The Truth About Using Social Media to Find a Job

Social media provides an entirely new method for interacting with potential employers – but does it work, and is it worth it?

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before (actually, let me finish because this is probably going to sound familiar): A young go-getter is in desperate need of a job, either because he’s about to graduate or he’s just been laid off. He turns to his social media accounts and within a relatively short amount time spent tweeting and status updating…ta-dah! Our hero has a job.

Do enough digging through news archives and you’ll find that tale repeated over and over in various articles and blog posts about people using online social networks in their job search. The “Twitter [or whatever other network] is the future of job hunting” argument pops up in September 2008 and throughout every year since. If you type, “social media job search” into Google Trends, you’ll see a spike suddenly rise from flat nothingness in June 2009 and jaggedly make its way up to the terms’ highest popularity in Google’s search history ever, which is right now.

The fact is social media doesn’t play as big a role in finding employment as the attention it gets.  “Most of the hype about social media in the job search is just that – hype,” Mike Jungle, author of PurpleSquirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews, and Master the Modern Job Market, said in a recent email exchange with Primer.

According to Jungle, the actual numbers just don’t match. “Statistically, Social Media accounts for a relatively small amount of hiring – about 3.5%,” he explained. “In terms of recruiter and job seeker behavior, the majority is still organized around referrals, job boards, company websites, and outside recruiters.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that social media can’t play a role in getting someone hired or that it’s not becoming more accepted as a valid form of job recruitment.

In his email response to some of my questions, Jungle admitted that he was in the middle of making a job offer to someone who found out about the position through Facebook. “The offer will literally go out this afternoon,” he wrote, then added, “Friends in the industry have been sharing similar stories lately – not a ton of stories, but more than I was hearing a year ago for sure.”

It’s sentiment that comes across again and again when one talks to employment experts and hiring managers: job hunting through social media isn’t as big a deal as made out by the news media, but it can (and should) still be used by job seekers.

According to Ambrosia Humphrey, VP of Human Resources at HootSuite, one of the biggest names in the niche of Internet companies that handle social media management, the use of online social networks is just a natural addition to the arsenal of 21st century employment seekers.

“Friends in the industry have been sharing similar stories lately – not a ton of stories, but more than I was hearing a year ago for sure.”

“I think people have always been looking to communicate and it’s always taken a new form,” Humphrey said in a recent interview. “In the same way calling the company in an effort to get a hold of the HR professional to stand out to, I think it’s evolved to include social media.”

Humphrey acknowledges that just creating a LinkedIn account (the social network that caters to users in a professional manner, and which, in her opinion, “trumps them all” for job hunters) will not get you hired, but she still advises maintaining a social media presence as an indispensable part of a wider strategy when looking for work. “I think you still have to go through applying, interviews, and all those things you had to do before,” she explained, “but I think in a competitive market it’s another way to get people’s attention.”

One person who understands just how to use social media to stand out while looking for new career opportunities is Mark Sutherland. Currently the chief communications officer for a marketing agency in St. Louis, Sutherland first realized the potential of online social networks in getting hired five years ago when a recommendation by a connection on LinkedIn was the factor that finally tipped the scales in his favor for a position at a large multinational company.

“I looked at that and I said, ‘wow, how powerful can this be?’” Sutherland explained. “I had the impression that social media was going to be a powerful tool for business, never did I think it would be a powerful tool for getting a job.”

It was that realization that inspired Sutherland to step up his presence on LinkedIn: keeping his profile updated, finding and adding work associates, and expanding his contact network. All with the idea in the back of his mind that he was building the groundwork for a future job search. “I built connections, I built relationships,” Sutherland said, “I used it basically as a foundation.”

Then, in fall of 2012, Sutherland decided it was time to start hunting for a new job. “I immediately looked at my LinkedIn profile and said ‘Where do I want to target? Where do I want to look? Who am I looking to connect with?’ … That turned out to be a three-week job search,” Sutherland explained. “I was shocked.”

But while his experience might sound like yet another “social media is the silver bullet for job hunting” anecdote, Sutherland is adamant that it’s more about leveraging online social sites with old school job hunting techniques. “It can’t just be online,” he said. “I used the relationships that I’d established and maintained through LinkedIn and then set up in person meetings and in person coffees and it built from there – they introduced me to others. And that finally made connections. But [social media] was the foundation.”

And that’s the secret for successfully using social media in job hunting. It should be mixed and incorporated with other offline strategies, not simply done on its own with the expectation of solving your employment needs. Social media is another edition to your job search tools and tactics — all of which you need to use together.

Six Tips for Leveraging Social Media 

It’s All About Personal Branding

Your social media presence is your chance to direct the conversation about you. According to Mark Sutherland, who heavily utilized his LinkedIn account for his recent job hunt, users should be actively showcasing their area of expertise:

“You own your LinkedIn, your Facebook, and your Twitter. So it is who you are. It’s an opportunity to establish yourself as an expert or knowledgeable in a specific area,” he explains. “Take the time to share interesting news articles, interesting blog posts that you’ve written yourself that establishes you as being knowledgeable. And then utilize that to connect with new people so that when they look at your profile they say ‘okay this guy know what he’s talking about.’”

Know the Difference Between the Different Networks

Each network is different and feature their own unique value and format. And no one knows this better than the people hiring you. “Facebook is considered personal. Twitter is considered public. And LinkedIN is considered professional,” says Ambrosia Humphrey, who head up HR for HootSuite.  “That’s the venn diagram that [Human Recourse] managers, all follow.” And while there’s sure to be some overlap (Facebook friends on LinkedIn and work contacts on Twitter), it’s best to stick to that division between the big three networks.

Clean Up Your Profiles

Just like with a shave and a freshly ironed shirt, your appearance on social networks needs to be spruced up to appear before prospective employers.  “Make sure to clean up your social media profiles before starting a job search,” advises employment expert Mike Jungle. “Remove or hide pictures and posts you might not want a potential employer to see, turn off the display feeds from friends who are prone to inappropriate posts, and keep the language and content on your page ‘business ready.’”

Transfer Your Offline Networking to Your Online Network  

Social media is great for meeting new people, but it’s perfect for staying in touch with those you already know, especially business contacts you’ve only met briefly but could be an important connection later. “You have all these people that you just happen to meet that you have some kind of connectivity with – you can translate that into an established connection online, whether you don’t talk to them for years,” says Mark Sutherland. “It eliminates the cold call or the email that never gets responded to. They can actually look and remember who you are and see more about you.”

Research Perspective Employers

As much information as you broadcast via social media, the company you want to work for probably puts out more. By following their updates you’ll be able to get a feel for their office and the type of candidates they’re looking for.  “You can follow us on @hoothr and you can see what our company’s about,” says Humphrey. “We’re constantly talking about our culture, and who we are, and what we’re looking for.  So if I’m looking for a job and I look at @hoothr, I have insights into what Hootsuite is, what they do, and what they’re looking for.”

Let People Know You’re Looking

Just as with your offline network, the only way people will know that you’re looking for work it to tell them. “Create a series of posts designed to engage your friend and family network in helping with your job search,” suggests Jungle. “Be clear about the kind of job you want and what they can do to help, then make sure to post at a variety of times to make sure the message hits a significant part of your network.”

Dave Odegard is a freelance writer and editor. He lives with his dog in Brooklyn, where he trains for marathons when not spending way too much time on the Internet. You can stalk him at DaveOdegard.com.

  • kevin

    I just got an offer on Thursday, kind of via social media.  I interviewed with the company last year after finding a Craigslist post, but there ended up not being a position ready yet.  I friended the person who interviewed me on Linkedin, though, and we kept in touch that way.  Then last week, they had someone resign abruptly.  Rather than go through an interview process with someone new that could take several weeks to a month, the hiring manager reached out to me via Linkedin and asked if I was still interested.  I was, so I came in for a quick catchup chat and got the offer. 

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Congrats! That’s a very smart strategy for using social media.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1063945956 Andrew Kelly

      Well done! Just proves that it’s not all what you know, rather than ‘who’.

      My question is, will you continue to maintain that LinkedIn profile now you have a job? Further, will you redesign and rewrite the contents of your page in a different tone (i.e. a non-job hunting tone)? If so, do you think it will make your new managers uneasy and wonder if you are looking to jump ship?

  • Jhlee36

    In the second-to-last header, do you guys mean “Research PROspective Employers?” :)

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