Oct. 20, 2010, 12:05 a.m. EDT
Social-media sites can help job seekers connect with employers, but it’s not easy
By Catherine Ngai of Medill News Service
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Mitchell Strobl is your average college junior at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., but the way he landed his new job is distinctly 21st century.
“I came across this Web site [through] a link that was posted [on my Facebook wall],” said Strobl, 20. The site lined up with his interests perfectly, and after contacting the president of HuntingLife.com, he was soon hired to become a writer and then a product reviewer for the hunting and conservation news site.
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Stories like Strobl’s are rare, especially in a job market as tough as this one. The U.S. economy lost 95,000 jobs in September, and the unemployment rate is 9.6%, according to the Labor Department. As a result, new graduates and young professionals are trying new tools to improve their chances of finding work. Read more on U.S. economy sheds 95,000 jobs in September.
“Social media is a great way to learn about different employers as well as build professional networks that will help create opportunities and open doors,” said Holly Paul, PwC’s U.S. recruiting leader. “I do think now that social media is so prolific and being used by students that…it’s an additive to what they’re doing to connect with other individuals that can help them in their job search.”
A month ago, the buzz about finding work via social-media sites hit a new high. After creating YouTube Instant, a replica of real-time search engine Google Instant for searching videos on YouTube, a 19-year-old Stanford student received a job offer via Twitter — even less than the 140-character limit — from Chad Hurley, co-founder and chief executive of YouTube.
While the success stories generate a lot of excitement, and may prompt some job seekers to rely solely on social media, career experts say that’s not a smart move.
“You really have to be careful with Twitter or Facebook, because it can seduce you into an informality that can really backfire,” said Lonnie Dunlap, director of career services at Northwestern University. “I do think that the traditional methods have to be there. And they have to be very well done. You can get someone’s attention through LinkedIn, but your goal is to get an interview.”
And keep in mind that the hard-copy resume and cover letter are far from obsolete. Mary Spencer, director of career placement at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, said she’s seen an increase in employers asking for paper rather than electronic portfolios at job fairs.
Also, a problem with social media such as Facebook and Twitter is that they may reveal too much personal information to potential employers. Paul, of PwC, oversees new hires and she said social media can cause an unnecessary mix-up of work and personal life. Her suggestion is to keep certain types of social networks completely personal — she says that’s how she uses Facebook — and other types completely professional, such as LinkedIn.
She said job candidates who don’t use social media aren’t likely to be penalized for that by prospective employers. “I personally don’t think that we’re there yet. The employer isn’t there yet,” she said. “The issue with students not using those [methods] means that they are not using a channel and an avenue right there in front of them for free.”
Tips to improve your chances
The degree to which your job hunt on social-media sites is successful may depend on the type of position being sought. For instance, most public-relations firms already connect to people through Twitter and have designated Facebook pages. Same goes for corporate communications positions. However, Kevin Nichols, the chief executive of a small publishing company, said that a search for any job — entry level and professional — can be enhanced through social media.
Three years ago, Nichols started two LinkedIn groups in the San Francisco Bay Area; they now have about 1,500 members. He said social networking is a tried and true method that has worked for him, as well as many of the people in his group. With social media, applicants are able to connect with people within certain companies who can act as an advocate for them within the company.
Nichols offered the following tips for using social media to enhance your job search:
- Become an active participant on a social network.
- Find people within your desired industry and let them know you’re searching.
- Once you become introduced to someone online, even though that might “soften the blow of cold calling,” don’t forget that meeting people face-to-face is still the ultimate goal.
- Practice what Nichols calls “good job karma” — rather than just asking for help from others, do your part to give back and help others out.
Finally, don’t forget that it’s not always as easy as some make it seem. Brittany Sykes, a recent graduate of Penn State University, has been on the lookout for a public-relations job in the entertainment industry since May. Sykes, 22, said she hasn’t had too much luck, although she follows many PR firms on Twitter and has seen a fair amount of job postings.
The job search can be challenging, she said, but the use of social media is bringing a little hope in her search. “I get stressed out sometimes when my parents drive me crazy [about finding a job]”, she said. “But I get really excited when I make some type of connection.”