March 26, 2009 -- 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.
Click here to pose your job search questions to Tory at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.
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.
Follow me. The highlight of Twitter is that you can use it to "follow" the posts of anyone you want including the companies and people you're targeting. Many viewers follow me (@ToryJohnson) on Twitter to ask career-related questions and, because of the length, I can quickly respond to everyone. I also post job leads as I get them, which is another reason people opt to follow me.
Follow your next employer. Let's say you're set on working for a specific company -- take Whole Foods, which has a very popular Twitter following. You can read what customers and employees have to say just about every minute. And if you're trying to interview there, it helps to understand the culture and the dynamic among its fans and foes. Many companies also post their job openings on Twitter, which is another reason to follow.
Twitter tools. One of my favorite sites is search.twitter.com, which enables you to search by key word, name, employer or buzz phrase to see what's happening at that moment on Twitter.
TweetMyJobs is a tool that enables you to search for specific openings by industry, company, key word, etc.
A word of caution. Everything you post becomes public and there are many infamous anecdotes about a candidate getting a job offer, then posting a comment online saying, "Yeah I got the offer, but the commute really stinks" or "I got the job but the money's pathetic." Assume it'll get back to the prospective employer and the offer will be rescinded before you even start.