I hope that everyone is enjoying our interview series about professionals getting jobs because of their proactive use of social media! Today I have the honor of introducing you to Gwen Darling who has a very interesting, unique and inspiring story of how she got a job offer because of LinkedIn. In this story you will see how Gwen started in the early days of the Internet, absorbed all the knowledge she could, took a monumental risk that paid off and how she rose to the top to where she is now. All of this and more below!
What is your background and area of expertise?
My background is quite eclectic – as an English major I always sought creative opportunities that would also pay the bills. Sometimes those are hard to find! In 1996 I found myself the divorced single mother of 2 little girls, and knew I needed to find a way to leverage my creative talents and my innate knack for all things “techie.” I applied for a job with a very small company that had the vision to purchase domain names for all the nearby recreational lakes, and off I went to attempt to sell 3-page Web sites to Mom and Pop lakeside motel owners. The problem was, the Internet was so new, no one knew what a Web site was (I was learning, too!), let alone how it could help them boost sales, so I found myself doing more educating than selling. Of course that was back in the days of dial-up, and it took FOREVER to do a demo, so I figured out pretty quickly that this wasn’t going to be the road to riches, but I discovered I had a knack for explaining technical concepts in layman’s terms.
About that time, I ran across a company online called the “Mining Company,” which is now About.com. Their Internet for Beginners Guide spot was available, so I applied and got the job, where I stayed for over three years, working remotely. I had no idea how fortunate I was at the time – talk about learning the ropes from the master! As Guides, we had access to Internet visionaries who taught us about Content Management Systems, SEO, building community thru discussion boards and chat, e-commerce, affiliate programs, etc. It was an unparalleled opportunity that set me on my career course in a very clear direction after that. I emerged from that position in 2000 armed with knowledge and expertise that was tough to beat at that point in time.
Where did you work previously too your current job?
I worked for five years as President of Therapon Skin Health, originally hired to transform the company from a brick and mortar model to an Internet-based model. Once that was accomplished, I left to direct the Sales and Marketing arm of a Travel Nurse company, where I stayed for two years. It was the travel nurse company that I left in 2006 to strike out on my own.
You had six-months of savings and a lot of determination, but zero clients when you left you corporate job of a six-figure salary. Why did you take the risk and how did you know what to do?
My decision to leave was multi-faceted. My two girls were now teenagers and I was very concerned that my leave early and come home late schedule would allow them a bit too much freedom, and I felt like our connection was getting lost in the shuffle of my professional commitments. I knew it was important to know their friends and their schedules, etc., but that was tough to do when I was gone all day. Additionally, after having the authority to make decisions, and make them quickly at my previous position, the travel nurse company was set up such that the CEO had to approve all but the smallest decisions – company-wide. It was extremely inefficient, and kept many of us from achieving the success we thought was possible. I left work every day extremely frustrated. So…I had one of those turning point moments – took my dogs for a long walk, decided I was tired of making money for everyone else, and set the wheels in motion the next day. I went to Barnes and Noble and stocked up on “How to be a Consultant” books, set up an LLC, and two months later, let the Board know of my decision to leave. To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do – I just had a “life is too short” to be unhappy breakthrough, and was determined to make it work. Somehow. 🙂
How did you hear about LinkedIn and what were you first thoughts when you joined it?
I first read about LinkedIn in my favorite business magazine that is now defunct, Business 2.0. (CNN article on LinkedIn). It was free to set up a profile, and I thought it made great sense, since I figured the reach of the LinkedIn network could only benefit me, much like the About.com network works to drive traffic to its individual Guide sites. I wasn’t pinning any great hopes on it, though – just another spoke in the wheel.
Did you know what you were doing when you first signed up for LinkedIn and the potential behind it?
I’ve always been a “what if…” kind of thinker, and I did see the potential of the LinkedIn network, but it was more of a “aw hell, why not, it’s free” kind of decision.
How did the job opportunity present itself and develop?
About two months after posting my profile (and pretty much forgetting that I did), I got an email from some guy in Boston who was starting a healthcare staffing company – both travel nurses and Healthcare IT professionals. He had found my profile doing a keyword search and asked if he could call me. Long story short, we talked, we clicked, and he asked me to come to Boston to meet with their company. Turns out, the Chairman of this company ended up being an industry legend that I had read about and admired for a long time! All went well, and I was placed on retainer to help them with their marketing efforts – both online and offline. As the company grew, it became clear that the Healthcare IT focus was the future of the company, and so I was introduced to the industry that is now my main focus!
Where do you work now and how has it changed your life?
After seeing a need in the industry, I launched a new resource in May that is now my primary project – HealthcareITCentral.com, a Career Center for Healthcare IT job seekers who are looking for their next opportunity, and Healthcare IT employers who are seeking them. In addition to the Job Board, the site features many other resources for Healthcare IT professionals to learn more about the industry and how to successfully land and keep their “dream” job, and because of my extensive marketing background, I am able to offer Healthcare IT recruiters a comprehensive online strategy for attracting the best candidates. In other words, this is my dream situation. I am my own boss, call my own shots, am able to be both creative (I write a weekly blog for Healthcare Informatics magazine) and “techie,” and have a great deal of flexibility since I can work anywhere where I can get a few bars on my cell phone and an Internet connection. My kids, who are now 19 and 17, have survived their teenage years intact, and so have I! And I can say, with 100% certainty, I would not be in this Ideal situation if it weren’t for LinkedIn. (All that being said, though, this has not been an easy transition. I am just now starting to gain the kind of traction I’ll need to get back up to where I was financially when I left corporate life – there have been a lot of sacrifices along the way – but all worth it.)
Now that you are a social media success story, what advice do you have for everyone else trying to do the same thing?
Developing a social media presence can be overwhelming – there are so many components and it can easily become such a time drain! I frequently advise clients to develop a social media strategy before they jump in. Actually I wrote a blog post to that effect: http://tinyurl.com/ylnhxgu. It’s important to strategically develop your network, connecting with those people who can help you, but it’s also equally important to connect with those who you might be able to help, as well. I am a firm believer in the “pay it forward” approach to life – and social media is a perfect place to put that approach into play.
Wow, that is an amazing story! As you can see, Gwen leveraged her knowledge and experience in order to secure the job. LinkedIn was merely the means to get the foot in the door but it was her hard-work and determination that landed her the position. Check out Gwen’s LinkedIn Profile for for information and insight.