JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, a former news reporter and professor, Sree Sreenivasan, was named chief digital officer for New York City. It’s the culmination of a very public job search Srinivasan embarked on just last month.
Special correspondent Roben Farzad looks at what Sreenivasan’s experience could teach the rest of us. It’s part of our series Making Sense, which airs Thursdays on the “NewsHour.”
ROBEN FARZAD: At 7:00 a.m. in New York’s Riverside Park, Digital Guru Sree Sreenivasan was walking his beagle mix, Tara. But this was also an early morning networking session.
SREE SREENIVASAN, Former Chief Digital Officer, Metropolitan Museum of Art: What’s one thing you have learned from the other places you’re able to apply here?
KINDRED MOTES: I think finding your key influencers and your largest audience.
ROBEN FARZAD: Four days earlier, Sreenivasan lost his job as chief digital officer at New York’s financially strained Metropolitan Museum of Art.
SREE SREENIVASAN: After three amazing years, I will be leaving The Met on June 30.
ROBEN FARZAD: It was a career low point that his network knew all about because he himself broadcast the news on social media. “If you want to invite me to anything,” he wrote, “I now have time, including for meaningful cups of coffee and drinks. I would also love to go walking with anyone available.”
SREE SREENIVASAN: And I gave people this form, which might have been the funniest thing, where people could go in and give me suggestions on what to do.
ROBEN FARZAD: Over 1,000 people sent advice.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Visit with our camera club. Go fishing. Rescue Twitter. Start a social media consulting firm.
ROBEN FARZAD: Vacation first, then host your own TV show.
SREE SREENIVASAN: All the good TV shows are taken, so there’s no chance.
ROBEN FARZAD: His Facebook post got almost 500 comments, including some job offers. Sreenivasan turned them down.
SREE SREENIVASAN: People may not always know what’s the right thing, but they want to help.
ROBEN FARZAD: Sreenivasan is prolific online. He taught social media at Columbia Journalism School for years. And while radical transparency is all the rage these days, even he was reluctant to take his plight public.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Oh, I didn’t want to do this. I had no interest in talking about myself in a moment of weakness, as it is right now. My goal was to get a job.
ROBEN FARZAD: Tell us about the most memorable or audacious overtures people have made to you.
SREE SREENIVASAN: I have been really touched by the folks who have said, including one of my friends who said, I can’t hire you full-time, but I have a single day of consulting money, and will you come speak to us on July 21?
And it was so meaningful. And I had someone drop off a pair of Nike shoes because they heard that I want to go on a walk.
ROBEN FARZAD: Someone even sent money.
SREE SREENIVASAN: “Sree, I am sending this check in case you run out of rice, noodles, lentils or dollars.”
I mean, who does that? That is such a generous gesture.
ROBEN FARZAD: At home with his wife, Roopa, a consultant, and their family, Sreenivasan was trying to capitalize on that good will.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Former chief digital officer of The Met.
ROBEN FARZAD: Working the phone.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Sorry. Thanks for holding. I’m just checking my calendar.
ROBEN FARZAD: Lunch with a former colleague at Columbia Journalism School.
SREE SREENIVASAN: What is your advice for people when they stumble?
MAN: It happens to all of us. People use it as an opportunity to grow.
ROBEN FARZAD: And miles of walking and talking.
SREE SREENIVASAN: I have to take every phone call, every lunch, every coffee that I can take and my days are booked from 7:15 in the morning until late at night.
ROBEN FARZAD: So he was connecting with as many people as possible.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Do you feel like people are surprised to know that a New Yorker cartoonist needs to reinvent herself?
ROBEN FARZAD: A walk with cartoonist Liza Donnelly became an impromptu Facebook Live session.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Hi, everybody.
ROBEN FARZAD: With an audience of over 2,000.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Folks, just tell us where you’re watching from, and hit share right now on Facebook, so your friends, family, enemies can join us.
ROBEN FARZAD: The theme of the day? Reinvention.
SREE SREENIVASAN: Lauren says, “How does one reinvent themselves while working in the same craft?”
LIZA DONNELLY, Cartoonist: I try to push my limits and use different tools.
Actually, these are subway drawings that I did on my phone. It’s a little boy looking out the window. I sit there with my finger and draw.
SREE SREENIVASAN: I think reinvention, and you’re an example of this, is that it’s reinventing not who you are, but how you do your work, your processes, getting the word out. You have to do this when you don’t need to do it.
ROBEN FARZAD: Granted, Sreenivasan is a high-profile, highly networked figure, such a mainstay on Twitter that he even gave his job search a hashtag, #sree3oh.
But what about the vast majority of jobless who lack Sreenivasan’s resources and know-how?
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ, Event Manager: I just want to find the right position for me.
ROBEN FARZAD: Katrina Seals Ruiz recently learned her event management position would be cut in a bank merger.
Are you in a position to do what Sree is doing, in that opening it up really, truly to the world, leaving nothing a secret?
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: I would never think to post on Facebook. He already has that relationship with the social media space. And I don’t think I have that relationship yet. I’m still kind of dabbling in it.
ROBEN FARZAD: So her news would reach just 250 friends on Facebook, compared to Sreenivasan’s 5,000. She’s new to Twitter. Her dozen or so followers are dwarfed by Sreenivasan’s 80,000.
Have you had any unsolicited job offers yet?
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: No. No unsolicited job offers. I would welcome that greatly.
ROBEN FARZAD: But Seals Ruiz is working the connections she has, even contacting professionals she doesn’t know on LinkedIn.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: I have no problem using LinkedIn as an InMail reaching out to folks. For example, when I started this job search, I reached out to one of those people that I had InMailed, and she happened to say — “Katrina,” she said, “you’re not going to believe this, but I just mentioned your name.”
I hadn’t spoken to her in months. She didn’t have a job for me, but we just had a great conversation.
ROBEN FARZAD: And like Sreenivasan, she’s taking every appointment.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: It’s great to sit down with you now. I wish it was under different circumstances.
ROBEN FARZAD: Laura Kottkamp directs corporate relations at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Business School, near Katrina’s home base in Richmond.
LAURA KOTTKAMP, Virginia Commonwealth University Business School: You could look at the same industry, which would be talking to other banks. Then I would recommend that we put you in touch with some people that are in, say, an I.T. company.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: I really — it think you have had some really great suggestions and recommendations that I will definitely utilize.
LAURA KOTTKAMP: It’s tiring, I think.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: It’s exhausting. It’s discouraging, too, I mean, because you know I feel like I’m a big deal.
LAURA KOTTKAMP: We think that too.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: And, you know, so I’m like, how come they don’t see that?
ROBEN FARZAD: Seals Ruiz is working hard to get her name out there.
In the meantime, she’s drawing on another talent, performing at private events.
KATRINA SEALS RUIZ: The next several months, it might be what I rely on, just depending on how things work out with my job search.
ROBEN FARZAD: She travels to New York regularly for gigs. So we hooked her up with Sreenivasan, who was walking with a friend.
SREE SREENIVASAN: People want to help you. And your friends want to help you. But 99 percent of the time, they have no idea what you actually do and what you can do.
I have had very good friends say, well, what can you actually do? So, making something simple that can be forwarded to somebody, very useful, very important.
ROBEN FARZAD: Back at home, Sreenivasan hoped more people could learn from his experience.
SREE SREENIVASAN: If you are working right now, don’t be complacent. Make sure that you use this opportunity to build out your network, to continue to build the digital skills that are relevant to your industry, your kind of work now, because one of the things we have learned is that jobs come and go.
And you have — but your network never leaves. I tell people that it’s too late to figure out Twitter when the plane has just landed on the Hudson. It’s too late to figure out LinkedIn when your company starts having layoffs.
Yes, I should. Yes.
ROBEN FARZAD: Sree, for his part, starts his new job with New York City this fall.
Katrina is still looking. But she refuses to sing the blues. Hit her up on Twitter or LinkedIn if you know of something.
For the “PBS NewsHour” I’m Roben Farzad in New York.
Photo Credit: Tanya Malott