TalentWorks Digital Career Guide

The New Way to Network for a Job

Social-Networking Sites Have Become 'Supercharged' Job Sites, the New Way for Candidates and Employers to Gain Unique Insight as They Search

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After seven years at Digitas in New York, Carl Sorvino wanted to move back to his home state of New Jersey. So this self-described opportunist kept his eyes open. "I had gotten burned on the typical job boards and tended to stay away from recruiters," Mr. Sorvino says.

Not just an interactive media pro, he was a real user. Connected to almost 200 people, he says LinkedIn and Facebook were "simply extensions of me."
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Photo illustration: William Duke
When he heard about Sigma Group, just over the George Washington Bridge, he electronically reached out, looking into the company's reputation, the LinkedIn profile of agency president Shannon Morris, and the agency's clients and connections. Mr. Sorvino e-mailed Ms. Morris, who replied.

"Especially in Manhattan, I'd never speak with the president of the agency," he says. "To hear the story from the president in her own words ... made me feel powerful, which I really enjoyed and liked." Last July, he moved to the 70-person Sigma, in Oradell, New Jersey -- whose clients include Panasonic Toughbook, DeLonghi and Poggen Pohl -- as associate creative director for interactive.

Mr. Sorvino's experience is becoming common in marketing and advertising placement. Traditional recruiting and job hunting are quickly falling away as companies and professionals find -- and check out -- each other through a technology-charged version of the oldest people tool of all: networking.

Not so cutting-edge
Although such social-networking sites as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn are relatively new, online networking in recruiting hardly is. "I have been using the internet for [recruiting] at least 10 years," says Rebecca Loughlin, a senior recruiter at AutoTrader.com. Early electronic social interaction like special interest e-mail groups go back at least three decades.

However, increased database and search power made social networking sites supercharged job sites. Eric Schelling, director of talent acquisition at AutoTrader.com, remembers a recent job fair marketed for 30 days with social networking only. "We targeted a few companies that were doing downsizing," he says, and 150 high-quality people showed up -- a number that would have taken months to reach with older approaches.

"You can do targeted [recruiting] without necessarily having a specialist recruiter in that field," says Claire Lematta, president of global strategies at PR firm Waggener Edstrom. Instead of relying on one person's Rolodex, companies can search for targeted keywords as well as ask people with whom they already have connections for recommendations.

The results are effective. "If I contact, say, 10 people on LinkedIn whom I'm interested in pursuing for a particular position in AutoTrader, I'd hear back from seven or eight of them," says Rebecca Loughlin, a senior recruiter at AutoTrader.com. "With phone calls, even one [reply] would be considered good."

Personalities at a glance
Social networks also can provide insight into what a candidate might be like. "One of my recruiters had other people inquire about the agency, and looking at their Facebook pages they could see that they probably wouldn't be happy here," says John Coleman, CEO of advertising and marketing agency The VIA Group. The candidate apparently enjoyed clubbing, and the firm's home of Portland, Maine, isn't exactly a night-life hot spot.

"I would look and see what other user groups and professional associations they belong to, which are often listed on their page," Mr. Loughlin says. "That's a big clue as to how tapped in they are to their own network of professionals and how dedicated they are to their career."

Due diligence isn't the sole property of corporations and recruiters. "Out of the 15 people we hired over the last six months, five of them looked at my profile, and I never even met with them," says Ms. Morris. Savvy marketing employees, wary of being sold a bill of goods, want to investigate where they might end up. During her most recent job search, Michelle Arsenault, now a client strategist at VIA Group, considered returning to a previous employer. "I contacted a former co-worker who said it wasn't what it was and maybe I should explore some other options." She got the heads up without having to put a foot out the door.

Given the ink MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn receive, they can seem to be the world of social networking, but that view is short-sighted. "I have profiles on 16 different social networks," says Amybeth Hale, a Waggener Edstrom sourcing strategist. "There are industry-specific social networks. There are internal social networks that large companies implement so people can communicate within the company. There are special interest social networks." In addition to the big three, she uses Konnects.com, Spoke.com and DooStang.com. Hale even considers Craigslist a form of social networking.

Different faces
Different networks serve different communities and uses. Mr. Coleman likens LinkedIn to an industry conference, whereas Facebook is a party situation, where you get to see people with their hair down. "Where LinkedIn is great, from our perspective, is [for positions paying] $75,000 or above," says Symantec's head of talent acquisition, Brenley Brotman. "If we wanted to do more entry-level, $30,000 to $50,000, some of those other sites are more effective to us."

To make social networking work, people on both sides of the search have to use it well. Individuals have to learn how to use the systems. Wanda Anderson, a marketing manager recently between positions, remembers being invited to join LinkedIn a year ago. "I didn't understand what it was," she says. Then her old position was eliminated, and she joined a traditional networking group and found herself getting one LinkedIn invitation after another. She's trying to get past her novice standing. "You don't understand what it means if you're not an avid user of it."

"It's really only effective for those that take the time to develop their profile," says David Miller, HR and talent acquisition manager at Hill & Knowlton U.S. Virtually anything in a profile shows up on a search, so employees need to list previous employment, awards, current responsibilities, educational background, expertise and other information that companies might seek. "For instance, if we're looking for a healthcare person, there are people who will identify themselves as PR people that work on healthcare accounts and others that just say they're PR people," Mr. Miller says. "I'll reach out to the PR people who self-identify rather than just take a leap of faith."

Scrubbing up
But information can become an issue when there is too much, or the wrong type, which is a potentially big problem for those using the networks for personal connections. Ms. Arsenault referred two former interns, with whom she kept in touch via Facebook, to jobs, after reading them the riot act. "Before I would introduce them to my contacts, I told them to remove certain pictures from their profiles," she says. Ms. Arsenault didn't want to associate herself with someone who might seem anything but impeccable.

Companies, too, must take the proper steps, because they recruit -- and create impressions -- on social networks, even when they think they aren't. For example, when looking for his position, Mr. Sorvino couldn't help contrast his experience of Sigma with his then-employer. "I had heard a lot of talk at Digitas about, 'We're using social networking,' but [it wasn't] really social networking," he says. "They'd check out someone's MySpace page. There's an executive vice president of technology at Digitas who does not have an account on Facebook or LinkedIn." Not good, if you claim to be "the first global interactive agency network," as the firm's website states.

A company must set up pages on the networks to sell the company, not just recite dry facts. Success for a company also comes from keeping in regular contact with prospective employees. Networking becomes a full-time commitment, which often means increasing resources and headcount to do the necessary work. But the flip-side risk is appearing old-fashioned and realizing that you should network with people -- after they've already left.
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