If you’re baffled by Facebook and have no clue what Twitter is, you could be missing vital tools in your quest for employment.

The Internet has dramatically changed the way people conduct a job search. Because of nifty innovations such as social networking sites and job search engines that scour the Internet, pounding the pavement is a thing of the past.

In a tight job market with fierce competition for open positions, workers need to be proactive in their employment search. From the outset they need to know what kind of job they’re looking for and ideally what companies they want to target.

“It’s not enough — for most professionals, anyway — to just look in the paper and see what’s available. You have to take it a step further now,” says Allison Doyle, job search expert on About.com and author of “Internet Your Way to a New Job: How to Really Find a Job Online.”

“Now you’re looking at the social media involvement with LinkedIn.com and Twitter and Facebook, where people are both connecting and applying to jobs as well. It’s really changed the nature of job searching,” she says.

Sharpen social media tools
  • Network your way in
  • Try Twitter
  • Hone your Internet resume
  • Blog to create your brand

The old saw, it’s not what you know but who you know, has always been true in the hunt for employment. But in today’s tight job market, networking is especially wise. Reports of employers receiving hundreds of applications for open positions are not unusual in the current economy. Knowing a person on the inside can help wedge your foot in the door.

Network your way in

The best way to get the inside track on a job lead is with a referral from someone already employed at the company. To meet employees at the target company, job seekers can turn to online social networks to finagle an introduction or meeting.

Shortly after launching in 2003, LinkedIn.com emerged as a go-to site for professionals to network. It allows job hunters to build a profile and connect with other workers. One benefit is that it makes it easy to tailor networking to specific companies or industries.

“I can go out on LinkedIn, let’s say I have 100 or 150 connections. I might be surprised to find out that some of my first-degree contacts work at one of my target companies — or have worked there — or some of their first- or second-degree contacts work there,” says Jason Alba, CEO of JibberJobber.com and author of “I’m on Linkedin — Now What?”

After discovering that you know someone, or you know someone who knows someone, getting an introduction can be as easy as asking for one. After that, it’s up to you to turn on the charm. One rule of networking is to offer more than you ask for.

As in any relationship, bringing some value to the connection besides neediness will generally be much more rewarding for both parties. Instead of thinking, “What can this guy do for me,” adopt the attitude of, “What can I do for him?” Don’t discount the value of sincere friendship either. It doesn’t have to be about bartering favors. 

Schmoozing on the Internet is easy, and Linkedin isn’t the only networking site out there. It’s not without its drawbacks, either. For instance, users must pay a fee to take advantage of all the communication options the site offers.

“I would characterize LinkedIn as more of a social directory than a social network,” says Lorne Epstein, founder of Inside Job, a Facebook application for job searching.

“It’s great if you want to research. You can get their background, but it’s not a good messaging site. So I would say that Facebook and Twitter are really social messaging sites, or tools,” he says.

Epstein’s Facebook application enables job seekers to connect with people who have some kind of connection to the company they would like to work at.

Whether they currently work at the company, worked there previously or just interviewed there, the aim is to construct “a community of users who want to help each other with jobs,” says Epstein.

Try Twitter

A relative newcomer to the social networking scene, Twitter was started in 2006.

The messaging service can be used from handheld mobile devices, cell phones or the Web. It basically consists of short messages you can send out to all of your followers. You decide whether or not your messages are seen to the rest of the Twitter-world.

Jaimie Croft, a graphic designer in Tuscaloosa, Ala., began using Twitter about a year ago to update friends, but then found he could garner two or three new clients a week.

“Believe it or not, Twitter is a great place to look for work. I am a graphic designer, so I am able to see what people need and respond to them almost instantly, ready to help them,” he says.

“Instead of just sending out, ‘Hey, I’m a graphic designer, let me design something’ updates, I look for people that are actually in need of a designer. That way, it’s not like I am just shouting out to Twitterland that I am a designer. I am actually able to respond to them via Twitter that I am able to help them,” says Croft.

Using all the available avenues of connecting with other people can smooth your job search and uncover opportunities you may not have been aware of. At the very least, your efforts may result in contacts you can follow up with once you’ve sent your resume to the company of your dreams.

Hone your Internet resume

Even as the job search has gone digital, a well-written resume is still a well-written resume. Writing for the Internet has not drastically changed the process of crafting one. However, one aspect that has changed is the almost mandatory inclusion of keywords.

“With the advent of technology and scanning resumes, there are programs that basically analyze the resume for keywords and content,” says Martin Weitzman, executive resume writer at Gilbert Resumes.

“Resumes have to be structured so that all the keywords that people would be looking for, for specific types of positions, are in the resume somehow. They do not need to be in a section called ‘keywords,’ but they do need to be in the resume,” he says.

For workers who want to be on the leading edge of resume technology, companies such as VisualCV can help you make a Web resume with embedded videos, pictures and graphs.

“The actual format is somewhat of a cross between a traditional resume format and what you might call a multimedia profile like you might see on Facebook.com or other social networking sites, using some of the same sorts of technology,” says Phillip Merrick, co-founder and chairman of VisualCV. “But it is a controlled safe and professional environment, so it’s a little bit different in that way.”

To apply for a job, would-be employees can send their prospective employer a link to their resume on the site. Some employers and recruiters have signed up with VisualCV to specifically accept resumes in that format. VisualCV currently has more than 700 companies enrolled.

 “We’ve found 100 percent acceptance of it from employers regardless of whether or not they’ve signed up at our site,” adds Merrick.

If traditional resumes are more your style — or the employer’s — you can easily create a plain document and save it as a PDF file.

“We don’t think it’s the preferred way of doing it, but in those instances when the employer is demanding a word document or PDF, you can easily create one and then send that along in an e-mail as you would ordinarily,” he says.

The best part about VisualCV is that job seekers can create and keep their resume online for free, similar to setting up a profile on Facebook or MySpace.

Blog to create your brand

What was once really novel is now nearly universal. Just about everyone has a blog, and yours could help you get a job. There are a few caveats, however.

For the blog to be useful, it needs a base of readers. That means it needs to be well-written and interesting, which can take some time and effort. For a blog to effectively dovetail with your career, it should be related to your industry or the industry you’re targeting.

“When I talk about LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter and blogging, it begins from the question of, ‘Why am I participating in any of these online technologies?’ One answer is that it is to grow my network, to nurture relationships. And the other is that I want to share my brand with other people,” says Jason Alba, CEO of JibberJobber.com and author of “I’m on Linkedin — Now What?”

Building your personal brand is a recently popular catchphrase. It basically boils down to  being recognizable as the person who does whatever you do well. And blogging is a way to get your name out there as the expert about a particular topic.

Once a blog gains traction — it can take up to 8 to 12 months — it can get the attention of employers, potential clients or even TV producers, according to Lorne Epstein, founder of Inside Job, a Facebook application for job searching.

“My sister-in-law was recently on a PBS program called ‘Nature’ — they found her through her blog. She’s kind of a cat whisperer, and they were looking for someone that is an expert on cats. The fact that she had a blog was how they found her,” says Epstein.

Making a name as an expert source can be a great way to attract clients, and blogging can also be an informal way to build a network of contacts that may be a gold mine when it’s time to look for a job.

That was the case for Ryan Burns. He started “Going to Seminary,” a blog about his family and education.

“Being a freelance Web developer, I invested a fair amount of my free time building an audience and focusing on (search engine optimization) for the site. As the site grew, I began to look for advertising revenue, and I contacted a Bible software company about the possibility of an affiliate relationship,” he says.

When it turned out that his freelance income couldn’t pay the bills, Burns turned to his blog and posted his resume. He also posted updates about his job search on Twitter.

Within a couple of days, his friends had asked questions about what he was looking for and had passed his name to their employers. But the software company he’d originally partnered with ended up hiring him.

“Since I was on their radar and I was doing ads for them, they saw the link, and the next thing I knew, they were calling me. They had already seen what I could do,” he says.

“The vice president of marketing said that he was impressed with what I had done, marketing my seminary site and other work, and offered to fly me out for an in-person interview. Two weeks later, I accepted a position in the marketing department,” says Burns.

Although it takes time to develop a strong blog with a significant readership, it’s a more personal way to use social networking.

“There’s a sense of community built around blogs. People come to your blog and get to know you and what you’re about. When you put out a post that you’re looking for a job, people feel like they have already invested something in you and feel comfortable recommending you,” says Burns.

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