Sparks: The Newest Addition to Your Career Research Toolbox

Posted by The Editors on July 19, 2011

Last week I wrote about what the Google+’s Circles feature could do for your career and personal brand, in particular. Now, this week, I’m going to talk about a simpler but really handy little function that sits at the left in your Google+ profile: Sparks.

Sparks are sort of like subject-based RSS feeds that scour the Internet, rather than a single source. If you’re constantly finding yourself too busy to keep up with the topics that you would like to keep up on, the Spark feature is nearly perfect for you.

So picture this: An accountant working at a Big Four firm would eventually like to take his skills to a green building company. Or a solar panel company. Or some company rated high in green company rankings. After returning from post-work ride with his local cycling club, he checked his voicemail to discover that he’d landed a job interview at Perkins Eastmen, a New York-based green building firm. Time to revise his Sparks: Tour de France, green companies US, Brooklyn news, Big Four accounting and now Perkins Eastmen. When Big Four-related stories show up in that feed, he might choose to share them publicly to strengthen his brand or send only to the “Coworkers” Circle if the topic is sensitive. When in that Tour de France zone he enters every summer, he typically only shares hour-by-hour updates with his “Cycling Team” Circle. Then, by adding “Perkins Eastmen” as a Spark, he’s able to prepare for his job interview by keeping up on that latest news about the company. And there you have it.

To make effective Sparks, use the same strategy you would to generate effective keywords or phrases for your website, LinkedIn profile, or Google search. Be specific. If you just type sales, you’ll get a slew of results that have nothing to do with the “sales management” content you’re seeking.


I wrote a guide to personal branding without ever using myself as an example, so here it goes. Right now my Sparks are scrum agile, career advice, summer recipes, Philadelphia bike lanes, NPR music, and… wait for it… The Bachelorette. (Don’t hate me.)

When some silly blog post attached to that last term comes up, I’ll “Share” only with my mother and a coworker. Nobody else needs to know about that guilty pleasure. When a link to an article presenting solid proof that agile software development reduces costs appears in the “scrum agile” feed, I’ll share it publicly, because I want to show others in my field to see that I’m interested in the topic. When something about the Bike Coalition appears, I’ll share it with my Philly connections or whole network, depending on the content.

You get it, so go ahead and try it. Select different variations of keywords to find out which ones generate the results you’re looking for, then click “Add Interest.”

Add several Sparks related to your desired or current career, as well as industries, news topics, and other interests—think about the topics that, by keeping up with them, would expand your mind and skill set. And stop thinking about the fact that The Bachelorette is one of mine.

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