Getting an informal education

I recently read a great post by Steve Levy, that outlined his career progression, his lesson learned and his personal views on recruiting over the last quarter decade. It was fascinating and humbling and it got me thinking. First about my career as a marketer (a decade old now!), second as a recruiter (just a toddler at 2) and my new addiction to social media (an enfant terrible, just 12 months old). I’ve been criticized for thinking that the world only began to notice something once I became a part of it, a narcissistic trait to be sure. I’ve always done this with other media:

“How can that show be popular? I’ve never seen it!”

“I’m reading this great new book, oh Oprah just did a show on it?”

“You have to hear this great new singer. What do you mean you already have his greatest hits album?”

So to sum up, I understand I am not the first to receive a robust supplemental education from the internet.

Anyway, the only one of my career fields where I received a formal education was marketing. Recruiting was a bit of a school of hard knocks and Social Media has been a passion turned new tool for clients. But either way you slice it, I had to take the time to learn, sell and implement. Which is a little tough when there are only 24 measly hours in a day.

To try and supplement my informal education, I take advantage of every opportunity I can.

-National Conferences. Sometimes the education is better than that you can receive online or even at local events. Sometimes it isn’t. The point is that there are usually powerful influencers in your industry there. Often, this is a great way to fast forward your relationship, particulalry if the conference provides a great deal of time to network and converse (many don’t). If the conference includes an expo or vendor hall, it’s a great place to spot trends in what’s happening in the industry and to get to know what vendors are thinking, feeling and expecting.

-Local Events. Local events (particularly if you don’t live in a conference town like, say, Omaha) can be a great place to brainstorm theories, work through issues pertinent only to you and to learn more about what kinds of industry tools will work in your space. People may disagree with me but I believe that regardless of where you are doing business (less than 30% of my business is local) these are excellent places to learn and grow. Chambers of Commerce are great but may not be enough for high level service providers or B2B marketers. Finding (or founding!) a grass roots group is one of the best ways to learn more about your craft and what’s working in other industries (Hint: it could work in yours!)

-Online. The Intahnets can be both powerful and insidious. I say powerful because of the information contained HERE and because of the sites, links and awesomeness always out there to distract you. List of sites that have distracted me just since the beginning of this post:

Comments here

Your Social Media Strategy

Long Tail Search

The Investigative Recruiter

Does my picture suck?

Awesome Mashup Music Site
(also served as the soundtrack for the post)

White Papers/e-books/magazines: One of the ways I try to supplement my education is by downloading white papers and reading them when I have no internet access (becoming rarer all the time, soon I shall have to utilize my GASP! willpower). The nice thing about these is that if you can keep in mind that they are generally attempts to market something, albeit with very good information included, they are usually laid out and designed very nicely, making for a pleasant reading experience. They are “scannable” for many of the main points. Pictures help!

Slideshare: I have been using this tool more and more lately. Not only can you browse through thousands of online lectures, now slideshare has added slidecasts, so there can be audio as well. And the best part is, when you have a “report” of your own to deliver, it might go up in one of their Alltop-esque categories, thus broadening your reach. However, make sure your stuff is exactly as you want it to appear (since PPT hates my pretty fonts, I shall have to use PDF from now on) before posting. Mine recently made the career catergory, janked fonts and all!

Conversations: These can happen online or off. Online chat rooms, Twitter and friendfeed, facebook and other chat functions have made it easier for an online community or group to discuss things of interest in the industry. These work best if you are willing to ask stupid questions. Trying to pretend you know it all makes for a dull chat, particularly if everyone else is doing the same thing. In person, the equation for an education conversation is simple, ask more than you tell.

Timing: I’ve had many people ask me about how to navigate this. I was offered several  assingments to do social media strategy or to promote certain brands when I first started my blog and began cruising around the internet. But (here’s the rub) I knew I wasn’t ready. Not only did I not know enough about recruiting, I knew even less about social media, except that I liked it. The whole stinking field was new and while I could certainly see parallels and applications in marketing, a field I was comfortable with, I didn’t feel it would be wise or honest to “experiment” with other people’s brands. Create your own “internship” while allowing yourself to explore new oppotunities and tools.