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.
“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.