as a chess club if you’re playing checkers. You can’t really have a fully public group with people who aren’t interested in or specific to the specificities of that group. It was a mistake in my mind.

I think you either have to find some kind of medium where you can make groups around interest areas and people can engage in that way, but on the other hand make it so it’s neither completely public nor private so that people can find it. The other thing is, with a public group, anybody who is a member can invite anybody else to join and approve their membership, so it’s very very difficult.

What do you think of LinkedIn's new app for students?

It’s based on a sort of Tinder model: It has five things you swipe through per day. What we don’t need is for students thinking that choosing a career is like choosing who you want to ask out on a date. I mean, it’s just completely the wrong message. There’s a lot of thought that needs to go into those decisions you’re making. It’s not just like, "Hey, I’ll send her an email, I’ll send him an email, if they respond, great, if not, fine, what’s the big deal."

People are making life decisions based on what amounts to a Tinder date kind of app, at least that's what it looks like. I think it really is a mistake. In career services, one of the things we talk to students about a significant amount of the time is making career decisions and making decisions that are right for them based on who they are, what they enjoy doing, where their skills are, and there’s no way an app that gives you five suggestions a day could possibly get near the depth necessary to let students make those kind of informed decisions. I’m not saying change something drastically. I haven’t seen the app, I haven’t actually used it yet. But, I was panning it on Twitter today for quite a bit after their initial launch and was very upset about it.

Look, I understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to make an easy system to get more students involved. From their perspective, it increases user engagement and their numbers, but, you know, we’re dealing with people’s lives here. We’re dealing with career choices that have ramifications, and if you change things, it makes a big difference.

Even the old idea from one of my colleagues in career serivces mentioned today, it’s also based on the old model that "Career = Major X," or, "If I major in this I’m going to choose a career in this particular area." That is not the model anymore, not by a long shot. People choose careers for different majors in all sorts of different areas.

How do you see Career Services changing in the next few decades?

I think there’s going to be much more of an emphasis on graduates' first destinations and other outcomes—being able to demonstrate clearly that there’s a positive outcome because of the interactions you’ve had with students. That the work that you’re doing relates directly into some kind of career success.

It’s difficult because sometimes people in career services view themselves as student development professionals where our focus is education, not job outcomes, but, look, when it comes down to the matter, people want to know, and prospective students want to know, "Will I get a job after I’m done?" And I think it is important to be able to demonstrate those kinds of outcomes.

I think career services is going to become a much more important part of the college community. Senior administrators understand how important the work we do is because it really is what sells the college to a lot of people. I hope and think that additional resources will be given to career services across the country, and really a focus on working together. I’d like to see senior administrators who have sort of a dual role working within career services and also reporting directly to the senior administration.

In terms of the actual services, I think a lot of the services are going to move toward a model where you meet students where they are. If you want to meet over Skype, work on your résumé on Google Docs, make a phone call, all those things, as opposed to the standard in-person meting where someone’s sitting in front of you and you’re talking to them. I think it’s about engaging them where they are, making sure they get the services they need.

How are you preparing for and adapting to those changes?

I’m a very big fan of NACE [the National Association of Colleges and Employers], I’m very involved in NACE, and NACE is on the forefront of all these things. Some of the people at NACE really changed the paradigm in the profession: Yes, career services is student development, but outcomes are also important. I go to their conferences, I go to all their events and their webinars. They give significant advice and tools in order to be able to compete and provide the services that students need and that administrators want.

In my work, I deal with the overlap between career services, alumni relations, and advancement. I think offering career services help and assistance to alumni is something that alumni like and that they respect. It helps build and cultivate long-term relationships with alumni, so that’s obviously good for any alumni association, and that’s obviously great for any kind of development opportunities. There’s a real synergy between the three, and if they work well together, if they’re able to provide services, those services are able to translate themselves into committed alumni, and committed alumni translate into development opportunities.

We should not only engage alumni and get them whatever career services help they need, we should also engage alumni so they’re interested in helping students, interested in mentoring. One of the best ways to develop recruitment relationships between us and companies is by contacting our alumni, developing strong relationships with them, bringing them to campus to speak to our students, and then having them, from inside their company say, “I met a great student at Touro, I want to pass along this résumé.” That’s a great way to build those relationships, and I think that’s very, very important.