Social Networking: Closer Than You Think

June 12, 2007

Personal or social networks are groups of individuals who are related to each other by specific types of relationships, such as school, work, family, and friends. Since referrals account for approximately 30% of external hires regardless of the size of the organization, you should start exploring social-networking sites as a way to expand your universe of contacts.

Social-networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace (NWS), and LinkedIn, are among the most visited sites on the Internet—just behind the major search engines—according to Internet traffic-monitoring service Alexa.

The demographics of MySpace and Facebook are younger than those of the general population. Facebook, the leading site for college students, lists more than 3 million users ages 25 to 34, 400,000 users from 35 to 44, and more than 100,000 who are 45 and older. LinkedIn boasts a membership of 8 million professionals. Most user profiles are richer than any standard résumé in content and context.

Building a social network online is fast—you can click and e-mail your way to a large network almost instantly. Whether you are looking to hire people or for employment, such networks can be a future source of jobs and talent. Here are some guidelines for getting connected.

Job Seekers: Start Getting Connected

First, identify a social network that you feel comfortable joining. For example, MySpace has different “networks” such as Technology and Marketing that facilitate access to people in these fields. When deciding which site to join, browse the sites’ different networks and subfields to determine which have areas that meet your needs or interests.

Next, build your profile carefully, making sure that the information is accurate. Profiles are generally considered public, so don’t include anything you wouldn’t want everyone to know, such as information that could hamper your job search efforts (e.g., salary information or excruciating detail about social activities). Review other profiles and match their style and content when building your own. A strong word of caution: The Internet has a long memory. Confidential or inappropriate information can be unearthed easily by a recruiter, supervisor, or anyone else with an Internet connection—often for years to come.

Once you build a profile, start connecting with other members and invite your current contacts to join. The more connections you make, the more likely you are to reach someone of importance to you. Just one contact can lead to thousands of networked contacts without a single phone call. This is one of the reasons LinkedIn has more than 100,000 recruiters as members.

Build relationships by regularly sharing information, such as commenting on a person’s profile, article, or blog. A deeper online profile enhances your importance to the community, increasing the likelihood a target employer will notice you. If the profile shows depth of experience and expert opinion on relevant topics, it can help differentiate one candidate from another. Recruiters regularly Google candidates and check social-networking boards to find out more about an individual.

Even if you are not looking for a job, recruiters may be looking for you. By demonstrating your expertise in certain industries, you may be presented with better job opportunities. Also, by frequently sharing information, you can potentially build an industry reputation that may benefit you when job hunting in the future. College students can use social-networking sites to develop relationships with professionals that may assist them in finding jobs after graduation.

Employers: Start Building Communities

The ability to get in touch with the right person at the right time is important to employers as well as job seekers. Online communities—people with like interests, demographics, and backgrounds—are a recruiter’s dream. The ability to target an employment opportunity and tailor the message to a specific demographic is very powerful.

Targeted messaging and searching are only the beginning, however; employers need to start building their own online social networks for the hard-to-find talent they want to attract to the company. For example, by building a networking site for accountants, a company in this field could become privy to relevant information and potentially become an industry leader. Having a ready pool of specialized talent interacting regularly with the company is the electronic equivalent of employee referrals. As new positions open, the exclusive pool of talent is easily accessible, profiled, knowledgeable about the company, and probably interested in discussing employment opportunities.

Although building a social-networking site may not be for every company, simply using existing networking sites can offer much. Employers should look at online profiles much the way they view résumés—considering work experience and duration, education, group memberships, location, and so forth. However, online profiles can provide more information to determine industry expertise or qualifications for the position, such as blogs, posts on discussion boards, and various communications with other members of industry networks.

Don’t Throw Out the Rolodex

Job seekers and future job seekers: Get online and get connected. MySpace might not be the right place to build your professional profile and relationships, but there is a social-networking site that’s right for you.

Employers, your recruiters should be networking online and you should evaluate your own social presence. Job boards are not going to disappear overnight, but recruitment is moving rapidly toward social networking. It has always been about who you know; now you can know a lot more people.