Launched in August 2010, BranchOut connects employers and professionals through one of the Internet’s most personal networks: Facebook. Many people recoiled at the idea of keeping their resumes so close to their nightlife and baby pictures, but when I got an invitation from a friend this morning, I was curious.
If the best job referrals came from second and third-level connections, what better place to find them than Facebook? I accepted my friend’s request and set up a quick profile. Luckily the only information that transferred from Facebook was my profile picture (which I could switch out) and the schools and current job I had listed in the “about me” section. In fact, the BranchOut interface was fairly similar to LinkedIn‘s.
Then I clicked “find people,” held my breath, and invited my friends to join me – not just the few people I knew who worked in my industry, but all 400-plus people that I had connected with on Facebook since I joined in 2008. I was disappointed that I couldn’t write a personal message to each one – that’s a must for a writer – but I posted a general message on my wall that the invitations were coming and that they were sincere.
Some of them I’ve known since preschool. Sure, these people used to watch me eat paste at craft time, but they also knew how much I loved arts and crafts. They witnessed all the milestones that led me to where I am now, like the 14-page “novel” I wrote when I was ten and my role as a Valley girl in my sixth grade play. When I look at my friends’ career paths I know exactly why they turned out the way they did. They were cool people then, and they still are now. Would my Facebook friends really use the app to share incriminating pictures of me from college or to call me out for messaging them during office hours? I doubt it.
It made me think about the kinds of recommendations I’d be giving. Some employers wouldn’t care to know that a candidate goes snowboarding on the weekends or is a hard-core gamer on the side, but why not? Sometimes people reveal their hidden talents and interests when they’re out having fun. As long as the hobbies are work-friendly, a personal reference from an old friend might round out the technical jargon with actual insights into someone’s character.
On BranchOut, my connections were varied. Most people who accepted my request were new to the app and didn’t have complete profiles or any connections. My friends who had large networks had contacts in the military, technology, music, education, and many other fields I hadn’t explored myself. Most of them I would never cross paths with professionally, but there were a few with whom I would, and they came from people I had met in contexts other than work.
Back on LinkedIn, I realized that I would need an email address to add some of these people to my network. A lot of them pop up in the “people you may know” section all the time, but I have to admit that I’ve been too shy to add them if I haven’t worked with them before. It’s not that LinkedIn doesn’t have all the same capabilities as BranchOut to connect friends and to introduce new people to each other, it’s just that not everyone takes advantage of them.
The BranchOut team has served over 200 million users, and employers have used the app to post 3 million jobs and 20,000 internships. LinkedIn, in comparison, has 150 million members and two million company pages. Its corporate hiring solutions are used by 82 of the Fortune 100 companies.
Professional networking is inherently awkward, but online networks like LinkedIn and now BranchOut are valuable because they have the power to connect people who are separated by industry, distance, and time.
Image by ra2 studio via Shutterstock.