Adding Rocket Boosters to Your Aerospace Job Search

My college final exam in Differential Equations had only one problem.  It involved calculating the speed and trajectory of a heat-seeking missile. Like the other four tests that semester, the final was worth 2 points, with no partial credit.  Miss the final, and you’d have a B for the semester.  Foul up one other test, and you’d fail the class.  When a classmate challenged the “no partial credit” system as unfair, the professor said dryly, “When you are trying to evade a missile, there is no partial credit.”

I was thinking of that class recently while poking around on LinkedIn.com, the Internet’s premier business networking site.  With so many stories of layoffs in the aerospace industry, I was curious to see how United Space Alliance employees were using LinkedIn to promote their skills and find new roles in the Space Industry.

There are 70 million people on LinkedIn worldwide, 32 million in the United States and 410,000 within 100 miles of Merritt Island.  Still, I was surprised at how few from USA – 1,741 of roughly 9,000 employees – and even fewer NASA employees – 775 of roughly 2,200 employees – in that radius are on LinkedIn.  Fewer still have fully completed their profiles on the site, which only requires adding seven bits of information: a current position; two past positions; education; profile summary; profile photo; specialties; and at least three recommendations.

Refining and Redefining Your Job Search

On first glance, it appears many of our famously technical space professionals are exploring their options, but are not yet targeting their job searches using the latest social networking technology.  Of those that are, the data shows they are not using the platform fully.  In essence, these rocket scientists may be counting on partial credit to escape the NASA downturn that is targeting them.

First, a look at some numbers: LinkedIn users as a whole are older (median age 44.3) than users of any leading social network except Classmates.com (44.9).  Within the local Space Industry, there is a more notable age gap.  The median age of a NASA employee on LinkedIn is 38, while it’s 34 for a USA employee.  Now compare that with two of the New Space companies: Orbital Science users’ median age is 35 and SpaceX is 28.  Average tenure at NASA for someone on LinkedIn is 3 years, USA is 6.5 years, Orbital Science is 3 years, SpaceX is 1 year.  These New Space companies have employees that are younger, have less time on the job, and are more well-connected.

Who’s the Target?

LinkedIn’s marketing campaigns target four types of users.

Users “Exploring Options” are those that have created a LinkedIn account.  They may have attached their resumes or uploaded them to other recruitment sites such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, or our own state’s EmployFlorida.com or LaunchNewCareers.com.  With fewer than 20 connections (usually far fewer) and no recommendations, these “newbie” users’ incomplete LinkedIn profiles show they are open to being contacted, but are not really targeting a company or a career change.

“Late Adopters” are somewhat more techie but reluctant to expand their network beyond their immediate acquaintances.  They may be fearful of tipping off their employer that they are looking for new work. They average 23 connections.

Next up are the “Senior Executives.”  United Space Alliance CEO Virginia Barnes, with 16 connections, is a great example.  With 28 years at Boeing, ending as a VP, before joining USA last April, she certainly has more than 16 professional connections in the industry.  These leaders have power jobs that they may be content with, or they may need to keep confidential the names of people they are connecting with.  They have 32 connections on average.

Now compare the profile of Nicole “Nicki” Jordan, a 30-something who holds the title Manager of Rocket Operations at the X-Prize Foundation.  She is currently running the Google Lunar X-Prize and is a coach at Zero-G.  A charismatic stunt pilot with an MS in Aeronautics from USC, Nicki is a working scientist and a popular blogger and tweeter, with 713 Twitter followers and 851 other Twitterers she follows.  She is in the group LinkedIn calls “Savvy Networkers,” those with more than 61 connections on LinkedIn. Nicki has 207.

In a higher orbit are some of our local economic and political leaders.  Space Florida President Frank DiBello had 210 connections, LEAD Brevard President Kristin Bakke had 312, Melbourne Chamber of Commerce President Christine Michaels, 463, and Donn Miller-Kermani, president of the Florida Tech Women’s Business Center, had more than 500 connections.

Net Conclusions

These Savvy Networkers appear to have made it their mission to connect to others.  In doing so, they demonstrate how Space Coast professionals can keep their own networks in the public spotlight, which makes them visible and attractive to potential employers or business partners.