A layoff is never easy. Nevertheless, if your previous job was focused on studying the maze of social-networking sites and figuring out how to use them best, you'd be way ahead of the game.
At least, Randy Giusto hoped he would. Until April, the vice president and research director at market-research firm IDC was in charge of a group of 40 analysts. They brought in more than $15 million per year by creating reports that measured, and often changed the direction of, huge markets in consumer and digital media.
The shock of his layoff left Giusto without an immediate plan. "Most jobs are gotten through networking — knowing people, talking to people, and a big percentage of that today is done through social networking as well as in person."
Like millions of other out-of-work executives, Giusto found it’s hard to separate online and offline networking in 2009.
After all, we now rely on online job boards, social-networking sites and mobile devices to make connections. Knowing people, talking to people, and finding and capitalizing on job leads, now takes place largely online.
Industry-specific and social-networking tools
Giusto started close to home. He signed up for groups on LinkedIn that focused on market research, consumer electronics, mobile and other technology areas in which he had some experience, and for groups formed by recruiters he'd worked with in the past.
Members of the groups alerted him to a series of job openings that had either been posted only in inaccessible places or not at all — opportunities in the "background job market" that he would never have seen without a connection to specific parts of the industry, in which he’d worked for years.
"Vertical-market groups and networks really have become one of the most effective, most reliable sources for that kind of job information," according to Paul Gillin, author of "The New Influencers" and "Secrets of Social Media Marketing," and tech-industry veteran/consultant who specializes in social-network marketing.
"A lot of people think they don't have the time or expertise to use industry-specific or at-large social-networking sites,” Gillen said. “But if you make yourself savvy, and it's not hard, in how to use Plaxo and LinkedIn and Twitter and vertical networks, you can do a lot." He focused his job search on one: Twitter.
When he was at IDC, Giusto maintained a Twitter feed where IDC customers could follow his analysis of industry issues in the news. He realized he could leverage this and show his value to potential employers by compiling and analyzing information for his “followers.”
"That kept me in contact with a lot of people who (had) sought me out. People (were) saying they didn't have any openings right now, but offering or raising the possibility of some consulting work that might last through the summer, and (saying) we could talk more in the fall," Giusto said. "Especially in July and August, when the number of job postings went way down, I built a network of people with different specialties I could turn to on a freelance basis to fulfill some of the more complicated engagements."
This “push” strategy on Twitter resulted in most of his job contacts coming to him, rather than vice versa. "Mostly they came through Twitter or they searched on LinkedIn for people with certain skills and found me that way," he said.
Start with a strategy, not a tool
Too many job seekers approach their social networks the wrong way when they’re looking for a job, said Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of “Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview” and consultant/career coach at the Columbia Publishing Course — a six-week, graduate-level training program on magazine and book publishing. Some just march right out and broadcast, “I need a job. Can anyone help?”
"Desperation creates paralysis," she said. "People get a whiff of desperation, and it turns them off, for one thing. When people feel out of control, they'll say they're happy to do anything. When you say that, there's nothing in my brain (as a contact) that I can use to help you. I have all these networks and contacts and resources, but if I don't have a clue what you're looking for, I don't know how to help you. When you approach people like that you're asking the helper or potential employer to do the digging to figure out how to help you."
The best approach is the same direct-contact, web-of-trust method used in more traditional, in-person networking, Gillin said.
"The most important thing is to have a strategy," he said. "I'll go to events that people go to with the express purpose of networking for jobs and they haven't even thought about how I can help them. You can't put the tool first; you have to know what you're looking for and then use the tool — whether it's Twitter or LinkedIn or Plaxo or another service — to help you get there."
"You have to stop looking for a job, and start looking for a person," Reeves agreed.
"If you ask a roomful of people how they got their jobs, 80 percent will say it was through some kind of referral. So you have to stop sending your resume into the black hole of cyberspace, and use the tools to research and find the companies you're interested in and the job you're interested in and the person you should talk to about that job. Then you use social-networking tools to make that contact happen."
Examples of good strategies in action
That backdoor approach works remarkably well, according to Aliza Freud, CEO of SheSpeaks.com, a word-of-mouth marketing startup that enrolls women in a cooperative effort to make their voices heard to developers of the products they use.
Example 1: One candidate Freud recently hired got noticed by searching SheSpeaks.com to get familiar with the company's approach, and also following Freud's own Twitter feed "to gain a better perspective on my thinking and hot buttons (as a potential employer)," Freud said.
Example 2: Another researched the company and then used LinkedIn to find connections who could make the recommendations that helped make the candidate "stand out among hundreds of candidates" and eventually land the job, she said.
Using video to put you in the spotlight
Without a direct link to a company — a contact who knows the hiring manager or can introduce you — it’s hard to get noticed.
It is especially difficult in industries where there have been so many layoffs that there's a crowd for every opportunity that crops up, said David Schmidt, a Michigan-based MktgLadder member and 20-year PR and marketing veteran who specializes in manufacturing technology and IT-related professional services.
Not even professional associations are exempt from the glut . The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), in which Schmidt has been active as a member and speaker, is so packed with job seekers that its job boards generate the same overwhelming flood of resumes as more general sites , he said.
One way to get noticed is to use an innovative bit of technology or marketing, like a video resume. Schmidt, who lost his management job two months ago when his agency went out of business, recorded and posted a three-minute resume he believes can highlight his skills and experience, give an idea of what he's like to work with, and maybe even attract attention a text resume wouldn't. As an appendix to his video resume, he also produced a short tutorial on Web 2.0 practices, available on his YouTube account.
"You've got to try anything you can to set yourself apart," Schmidt said. "I'm only getting started with this and a couple of other approaches, but it's a new way to get an edge and can impart more about my personality and some of my video and producing skills."
New technology strategies like Schmidt’s can produce results — or waste a lot of time — depending on the person producing and the picture that gets painted. It can be ineffective for people who are not making their message clear or presenting a consistent picture of themselves in all the social media they use, Gillin said.
"What I tell people is to pick LinkedIn or Plaxo or whatever network you're most comfortable in; get all your information up to date, and tell people clearly what you're looking for. Then make that profile the one you update with new information," Gillin said. "Take that information and syndicate it to the other networks you use — Twitter or Facebook or whatever — but use one as the base to work from. It saves a lot of energy and not only avoids having you look completely different on each network but confusing people."
Narrow your focus, and your sources
"The general job boards are full of junk, so you have to find the ones that filter some of that out," according to Schmidt, who uses MktgLadder and follows several Twitter feeds to find job leads.
One problem is that Twitter — with its tweets and retweets and tweetups — is alien-sounding and overwhelming to the uninitiated, said Rick Stomphorst, a director of operations and development at Econstruction.com who is highly rated by the LinkedIn community as an expert on the use of social networks .
A huge number of new jobs are posted through Twitter, but the number of feeds is so enormous that it's hard to find them, he said.
One option is to identify a small number of companies you want to work with or recruiters who work in your industry, search for the Twitter feeds of executives from those companies, and follow them. You learn a lot about their priorities and methods, often hear about their job postings first, and get yourself instant credibility as a longtime follower of their tweets.
Corporate social networks
Finding job listings is one thing; finding them credible is another, said Kate Lukach, director of marketing for SelectMinds, which develops software that companies use to create their own social networks.
SelectMinds has become one of the leading software providers for social networks owned and controlled by specific companies and organizations, like alumni associations and industry groups.
When a company implements this “closed network” software, job seekers get a good source of job leads at a company where they're already a known commodity, so it improves their chances of landing a job. And it drastically cuts the cost of recruiting, vetting and training new employees, Lukach said.
Internal, corporate social networks compete with less controlled, sometimes less focused alumni networks or social networks such as LinkedIn, Ning.com and others. But they’re qualitatively different, Lukach said. Each user’s real name (not a made-up user name) and work history is accessible via hyperlink when they comment within the closed network. This all but guarantees members behave as if they're in a company conference room, not on the wild Web, she said.
Too many options
Using Twitter, LinkedIn, video, e-mail, IM and a host of tools, aggregation sites and other information-gathering mechanisms can jump-start a job search, but each one also comes with a cost, according to Schmidt.
Some of the new services and techniques are more effective than others. And each one comes with a learning curve.
"It's still the Wild West out there, but the resources you can find are getting so deep and rich you can do amazing things," Schmidt said. "The challenge becomes which ones are worth the time to invest, because you can't ignore personal contacts and phone calls and just sit in front of the computer all day."