Book review: Graduate to LinkedIn: Jump-start your career network now

I realize it may seem anachronistic to be researching LinkedIn through books (and not even e-books, but the old fashioned paper-based kind). However, while it’s entirely possible that the same information may be available through blog posts and other modern sources, if it’s packaged nicely for me and waiting at the local public library, why not give it a try?

Today I’ll be discussing Graduate to LinkedIn: Jump-start your career network now by John Fowler and Melissa Giovagnoli Wilson.

As the title suggests, this book is aimed at university students. The main point is that it’s tough to find a job these days, so it’s important to build business relationships while still in school. In order to do so, you need to take what the authors call the “Networlding approach.” Networlding is a buzz word developed by the second author in a previous book, and what it boils down to is networking in such a way that you form strong, mutually supportive relationships with the people in your network. Personally, I think Networlding is the same as effective networking, but the authors insist that Networlding leads to both internal and external fulfillment, and I have never felt quite that way about my own experiences with networking.

The book was published in 2010, so I was concerned that it would seem a bit dated (if that sounds unfair, consider that LinkedIn has been around for less than 10 years, and it has already been two and a half years since the beginning of 2010). Fortunately, I found this was not the case, with the minor exception of a few features that have changed names. I did find an unusually high number of typos, though, and upon further investigation discovered that the book is not printed by a major publisher, but instead by a small press operated by the second author.

The authors’ style is quite readable, if you’re not distracted by the typos, and they do a good job of balancing explanations of LinkedIn’s specific features with higher level discussions of the philosophy behind the site. The bite sized real life success stories that are mixed in every now and then are effective as concrete examples of the potential of LinkedIn. I especially appreciated the time the authors took to explain some concepts and best practices that many would consider beyond the scope of this type of publication; for example, they go into a fair amount of detail when discussing informational interviews, from how to request one to what topics to bring up at the interview. Although there are many examples in the main text of how to phrase your communications, the appendix helpfully provides samples of the following:

  • Inviting someone to connect
  • Requesting an introduction (including messages for both the person to whom you’re being introduced, and the person giving the introduction)
  • Requesting a recommendation
  • Writing a recommendation
  • Requesting an informational interview

Less helpful is the second part of the appendix, “other Networlding tools for your career success,” where the second author shamelessly promotes three of her previous books (Amazon.com and Publishers Weekly reviews and all).

Final verdict? I would definitely recommend it for business students, who are the book’s target audience. Some of the examples don’t apply to people outside of the business world, but many of them are reasonably universal. At 161 pages for the main text, it’s a quick read, and I can think of many less productive uses of your time, so give it a shot if you’re interested. I can’t help but end by pointing out that while the authors state they are giving half of the proceeds from the book to “initiatives that help 12-29 year olds improve their chances of success in the world,” they don’t specify which initiatives will receive the money, and the first author (who is presumably quite concerned with his own chances of success) happens to have been under 30 at the time of publication. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a coincidence.

Comments?

Book review: The power in a link: open doors, close deals, and change the way you do business using LinkedIn

I love LinkedIn. Some see it as just a social network for businesspeople (or, as the author of the book I’m about to discuss puts it, “Facebook in a suit”), but it is a powerful tool for anyone who takes their career seriously. When I was working as a librarian at McGill I was invited to give a workshop to business students on how to make the most out of this tool (and invited to repeat my presentation for a different group the following year), and I believe I gave these students tips that will make a significant contribution to their career development. Unfortunately, many librarians not only do not consider themselves businesspeople but actually avoid resources that appear to be business-oriented. Dismissing this tool is a serious missed opportunity, so I’m putting together a LinkedIn workshop for librarians and other information professionals. In my research for this workshop, I came across the following book:

The power in a link : open doors, close deals, and change the way you do business using LinkedIn by David Gowel

What caught my attention about this book is that, unlike most of the LinkedIn books that have been published, it does not take a primarily “how to” approach. Rather than starting with tips for building a strong profile and then moving through the features of the site, Gowel opens with a discussion of social capital and touches on the philosophy behind LinkedIn. And even when he covers the more technical aspects he takes a storytelling approach, drawing from his own experience, instead of relying on screenshots of the site (though there are a few of those as well).

The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Part 1: Why Wake Up?
    • The first part focuses on what makes LinkedIn such a revolutionary tool (with a healthy serving of hyperbole). The title of the section makes reference to the author’s belief that people are seriously missing out by not joining the party and that these people need to wake up to a new way to do business before their competitors do.
  • Part 2: From Army Ranger to LinkedIn Jedi
    • The second part tells the story of how the author used LinkedIn to kickstart his new career after leaving the military (though he makes liberal use of personal stories throughout the book).
  • Part 3: Getting Technical
    • The third part covers specific tips for making the most of the site, with a chapter on each aspect of the author’s “4P” approach:
      • Privacy and security protection
      • Profile improvement
      • Proper network growth
      • Proactive business tool usage

From the start it’s clear that Gowel thinks quite highly of himself, and while I certainly appreciate the value of confidence (read my post on calling yourself an expert if you haven’t already), his cocky attitude left a sour taste in my mouth early on. Throughout the book he quotes the glowing things others have said about him, and he makes reference no fewer than ten times (I counted) to the fact that a journalist once called him a “LinkedIn Jedi.”

Once I came to terms with the author’s self congratulatory style, I found that he is actually a good storyteller, and the stories make for an engaging read. I can imagine that someone who had been on the fence about LinkedIn might be brought over to Gowel’s point of view by reading Part 1.

Unfortunately, Part 2 covers little new territory, instead allowing the author five chapters of text to tell stories that exemplify the ideas he outlined in Part 1 (which were already sufficiently illustrated with stories, thanks very much). To be fair, there are some suggestions for readers here, such as tips for job seekers, but these are mainly common sense bullet points.

Part 3 contains tips that people may find useful. I found one (but only one) nugget that I had not considered before and immediately put into use in my own profile: when listing the URL of your blog or other website, always choose “Other” from the dropdown menu because this will allow you to customize the text that appears. The chapter about building your network is worth reading (for those who are not already LinkedIn Jedis), and the section on performing company research is interesting but brief.

So, would I recommend this book? That’s a difficult question. Gowel clearly knows a lot about LinkedIn (his career revolves around teaching others to use it), and I like his storytelling style (up to a certain point) and his approach of considering why and not just how to use the tool. On the other hand, he spends a significant amount of the book patting himself on the back and complimenting the people who have said nice things about him. I think the book would be most valuable to someone who isn’t quite convinced that LinkedIn is for them – but of course, this type of person probably wouldn’t be motivated to pick up the book in the first place. For anyone already on board, the third part would be useful, but be aware this section is only 60 pages long. So here’s my advice. Pick up a copy at the library and do the following:

  1. Read the preface and introduction
  2. Start reading Part 1, and stop when you’re convinced that putting some time and effort into LinkedIn is a good idea
  3. Skip Part 2 altogether (or, if you must, read the summary at the end of each chapter)
  4. Read Part 3

Have you read this book? Is there another source of LinkedIn tips you would recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Learning to code through Codecademy: a great idea, but not quite perfected

As a librarian with a strong interest in web services, I’ve always wanted to improve my coding skills. I’m comfortable with HTML and basic CSS, and way back in the day my friends and I entertained ourselves by creating text-based adventure games in DOS using some form of BASIC, but to be honest, more advanced programming languages intimidated me a bit. So several months ago I was intrigued to discover Codecademy. The claim on their home page caught my attention:

Codecademy is the easiest way to learn how to code. It’s interactive, fun, and you can do it with your friends.

When I first signed up, lessons were only offered on JavaScript, but they have since added HTML, CSS, and jQuery (which works with JavaScript), and more content is being added on a regular basis. In fact, the site offers a course called Code Year, which was designed for people who wanted to make a New Year’s resolution to learn to code. Each week, starting from the beginning of 2012, there is a designated set of exercises for participants to complete.

Registration is free and only takes a moment (Codecademy states that they reserve the right to charge for premium content in the future, but for the moment the site is entirely free). You can give it a try without registering, but I suggest you set up an account to keep track of which exercises you’ve already completed. Each exercise consists of instructions on the left side of the page, and a window on the right with a command prompt where you can enter code and then run it. In some cases there will already be some code to get you started, and at other times you’ll write all the code from scratch. After you hit the run button, you’ll see the results of your code and a link to the next exercise will appear if you’ve written the code correctly. Otherwise, you’ll receive an error message and you’ll have to change your code to make it work. The system makes use of gamification (also popular in libraries): each time you complete an exercise you receive points, and a running tally will show at the top of the page.  Then, once you’ve finished a section of exercises, you’ll receive an achievement badge (an icon that shows up on your profile with a name representing what you’ve learned, such as “Loops in JavaScript” or “Recursive Functions”). After each new concept you learn through these exercises, there is a “project” – that is, a set of exercises where you put your skills to use building a program (such as a blackjack game or a cash register program).

I think this is a great idea. Coding is something you need to actually do in order to learn it –  I’ve tried to learn from a book and found it frustrating to be always shifting my attention from the printed page to my computer monitor. Considering the service is free, I would recommend that everyone give it a try. However, there are a few aspects that still need some work.

What I like about Codecademy:

  • It’s much less imposing than a heavy textbook.
  • Each lesson is broken down into a series of very short exercises, and as long as you’re logged in to your account, this means it’s easy to work through an exercise or two and pick up later where you left off – even if you only have a few minutes at a time to work on it.
  • When you get stuck, you can always refer to the Q&A, which is a forum where you can post questions about a given exercise and other users can post answers. In my experience, I’ve always been able to fix my issues by reading what others have already posted in the Q&A.
  • It’s web-based, which means there’s no software to install and you can log in from any computer (it even works on my iPad, but let me assure you, having to move the cursor around so much on a touch screen is not a pleasant experience).

What still needs work:

  • There is a bit too much hand holding. Too many exercises provide the vast majority of the code for you, and just prompt you to add a line or two. Although this means you can get through more content more quickly, I feel there should be more opportunities to start from scratch. I understand that programmers usually build on existing code rather than starting from a blank page, but I find I learn better when I have created something from the ground up. Some exercises are also too simple, in the sense that they tell you precisely what to type and on which line. I would rather figure more things out for myself.
  • The “hint” feature isn’t used consistently. Usually, this space is used to point you in the right direction if you’re having trouble, and it is a useful feature. However, there are a few exercises where critical information is located in the hint; in other words, there’s no way you could be expected to complete the exercise without looking at the hint. There are also some instances where the hint provides information that isn’t critical but is interesting and helpful to know, which means that if you were to complete the exercise without looking at the hint you would miss out. Of course, consistency is difficult to achieve when the lessons are created by other users, but perhaps they could have an editor look into this.
  • They take the gamification aspect a bit too far. In the early stages it seemed that I was receiving a new achievement every ten minutes or so, which made each one feel like less of an accomplishment. And you earn points for each exercise, even the ones that don’t require you to do any coding (they provide some text for you to read and then prompt you to hit the run button to move on to the next exercise). I would rather have the feeling that I earned all of my points.
  • There are some small technical issues. On a few occasions, I’ve written my code and seen it run correctly, but the error message says I need to change something. Usually when I check the Q&A someone else has had the same issue, and the answer is that you need to use a very specific variable name or change some spacing; in other words, what I’ve done is correct as far as the programming language is concerned, but the Codecademy system won’t acknowledge it. In other cases, the message tells me I’ve completed the exercise, but when I check back later there’s no green checkmark to indicate I’ve completed it. When this happens, I have to redo the exercise in a different browser.

Overall, I am certainly impressed with Codecademy, but it might not hurt for them to slap up a big “beta” sticker while they iron the kinks out. To their credit, each exercise gives you the option to give it thumbs up or thumbs down, so I’m sure they are collecting data as to what works and what doesn’t. I would suggest they take this one step further and put a comment box next to the thumb icons, since there has been more than one exercise I’ve found frustrating enough to want to write down a sentence or two in addition to clicking on thumbs down.

Have you tried Codecademy? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below.

Software review: Zotero compared with EndNote

For those of you who don’t know, Zotero is an extension for the Firefox browser that acts as a citation manager. First introduced two years ago, it has quickly gained popularity as a cost-free alternative to commercial citation managers such as EndNote and RefWorks.

One of the main strengths of Zotero is the ease with which it allows you to save the citations you come across while browsing the web. When there are citations on the page you’re visiting, whether it be part of an OPAC, Google Scholar, or even Amazon, an icon will appear in Firefox’s address bar. Click that icon and Zotero will automatically save all the citation information available (or give you the option of which citations to save, if there are multiple citations on the page) into your Zotero database. From there, you can manipulate and organize your citations in a number of ways – add notes and tags, create “collections” for different projects, edit citations, and more.

Once it’s time to put your citations into action, the plug-in for Microsoft Word allows you to drop them straight into your paper, both in the body of your text and in the bibliography (in the style of your choice, naturally).

At McGill, the most popular citation manager is EndNote, since McGill students are able to download it for free. EndNote offers many of the same features as Zotero, so I decided to test them out side by side. I created two mock essays that both used the same citations. I both collected the citations and inserted the inline references and bibliographies using Zotero for one and EndNote for the other. Clearly, this test only scratches the surface of the features available in these programs, but I believe it is a realistic scenario in terms of how they might typically be used. Here are the results of my informal comparison:

I set both programs to use APA style, and although they both performed well, neither produced perfect formatting in the bibliography. Both programs occasionally included information that is considered superfluous according to APA style, and both occasionally omitted necessary information. In terms of creating citations and bibliographies, both programs were easy to use (through the Word plug-ins) and produced reasonably accurate documents.

In terms of compiling the citations within the programs themselves, Zotero was easier to use. When using EndNote, it was easy to import citations from databases and from Google Scholar, more difficult from the McGill catalogue, and impossible from Amazon; when using Zotero, it was simple to import citations from all these locations. I also appreciated the simplicity of Zotero’s integration with Firefox, which minimizes the number of programs running at once.

Overall, my recommendations are as follows:

  • Zotero is strong enough that anyone looking to start using citation management software would be well advised to choose Zotero, unless there is a compelling reason to use EndNote, or a compelling reason not to use Firefox.
  • The two programs are similar enough that anyone already comfortable using EndNote should not switch, unless they are paying to use EndNote, in which case they should certainly consider Zotero as a free alternative.
  • Since it’s free and easy to use, anyone who’s curious should go ahead and give Zotero a try; however, be aware that when Zotero and EndNote are both installed, the automatic export feature in Google Scholar and some databases will always export to Zotero, so be sure to disable Zotero when using EndNote.

Edit: I almost forgot to point out that Zotero has been in the news lately – Thomson Reuters, producers of EndNote, is suing George Mason University, producers of Zotero, because Zotero allows users to convert EndNote’s proprietary files into an open source format. For more information and commentary, see Jason Puckett and Caveat Lector.

ILSS Book Club: Library 2.0 and Beyond

I spent the weekend at my parents’ house in Toronto to see my brother, who’s visiting from Vancouver. The train ride from Ottawa takes about four and a half hours, which was plenty of time to make my way through the short but sweet Library 2.0 and Beyond: Innovative Technologies and Tomorrow’s User, edited by Nancy Courtney.

This collection of articles revolves around the ideas of (surprise, surprise) Library 2.0. For those who don’t know and can’t wait to open the book for a more detailed explanation, Library 2.0 is essentially the application of Web 2.0 tools (and more importantly, Web 2.0 concepts) in libraries as a way to become more responsive to the needs of the user community. For those unfamiliar with Web 2.0, I’ll direct you to Wikipedia, but here’s a hint: leave a comment on this blog post, and you’re participating in it!

One major strength of the book is that each article tackles a certain tool by first explaining how it is typically used on the web and then providing specific details of how it could be used in a library setting. As such, it will satisfy readers with a general interest in the future directions of libraries as well as librarians looking for advice they can put to use immediately.

Highlights for me include Looking Toward Catalog 2.0 by Michael Casey, which discusses improving library catalogue interfaces by taking advice from Google and Amazon.com; The Wonderful World of Wikis: Applications for Libraries by Chad F. Boeninger, which covers the use of wikis for internal communication, institutional collaboration, and research guides, as well as suggesting best practices for library wikis; and Folksonomies and User-Based Tagging by Ellyssa Kroski, which weighs the pros and cons of user-based categorization and offers examples of libraries that have already made use of tagging.

So if you’re interested in where libraries are headed (or at least where they will hopefully be headed soon), I recommend Library 2.0 and Beyond – even if you’re not trying to pass the time on a boring train ride.

ILSS Book Club: The NextGen Librarian’s Survival Guide

Today’s selection covers many of the usual issues covered by library career books, but it tackles the issue of how today’s young recent grads relate to the library world. The NextGen Librarian’s Survival Guide by Rachel Singer Gordon is a recent (2006) book that draws advice from interviews with librarians as well as responses to a pair of surveys: the Under-40 Survey and the Over-40 Survey. The results of these surveys are used to compare how younger and older librarians feel about the role of young librarians in the field today.

For the purposes of the book, Gordon declares “NextGen librarians” to be those who are part of Generation X and Generation Y – that is, anyone born between 1965 and 2000 (though these dates are up for debate). Now, even assuming that we’re not really talking about 8-year-old librarians, this seems like an awfully wide age range to me. I’m not convinced that information professionals in their early forties have more in common with those in their early twenties than with those in their early fifties, but naturally it’s difficult to accurately capture a generational trend.

A brief chapter on “Surviving Library School” directs the reader to some appropriate online resources and gives helpful advice on how to make the most of your time as a student. Gordon emphasizes the importance of becoming involved with professional associations and gaining work experience before graduation.

Subsequent chapters include “Surviving the Job Hunt” and “Surviving Entry-Level Positions.” Each starts with a list of bullet points outlining the issues unique to NextGen librarians, but the vast majority of the content would be useful to students and recent graduates of any age. Maybe my generation is so self-absorbed that we can’t imagine anyone having different patterns of thinking, but in general I feel that this book is more about students graduating in the 21st century than it is about professionals who were born in a certain era. At any rate, I found it to be helpful, and I would recommend it to all current students and recent graduates.

Things I will do if I am ever The Librarian

The idea for this post comes from an idea that has been passed around about what bloggers will do if they are ever the vampire (discovered via the Vampire Librarian). This captured my attention because I have always been fascinated by vampires, and the thought of “being the vampire” tickles me in just the right way.

Of course, I do intend one day to be the librarian, but today I’m thinking about being The Librarian. Prompted by the news of a new sequel on its way (featuring a vampire, no less!), I watched, for the first time, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear. For all its flaws (and it indeed has many), I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend it to any library nerd who doesn’t take cinema too seriously. However, there are a few things I would do differently as The Librarian:

  • I will challenge even more stereotypes – being a male librarian with a female bodyguard is a good start, but perhaps I will also depict the library as a friendly place and maybe even not include a scene in which the audience is convinced that the natives of the Amazon jungle will boil me for dinner at any moment
  • I will spend even more time in palatial libraries with bookshelves several storeys high, to the point that it could be considered library porn
  • I will not tolerate the token female member of the bad guys being better looking than my bodyguard; I will, however, encourage said females to fight over my love even more often
  • I will be clear about whether my film is a parody; if so, I will make a stronger effort to poke fun at the conventions of action films, and if not, I will make a stronger effort to create at least a couple of scenes that follow the laws of science as we know them
  • I will not confuse the public any further about what a librarian actually does; if this calls for at least one scene involving a reference interview, so be it. Alternatively, I could change my title to Archivist of Things That Don’t Exist
  • I will shoot at least a couple of scenes without the use of any computer animation or green screens
  • I will not put my life on the line for a woman who is rude to me and, frankly, isn’t even as hot as she clearly thinks she is

Bonus: if I am ever the librarian in The Mummy, I will not set up my bookshelves like dominoes, especially if I am a klutz