Virtual Networking for Career Development
Trends and Issues Alert 34
by Sandra Kerka
This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0013. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. ERIC/ACVE publications may be freely reproduced.
The critical career development strategy of networking is being transformed by the Internet into virtual or e-networking. A variety of communications technologies are helping people expand the reach and manage the growth of their personal and professional networks: e-mail; chatrooms, newsgroups, and listservs; websites of professional organizations and corporate and university alumni; personal web pages; and handheld personal data assistants.
Virtual networking provides several advantages: it eliminates the fear of making initial contact and the stress of first impressions; it overcomes restrictions of location, time, or money; it makes responses faster and easier; and it facilitates management of large numbers of contacts (Dikel 2000; Halpern 2000; Vigil 2002). In many fields, transnational contacts are increasingly important, and e-networking opens the door to worldwide communities of interest (van Hooven and Koark 2002). Special interest networks are emerging to serve specialized career needs: for example, career management and coaching services for executives (Glason 2002; Kamberg 2001); access to colleagues for isolated free-agent workers (Imel 2001); and early career research and mentoring assistance for scientists and other professionals (Agre 2002; Rubinstein 2001).
E-networking is promoted as a way for women and minorities to overcome limited access to informal networks (Knouse and Webb 2001; Kuhn 2000; Woolley 2001). According to Knouse and Webb, it can increase the similarity, size, density, and strength of networks for diverse individuals. However, Agre (2002) suggests that "e-mail is poorly suited for the initial stages of establishing a shared context for discussion between people with different cultural or disciplinary backgrounds . Careful mixing of electronic and face-to-face communication takes on new importance" (online, n.p.).
Other cautions about e-networking include typical problems of electronic communication such as casual language, spamming, and other breaches of netiquette; potential for misrepresentation; and lack of nonverbal cues (Dikel 2000; Essex 2001; Halpern 2000). Virtual networking can waste as much as save time, so it is necessary to focus on one's goals for making contact (van Hooven and Koark 2002). As online career management becomes increasingly important (Teff 2001), lack of access can seriously disadvantage the pursuit of career opportunities (National Career Development Association 2000). Most important, networking is about building relationships, about social exchange, and technology should not be allowed to obscure human interaction or replace face-to-face contact (Dikel 2000; Essex 2001; Palmer 2002).
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Networks for Women
Networks for Minority Groups
Other Specialized Networks