NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When it comes to job hunting, serendipity is often key. A chance encounter while in line at a coffee shop or on a flight across the country can put you in touch with a contact who knows just the right person to land you your dream job. The same principle applies online: the more people you network with, the better.
Whether you’re responding to someone’s update on Twitter, posting a picture to Instagram or writing a review of a book on Goodreads, you never know who might see it and how they may be able to help your job search. For this reason alone, the career advisers MainStreet spoke with argue that almost any social network has the potential to improve your job search. The trick is to know which ones are right for you and your industry.
“Not all employers are on LinkedIn or Facebook so you need to know where the specific employers you want are and then be there,” says Heather Huhman, a career counselor and founder of Come Recommended, a public relations firm for recruiters. “Or you can just spread yourself across all social networks.”
The downside to the latter strategy, as Huhman and others are quick to point out, is that most job seekers only have so much time they can devote to networking online.
“Even if you're looking for a job full time, we career coaches like to recommend that you get out of the house, meet real people and actually apply for jobs. So their time is limited,” says Miriam Salpeter, founder of Keppie Careers, a job-coaching firm. Instead, she recommends being more selective in the networks you use and investing the time necessary to use each to the fullest.
With that in mind, here are five great social networks that can help a wide range of job hunters plus a few tricks from our career experts for how to use each as effectively as possible.
If your idea of using LinkedIn is to just post your resume, connect with a few co-workers and then wait for responses, you’re doing it wrong. As Salpeter points out, there are a ton of job search tools offered on LinkedIn that users are either unaware of or simply choose to ignore.
Join groups: As important as it is to stay connected with former colleagues, the real potential for LinkedIn – and any social network, for that matter – is to get in touch with new people. LinkedIn Groups are an excellent way to do that. As the name implies, these are basically forums where users can discuss job questions and opportunities. You can search for groups by keyword (“journalism,” for example) and then check out statistics for each to find out how active it is, how many people belong to it and whether most of those who belong are entry-level workers, senior-level or something else.
Events: Along the same lines, LinkedIn offers a directory of offline networking events, which you can filter by location and industry. The directory is free, but you have to go to the LinkedIn Applications page and then add the Events application to your account.
Follow your favorite companies: LinkedIn doesn’t just let you keep up with friends and co-workers, it also lets you follow employers in your industry. All you have to do is go to the LinkedIn search bar, select companies and then type in the name of the business or brand you’re interested in. From there, you can subscribe to their LinkedIn updates, which is particularly helpful since these usually have to do with new hires and job postings.
Some may still think of Twitter as a medium for people to share inane details about their lives, but many companies also use the social network to post job openings and even scout for people to fill them. The key to Twitter is knowing who to follow and how to engage with them.
Twitter chats: Both Salpeter and Huhman strongly suggest that job hunters take part in Twitter chats. It’s almost like Twitter’s version of LinkedIn groups, except that it happens in real-time. There are dozens and dozens of chats on subjects ranging from social media marketing to career advice that take place at the same time each week. All you have to know is the hashtag associated with it and you can follow the posts and chime in. You can find a comprehensive schedule of all the major Twitter chats here.
Follow businesses and job sites: As with LinkedIn, you can use Twitter to follow news from companies you might like to work for as well. Just make sure to follow the right account. For example, if you follow @Starbucks, you’ll be bombarded with deals and customer service-related posts, but if you follow @StarbucksJobs, you’ll mainly see information about hiring opportunities. You should also consider following job sites like CareerBuilder and Glassdoor, which frequently tweet employment advice and job postings.
Engage with people in your industry: It’s usually not enough to just follow companies on Twitter either – Huhman says users should also be retweeting and commenting on posts from those accounts, as well as from recruiters or hiring managers who associated with them. This way you can begin to build a relationship with them and stay on their radar. The one caveat here is that if you’re currently employed, you should be careful not to post anything that explicitly shows you’re looking for work, or someone at your company might find out. Instead, try relying more on direct messages.
Many Facebook users probably joined the website to help their personal life rather than their professional one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do both.
At the very least, Huhman says you can use this social network to create a nice calling card for yourself. With the latest redesign, Facebook users can now put a nice landscape picture at the top of the page, along with a few key details about where they work and where they went to school. You can also select the updates you’d like to make public so you have a page that looks active to potential recruiters without being too revealing. But there are a couple of other steps you should take as well.
Use your connections: Chances are good that you actually know most of the people you’re connected to on Facebook – something that can’t be said of Twitter or even LinkedIn – so why not take advantage of that fact? There are several great online tools like InTheDoor and Glassdoor’s Inside Connections that let Facebook users find out if anyone they are connected to works for a company they’re targeting. Who knows, that perfect contact might be someone you’ve been connected to for years.
Facebook groups: Facebook, like LinkedIn and Twitter, has plenty of groups that users can join as well. While most of these probably aren’t career-focused, you can still use them to meet new people and build up your network. Just try not to join any groups that are too controversial, as this could come back to haunt you later.
Facebook brand pages: Facebook also offers users the option to follow brands and businesses. These updates may not always be job-related, but according to Huhman, following any news about a company can prove to be useful background information when crafting a cover letter for a job there or going in for an interview.
Google+ has been called a ghost town recently, and for good reason. While the social network now has more than 90 million users, most of them don’t spend very much time on the site. But that doesn’t change the fact that you should still have a presence on it.
As Salpeter points out, Google recently tweaked its search algorithm to give better placement to Google+ content. That means one of the first results someone may see when searching for your name is your Google+ page. Likewise, if you’ve recently shared something about Starbucks and one of your contacts happens to search for Starbucks on Google, they may see that post at the top of the results. While some may cringe at this fact, it does create an opportunity for job hunters to use the new search rules to their advantage.
Engage with more users: Unlike LinkedIn, there are no restrictions on who you can connect with on Google+, though of course there’s also no guarantee those people will reciprocate the gesture. That’s helpful for two reasons. First, you have the opportunity to learn a little more about people and businesses in your industry. Second, the more people who respond and connect with you, the more likely it is that your name will pop up in other people’s Google searches.
Perfect your profile: Even though engagement on Google+ seems to be on the decline, Salpeter says plenty of recruiters continue to use the social network as a directory to search for potential candidates. That, combined with the fact that your profile pops up in the search engine, means you should take extra care in how you brand yourself. The first thing that visitors see on your profile is your location and job title. So rather than just say you’re a “Doctor” or “Lawyer,” try elaborating a little bit by adding a very brief mission statement for yourself. Also, be sure to sprinkle in keywords about your skills, just as you would do to stand out on LinkedIn.
Use the hangouts: One of Google+’s greatest features is video chats, which allow users to either live-stream events or videoconference with multiple people at once. It’s a great way to build up meaningful relationships on the website, or just to keep up with important events and talks.
Pinterest has quickly become one of the most popular social networks online, and according to both of our experts, it has the potential to be an incredible job tool as well.
For those who haven’t used it yet, Pinterest users share their favorite photos from around the Web and organize them onto different “boards” or catalogues. Until recently, the social network has been dominated by women and pictures of food and fashion, but men are beginning to join as well. At first blush, this kind of website might seem irrelevant to the job search, but that’s not the case.
Show off your portfolio: Anyone who works in a visual industry like graphic design or photography can obviously use the website to showcase their portfolio by pinning pictures of their work, but Huhman argues that other professionals should do the same. Architects, for example, might post pictures of schematics they’ve made while journalists might post pictures of articles they’ve written or magazines they’ve been published in. This can be a great way to attract attention to your work.
Reach out to people directly: Pinterest makes it incredibly easy to stumble upon posts from strangers as well. All you have to do is post a picture of a wedding dress and anyone searching through the weddings category might come across it. This means the potential for random engagement is perhaps even greater than on Twitter or LinkedIn. So next time someone re-pins or comments on your picture, take a minute to look up their name and see if they work in your industry. Who knows, years from now, you may tell your grandkids that you landed your job thanks to a friend you met after they commented on two of your cat pictures on Pinterest.
Seth Fiegerman is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter @sfiegerman.