Geeks and volunteers lead the way
A new generation of communicators will show us how to get ahead in business
One of my favourite moments in Napoleon Dynamite, the cult American movie about a 6ft Idaho high school geek and his quirky circle of friends, is an exchange between the film's eponymous hero and his best friend, Pedro, a school president hopeful:
Pedro: Do you think people will vote for me?
Napoleon: Heck yes! I'd vote for you.
Pedro: Like, what are my skills?
Napoleon: Well, you have a sweet bike. And you're really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you're the only guy at school who has a moustache.
Although potential employers might not be bowled over by Pedro's moustache, the more personal skills you bring to force representing your company, the more employable you are.
As a manager responsible for employing junior staff in an online media company, the skill I value most is entrepreneurship. I look for the ability to make order out of chaos, to understand the company vision and its core goals and then plug every available personal resource into them, with as little supervision as possible.
This is the spirit of the volunteer. Luckily for me, my company works in a medium that makes it easier to volunteer - the internet. The web offers more chances to pitch in from the comfort of your bedroom, from contributing programming knowledge and open-source coding projects, to writing your own weblog.
As peer-to-peer broadcast becomes more central to business communication, employers are more likely to view time dedicated to maintaining a blog in a positive light. Although bloggers may be only volunteering an opinion, they are honing key skills for the workplace: the ability to sustain energy around a slow-burning project, to attract and maintain an audience, and to communicate ideas clearly and succinctly given limited space, time and resources.
Bloggers interact with their audience and come up against people whose opinions and communication style they may never have encountered in the offline world. Dealing with this in a positive way is an experience that is called upon again and again in the boardroom. Even contributing to someone else's blog, through posting or moderating comments, will put you at ease with communicating within a large group.
Employers in the computer programming world scan CVs of potential candidates, looking for any time they may have volunteered outside the office to collaborative, open-source coding. The theory is that the programmer who goes home at night to work on a project just for the fun of it is a programmer who sees their craft as more than just a means to a pay cheque. As with most things to do with the internet, what the techies are doing now is what the rest of us will be doing in five years' time.
Although volunteering for an established organisation has its upsides, the internet makes it easier to achieve a different feat, that of "bootstrapping" a volunteer project from scratch. Be it a community radio station or a charity club night, the web gives the means to find and manage like-minded volunteers, solicit donations, broadcast outputs and conduct public relations.
The internet is the medium of the volunteer, and it couldn't exist without them. As it matures into part of our everyday lives, employers should expect to be greeted by a new generation of job candidates who have already learned to think creatively, to bootstrap ideas and to manage their own online brand.
Becky Hogge is technology director of openDemocracy.net