A survey conducted in April by staffing firm Robert Half International found that 62 percent of senior executives from the nation's 1,000 largest companies believe that professional networking sites like LinkedIn will play a significant role in their recruiting during the next three years.
Curious about how execs are already using LinkedIn, I called Josh Warborg, district president of the Pacific Northwest division of Robert Half International.
"One, it's a way to generate referrals from other people," he said. "Two, you can post jobs directly so that all members on the site can see them. And three, managers can scour the sites and find hidden talent."
Even so, there are numerous ways to shoot yourself in the foot on LinkedIn -- for example, pestering utter strangers to give you a job, write you a recommendation, or add you to their network (better to ask a mutual contact to "introduce" you instead).
Then there's falsifying your profile, which, as social media expert Tim Poindexter will attest, is a surefire way to turn off hiring managers.
Poindexter, a community manager at Disaboom.com, a Denver-based Web community for those with disabilities, recently had to retract a job offer from an entry-level candidate who proved to be a LinkedIn liar. Shortly after extending the offer, Poindexter Googled the new hire and found that his assistant-to-be's LinkedIn profile had been updated to include a nonexistent position at Disaboom -- as Poindexter's supervisor.
If you think twenty-somethings hold a monopoly on revealing too much skin or information online, you're wrong. (Remember the Arlington, Ore., mayor who was booted from office earlier this year over MySpace photos she'd posted of herself in a black bra and panties?)
So, once more I'd like to remind you that, like it or not, many employers are paying attention to everything you do, say, and post online. According to that Robert Half International survey, 35 percent of executives plan to mine social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace for possible job candidates in the coming three years.
"In this day and age, people like to see more of a personality because resumes are so dry," said Tom Moore, CEO and co-founder of ROCS, a Fairfax, Va., staffing firm for recent college grads. "Resumes just don't paint a full picture of the person. Looking at their online profile is just one little thing you can do to get to know them better before or after they come in to interview."
But besides keeping your profiles, photos, and posts office-appropriate, and being selective about who you accept as an online "friend," what can you do to keep your digital nose clean?
Avoid changing your Facebook status to "Interviewing at Amazon.com today. Wish me luck. Oh, and don't tell my boss." And if you can't fight the urge to share that not-safe-for-work side of yourself online, it's not enough to blog anonymously or use pseudonyms for your social network profiles. You need to password-protect your blog entries and set your profiles to private so that only those you approve can see the real you.
But don't just take my word for it. Listen to Sara Champion, 28, a project manager at Plaid, a design and marketing firm in Danbury, Conn., who was asked to share her Facebook and MySpace profiles as part of the application process for her current position: