Online social networks are the rage in this job market because applicants need to use every tool in the shed to find work.
If you're looking for work, you've already asked your best friends and family if they know anyone who's hiring -- and likely they don't. The best connection to your next job comes not from your strong ties, but from your weak links -- those distant friends and contacts that you make through networking.
That makes three sites in particular -- LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter -- potential gold mines for putting people in touch. Plus, they offer easy ways to track the industry, companies and executives you're interested in pursuing. Bonus: All three are free to use.
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This is the most professionally oriented of the three, with nearly 20 million members in the United States.
Create. Create a profile with your work history, education and credentials, taken straight from your resume. Make your profile as thorough as possible. Recruiters search LinkedIn using targeted keywords, so it's important to include your industry's buzzwords to make your profile easy to find.
Share. Another great benefit is you can paste a link to your LinkedIn profile every time you send out a job search-related e-mail. This is often easier and more appropriate than always attaching a resume.
Connect. Then start building your network by sending out an "invitation to connect" to everyone in your e-mail address book. You can also use the search function to look for former colleagues or classmates and connect with them, too. Look at the profiles of your connections to see if they know anyone at a company you're targeting. Then ask them to make an e-mail introduction.
Recommend. Post a positive recommendation on the profile of former colleagues, vendors, clients -- anyone with whom you had a great working relationship. This opens the door for them to get back in touch and maybe give you a great recommendation, too, which makes you attractive to prospective employers.
Join. There are more than 1,000 groups formed daily based on a common interest. I have a Women for Hire group with more than 11,000 members -- men and women who share advice and leads on job searching. You can join my group or another one based on where you went to school, your industry, hobbies, location, desired employer, former employer and more.
Facebook works in much the same way, but it's a more social environment, which is still very valuable for networking.
What started as a tool for college students has expanded considerably. Of the 50 million people in the United States on Facebook, the fastest-growing demographic is people 35 and older.
Update status. Along with many of the same features as LinkedIn -- finding contacts and joining groups -- you can use the popular "status update" feature to let people know you're looking for work. Instead of writing, "I'm in line for coffee," you can write, "looking for an accounting position." If I see that, I may send you a lead.
Twitter is limited to 140 characters, unlike traditional blogs where you can write on and on. Brevity rules here. Make your profile count by being descriptive about your skills so that people can find you when searching for specific credentials.