User Groups and Beyond: Successful Networking Online and Offline
Onward Search Career Cast, Episode #17
This episode of Onward Search’s Career Cast is the first of a 2 part series about leveraging both online and offline opportunities, especially professional user groups, for successful networking.
In her first appearance behind the Career Cast microphone, Onward Search’s Online Marketing Manager, Hillary O'Keefe, speaks with VMware’s Social Media Producer, Luke Kilpatrick, about striking the best balance between networking online and offline, whether you are actively looking for a job or you’re happily employed. Luke and Hillary discuss how adding offline elements, like user groups, to your networking efforts will complement and enhance your online networking strategy.
Part 1 in this 2 part series is a must-listen episode for anyone who wants to broaden their professional networks and find success both online and offline.
PUBLISHED ON MARCH 3, 2011
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Peter Clayton: Welcome to an all new special two-part series of the Onward Search Career Cast. This is Peter Clayton. In this episode, episode 17 of the career cast, we’re going to turn the microphone over to Hillary O’Keefe, Online Marketing Manager for Onward Search, to explore the online and offline elements of successful networking with VMware’s social media producer, Luke Kilpatrick.
Hillary, it’s great to have you on the Onward Search Career Cast.
Hillary O'Keefe: Thank you so much, Peter, and thank you all for tuning in to another awesome episode of Onward Search’s Career Cast. Today’s podcast is all about striking the perfect balance between online and offline networking, whether you are happily employed or actively searching for your next job. We’re also going to dive into the benefits of professional user groups, which is something that Luke Kilpatrick from VMware is a huge fan of.
Luke, thank you so much for joining me today. I understand that you are the social media producer over at VMware. Would you care to tell us a little bit about the company and especially your unique title.
Luke Kilpatrick: VMware is a very large software company; I think we’re #7 or #8 in the world as far as revenue size goes. VMware makes a fairly wide variety of products, but mostly focused on a virtualizationing of data centers. A lot of people would probably be familiar with VMware as well if they’re using a MAC, VMFusion is very popular for bringing Windows to your MAC.
That’s basically what VMware kind of does, is running computers within computers. My job there as social media producer is basically I produce social media, whether it’s creating and editing videos to go to YouTube; I’m actually the primary voice at @VMware on Twitter, as well as I manage our Facebook pages.
I'm on a team of 5, and my job there is actually the button pusher to produce the media; I write most of it and it goes out. It’s a great community. We’ve got about 15,000 people that follow the main account and people engage with us for a variety of reasons from “hey, this isn’t working,” or “your product sucks,” to “this is really great,” or just simple stuff, “hey, when’s this coming out?” So there is a support aspect.
We also use it as a news channel to talk to our customers and talk to our people to engage them about what topics we’re bringing out; whether we’re bringing out new products or someone in the industry has said something about how cloud computing is going.
Our big move right now is Your Cloud branding that we’re going with where all our competitors are doing a lot of stuff with… they have their own cloud and you go stick all your data in their cloud. VMware’s products let you build your cloud how you need it, whether it’s public or private.
That’s my day job is being one of the voices out there for VMware.
Hillary: That’s fantastic. You sound like you’re very busy, so I’ve got to thank you so much for joining me today for a discussion.
Luke: It’s a great job. It’s a great company to work with. They’ve been growing leaps and bounds. I’m very lucky to have this type of role.
Hillary: Very cool. Before we jump into the topic of successful networking, would you mind telling the story of how a change in mailing address for you led to your greater appreciation and support of professional user groups.
Luke: Sure. Basically I got involved with user groups. I was living in Milwaukee at the time, and a friend of mine started up a user group and two days before the first meeting she backed out and said “I can’t be the manager anymore; so will you do it?”
Fast forward a few months after that, we had quite a few successful meetings and this is the user group for Adobe. Adobe used to have a conference in San Jose where if you could get to San Jose, they would basically put you up in the Fairmount and wine and dine you and give you training on all kinds of special stuff for two days. It was a really great opportunity, and I took advantage of it. Through a few courses of other things that happened, I was looking to move beyond Wisconsin. I turned this little conference into a job hunting mission and actually networked through a few places (this was before the days of Twitter and stuff); you just had to hope for the best and through the connections of user groups and different recruiters, I was able to land a gig and moved out to California. I’ve been out here for about four years.
I love it, it’s really great. The thing that was probably the saddest about moving out of Milwaukee was because I was no longer there, I had to give up my group after the connections and stuff that I did. But through knowing other user group managers here, I got asked to actually start up the world’s first fireworks user group (Fire On The Bay) and then a year later, I met one of the product managers of Photoshop and started a Photoshop user group called Photoshop ‘Til You Drop.
Fire On The Bay is about 3½ years old, Photoshop ‘Til You Drop is going onto its second year, I believe. Both are extremely large user groups. The Photoshop user group is 1200 people regularly attendance upward of 200-250 people showing up.
Thank you very much Onward Search for being such great sponsors of my user groups. You guys have bought us a lot of pizza and hopefully it’s gotten a lot of networking and contacting back from the members because these are the people that really want to engage.
Hillary: Absolutely. We’ve found those user groups wonderful as well and that’s, I think, the neatest part of your story is that right now these days I’d bet you that most people focus more on online networking than they do offline. That leads me to my next question which is when so many people have that main focus, whether they’re employed or they’re actively searching for their next job, why should people in either of those situations embrace offline networking, especially user groups, like the ones that you deal with?
Luke: Online networking is really easy. Getting connected, meeting someone online it’s not a whole lot of difficulty. However, if you want to meet someone in the real world, it takes a lot more effort – it takes significantly more effort than picking up the phone; you actually have to arrange time to meet, you have to do all this stuff. The advantage of user group when people are coming out to do real life is that you’re all there. Humans are still animals, we still like shaking hands and actually looking and seeing people and their body language and such.
It’s really important to have the offline but the online part of that is really important because it allows to have that continuing dialogue after you meet them or before you meet them. So a lot of the people that I’ve been on Twitter with and Facebook and various other networking tools, one of the primary goals of most of that is meeting people.
You’ve got to strike a balance between the two and it’s also extremely important if you are working or looking for work, you need to come to user groups. If you’re not, you’re essentially pigeonholing yourself and not growing. The last time I checked, most employers like people that grow. They’re looking for people that are going out there and proving their skills, learning who and what if you need help on a project. That’s one thing I’ve always been able to tell my employers is I can go and do anything you want, just let me know what it is and give me enough time to contact out to my network and I’ll find you someone that can either do it or can teach me how to do it.
Hillary: That’s a fantastic point.
Luke: Those are extremely important, and that’s the whole value of building a good strong network within a technology within an industry. That’s something that user groups are wonderful at because there are always a lot of people that are saying “I follow you on Twitter.” Great. You have that conversation and dialogue about a tweet that you posted last week, and it’s a really good way to break the ice.
Hillary: Cool. Besides showing up and listening and, of course, interacting and finally meeting the people that you know online face to face, what do you recommend is the best way to make the most out of participating in a user group, and should job seekers approach that participation differently from people who are already employed, or should it be about the same?
Luke: They should be slightly different but not too much. One of the big things that we do with our user group, and I do with both – mainly because I’m interested but I think it’s very important is before I start every user group, usually after I’ve said a spiel or had someone from Onward Search or one of the other sponsors come up and say their piece, I have everybody out in the audience put up their hand that’s looking for work. I also ask anyone that’s actually hiring to stand up and tell them a little bit about the job to try and build those connections right then and there so that people actually can essentially get a mini interview in the user group by a hiring manager or a recruiter, that’s something that we really try and get engaged for involvement.
Hillary: That’s fantastic because you can go to a user group and you may end up shaking the hand of a future boss and you might not even know it.
Luke: Yeah, exactly. A lot of my members have gotten jobs directly from my user groups. A lot of my members have also built long friendships by people they’ve met there. I don’t have any marriage claims yet, but a lot of professional networks are built there.
Being engaged with the speakers, asking good questions, standing out, having a problem that you need to get solved – coming to user groups with those types of things can be very beneficial because if you’re having a problem trying to get this to look right in Fireworks or trying to get that right in Photoshop, I’m very, very fortunate with my user groups – since we hold them at Adobe in San Francisco – we usually have part of the product team there. We actually have the product manager for Photoshop, we have the product manager for Fireworks regular attendees, so when you say you have a problem with this, a lot of times it will get changed, or at least it gets listened to. There is no better way to get a product that you require in your day to day career than talking to the guy that makes the decisions about it. That’s something that is real special about, at least, my groups. Other groups don’t have that, especially here in the Bay area, that’s quite common to have actual people that work on the product at the group.
Peter Clayton: Tune in next time for episode 18 of the Onward Search Career Cast and part 2 of Hillary O’Keefe’s interview with VMware social media producer Luke Kilpatrick.
Thank you for tuning in to Onward Search Career Cast. For more information on the career opportunities available through Onward Search, you should visit us online at onwardsearch.com or call 1-800-829-0072 and speak with an experienced recruiter. And you should also follow Onward Search on Twitter at twitter.com/onwardsearch.