If you're among the millions of people looking for work, there's one more social networking site you may have to join: Twitter.
If the thought of signing on to yet another online network makes you shudder, consider Kyle Flaherty's story. He left his marketing position in Boston last spring determined to find an in-house public relations job. He tweeted (Twitter lingo for posting a message) about his decision and included a link to his professional blog, where he described the kind of work he was looking for. Within days his tweet was retweeted. That is, an acquaintance forwarded it — to his current boss.
"I don't think I would have gotten this if not for Twitter," says Flaherty, who moved from Boston to Austin, Texas, for the new job last year with his then-pregnant wife and 2-year-old son.
In case you aren't yet schooled in Twitter, it's a social networking site that allows you to send tweets, the equivalent of text messages or Facebook status updates. The catch: Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so you have to keep them very short and simple. To sign up, you just fill out an online profile form. Then you can send and view tweets on your computer, cellphone and BlackBerry. Unlike in Facebook, you can follow (Twitter language for receiving people's updates) anyone. There's no formal asking-and-accepting process.
When you sign up to follow someone's tweets, they see that you're following them. That's a good thing, because they may decide to reciprocate and follow you too, which is something you want if you're a professional trying to get noticed.
"Twitter allows you access to people you might not otherwise meet or encounter," says Miriam Salpeter, a careers coach and founder of Keppie Careers in Atlanta.
Needless to say, not everyone will get a job simply by tweeting about their employment status. But Twitter, like LinkedIn, Facebook and industry conferences, is a way to reach out and get in front of people who know hiring managers or can introduce you to them.
If you've never used Twitter, don't sign up and immediately blast people with a message saying you're out of work. Instead, build momentum slowly.
Lots of people use Twitter to share mindless ramblings, like, "Having a hamburger with friends this afternoon." But the cleverest Twitterers use it to comment on happenings in their professions. They follow industry leaders' tweets and even build informal relationships by following one another.
If you've never used Twitter, don't sign up and immediately blast people with a message saying you're out of work. Instead, build momentum slowly. Open an account and include something about your profession in your user name. Since users can search tweets by topic, that's one way of making your feed more visible.
"I automatically follow back anyone who has jobs or careers in their title," says Salpeter, whose twitter name is keppie_careers.
In the profile section, put a few lines about what you do professionally — that also helps your searchability.
Search for leaders
Before you start tweeting, search for leaders in your industry, companies you'd like to work for and other potential professional contacts. Follow them. Many companies — especially in marketing, public relations and technology — use Twitter to post job openings, and a lot of hiring managers tweet too.
"You can hear about jobs, get a feel for a company, determine how to interact with them and see how you would fit in," says Flaherty.
Next, start tweeting. Offer your opinion on news, industry happenings and seminars. If someone you follow, particularly an industry leader, says something controversial or interesting, retweet (forward) it, or send the person a direct response. That can be an ideal way to get a casual but more personal conversation going.
If you're following a hiring manager at a company you'd like to work for, observe what he or she writes and then tailor your tweets to comment on similar things.
That's what John Johansen did when he decided he wanted to leave Boston for somewhere more affordable. He targeted marketing professionals in Raleigh, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Austin and started following their tweets. When someone in those circles said something very interesting, he responded with an @ message — a public comment. This helped him develop relationships with marketing professionals in those cities. They in turn introduced him to others on Twitter.
As he found businesses he'd want to work for, Johansen searched Twitter to locate their employees. That way he found the human resources manager for Bulldog Solutions, a marketing agency in Austin. "I'd been following their newsletter and had an interest in working there," he says. "I learned their HR manager was on Twitter, so I connected with her." They met, she asked for his résumé — and he was hired.
"A big part of using Twitter was that it allowed me to break the ice," Johansen says. "For a job seeker it's a way to say, 'I can show you I'm a real person, I see you're a real person, and we have a connection.' On the employer's side, they get to see what a person talks about when they're on Twitter and how they act outside of work."
Johansen got laid off five months after he started, because of the economic downturn. He jumped right back on Twitter and has been using it to find freelance work.
"There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff," Flaherty says. "It's evolutionary. Back in the day we would have sent out cover letters, a few years later e-mails, and a few years later we updated our blogs. The beauty of Twitter is that it's as if you're at a networking event all the time, in real time."