How to use social media to look for a job

April 21, 2010

Update: I’m now offering a social media course that will help you reach your job-search goals. It’s called Make Your Own Luck. Would love to have you!

A lot has changed since the last time I was in the market for a job. Fresh out of j-school in 2005, I gave my resume and clips to the editor of a newspaper I wanted to work for. He didn’t have any openings, but he knew someone who did: the Houston Chronicle‘s Washington bureau chief. So the no-openings editor passed my resume to the Chron editor. And guess who hired me?

Now, five years later, as I look for a D.C.-based reporting/writing/multimedia/social media position (if you smell a plug, you’re right on), that passing of the resume is still important. What’s changed is how the resume is passed. Now it’s often done digitally. And most of that digital resume-passing occurs through social media.

Knowing how to use social media effectively has become doubly helpful in the job hunt: not only do employers value social media skills, but using social media strategically can help you land the job you want, even if social media skills aren’t required.

Here’s how I’m using social media in my job hunt:

Facebook. Yes, Facebook is for fun. But my friends might also help me with my career. Since I’m a journalist, a lot of my Facebook friends are journalists or former journalists who work for organizations that might be hiring. And because of Facebook, I’ve stayed in touch with colleagues-turned-friends who I might not have kept in contact with before it was so easy.

My friends know I’m looking for a job in D.C. They know because I’ve said so in my status updates, even asked them to let me know if they hear of any openings. Asking for favors on Facebook is easy, because these people already know and like me. The key is to not inundate your friends with hiring pleas. Let them know you’re looking and then move onto something else (please, not FarmVille).

I’ve mentioned my job hunt in my status update only twice in the last six months. That was enough for a handful of friends — including a few I wouldn’t have thought to approach individually — to write me private messages with suggestions of places that are hiring or people who might be helpful to talk to. Because of Facebook, 748 people might think of me when they hear of a job opening. And since the best positions often aren’t posted on job boards, it’s important to let people know you’re looking.

In addition to pimping myself on my status updates, I use Facebook to send private messages to friends who live in D.C. and ask them to be on the lookout for openings (because not everyone checks their news feed obsessively enough to catch all of my status updates). I’m not close enough with some of these friends to e-mail them on a regular basis, but thanks to Facebook, we’re still in touch.

LinkedIn. If you’re uncomfortable networking for jobs on Facebook (though you shouldn’t be), you should feel just fine doing it on LinkedIn, because that’s why the site was created. It’s good for more than simply building your network. LinkedIn has a great job board, and groups that I’m part of — my alma maters and media groups — also list jobs on their own LinkedIn pages.

Whenever I apply for a job, I search on LinkedIn for people who work for the company, specifically the person who would be my boss or hire me (I figure that out with Google’s help). And this is genius: LinkedIn tells me whether one of my connections knows that person! It’s like riffling through my Rolodex and being able to see not only my networks, but my friends’ networks, too. Taking that one step further, LinkedIn lets you write a note to the person you want to contact — through your friend, who can endorse you in the process.

Why is this important? Because applying for a job online isn’t enough anymore. To get someone to pull your application out of the virtual pile, you’ve got to talk or e-mail with an actual person. In the old days (what, like five or ten years ago?), you had to know someone at the company or wiggle your way in by networking in person. But with LinkedIn, you can create that connection — and get a personal recommendation to boot.

Remember: if you can find someone on a social-networking site, they probably know how to find you, too. So make your profiles professional and all-around awesome.

Twitter. It’s ironic that LinkedIn is supposed to be the forerunner for career networking, because I’ve found Twitter to be the most useful in this job hunt. A different community of people follow me on Twitter than on Facebook, and tweeting about the type of job I’m looking for reaches a ton — about 1,500 — of people who otherwise wouldn’t know I’m on the market.

Once again, you don’t want to overwhelm your followers with notes about your job hunt. But a tweet about the search every month or two is a great way to let journalists and D.C.-dwellers know that I’m available to WORK! I’ve gotten lots of good leads this way, from links to niche job boards to tips about open positions. Just yesterday, a (totally awesome) tweep who I hadn’t corresponded with all that much sent me a private message with a suggestion for a job. It had come open that morning, she said, and because she’d seen my tweet about how I was looking for a job — and she knew I was interested in journalism and Africa, two key components of the position — she’d thought of me and passed my name to the hiring manager.

*Anybody reading this get a job through Twitter? Would love to hear about it in the comments.

Twitter is also a great place to connect with employers. Whenever I see a job I want to apply for, before I even search for the boss or hiring manager on LinkedIn, I look for them on Twitter. I read through their tweets to get an idea of what kind of person they are. I follow them, then hope they’ll follow me back so I can send them a private message. Several of my first correspondences with people who I want to work for have been 140-character introductions.

I also follow lots of tweeps who work in the fields where I want to work. I created a list of online journalists who represent the future of the industry. I follow dozens of social media managers. And since I’m also considering transitioning into communications for a non-profit group, I follow people who work for them, too. Through these people, I hear about networking events and skills workshops — like the Online News Assocation‘s workshop on social media for journalists that I attended while in D.C. last month — and I pay attention to who they’re talking tweeting to.

(I know what you’re thinking: this is a LOT of work for a job I haven’t gotten yet. But the market is competitive, and this is how much effort it takes to get the job you want. So take a deep breath, and read on.)

Blogs. Instead of visiting certain websites each day to see whether they’ve posted new positions, new posts appear automatically in my Google Reader, where I can quickly star them if I’m interested or delete them if I’m not. I subscribe to blogs like to DCWorks (aimed at out-of-work journalists but helpful for others, too), and job boards including Wired Journalists, Mashable (social media jobs), Idealist (positions with non-profits and government) and the classic JournalismJobs. Most job boards allow you to search for certain criteria and subscribe only to jobs that meet it.

There’s so much more I could go into, but I think these are the most important and useful points. What have I missed? How else could I use social media to look for a job? Do you think this is worth the effort, or would you rather job-hunt the old-fashioned way?

Oh, and if you want to learn more, social media thug Marian Schembari is offering an online class on this very subject.

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