Robin Brown thought she was doing everything right in her pursuit of a new job.
Since losing her job as chief information officer at a Twin Cities company, she had followed an intensive networking strategy: Every day, she would meet for coffee with at least three people likely to have helpful information and contacts. She would ask each of those people for introductions to two other people, then arrange to meet those people for coffee and information and contacts, and so on. She spent a lot of time in coffee shops.
“And I don’t even drink coffee,” she said, laughing.
But Brown, without knowing it, had made one critical mistake.
On the advice of several experts, Brown had updated her LinkedIn profile to reflect the fact that she was no longer employed at her previous job. Meanwhile, despite her rigorous networking, Brown wasn’t getting contacted by recruiters.
Then Brown met Anne Pryor, a LinkedIn trainer and consultant with offices in several Minneapolis suburbs. Pryor teaches job hunters the best ways to use the career-oriented social media website. She explains LinkedIn’s lesser-known tools, shows how to increase one’s chances of being seen by a potential employer, and suggests strategies for gaining information and referrals.
Changing her employment status on LinkedIn and removing the old job as her current position, Pryor said, kept Brown from popping up in recruiters’ keyword searches. Luckily, Pryor had a solution. She advised Brown to create a “placeholder” job: a hypothetical position with an appropriate potential title, accompanied by a job description that matches Brown’s qualifications.
The placeholder isn’t a fib — it doesn’t name a fake company or anything — but it otherwise resembles a regular résumé listing. And, significantly, it uses keywords that let LinkedIn’s search engine find her.
“By 5 o’clock that day I had three people reach out to me,” Brown said. “And two more by noon the next day.”
The power of social media
If you’re not using social media to find jobs and develop your career — maybe you think the sites are nothing more than angry political debates or people posting what they had for lunch — you’re missing out on a seriously valuable tool. Nationally, 81 percent of people have a social media account. Politics and even lunch are among the topics that show up, but many people use the sites to further their careers.
But not everyone knows all the tricks for leveraging each of the platforms’ methods to find opportunities, be seen by employers, promote accomplishments and extend professional networks.
LinkedIn lets you be seen by job recruiters and find companies that are currently hiring or where you might be interested in working in the future. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms let you share articles and other content, giving you an opportunity to show off your own work and help others by spreading theirs. On social media, you can interact with people in your industry whom you admire but don’t necessarily know. You can join professional groups or live chats, learn about opportunities and raise awareness of your achievements and talents. All of these platforms let you follow companies where you might be interested in working to get news about the company, to get a feel for their corporate culture and, on LinkedIn in particular, to see jobs as they are posted.
Don’t wait until you’re looking
Sally Johnson of Minneapolis used LinkedIn to find her current job as a contract specialist for a Minneapolis health insurance company. But even when she’s not actively job hunting, Johnson follows companies she’s interested in to keep up with their news and job postings. She also enjoys strengthening ties and engaging with others — congratulating her connections on new jobs and work anniversaries, for example.
“I’m a big believer that [LinkedIn] is best utilized when used all the time and not just when looking for a job,” Johnson said.
A LinkedIn page doesn’t require stiff corporate formality, said Johnson, who does standup comedy on the side. Her LinkedIn résumé lists a position as “Director, Domestic Chaos,” with responsibilities including: “Manage development of demanding clientele and their associates, providing daily hand-holding, encouragement, training in self-sufficiency and responsibility, conflict resolution and crisis management” — a business-friendly description of her duties as mother of three kids that covers some years when she was not working outside the home.
Not your standard résumé item, but employers appreciate the humor, Johnson said. “It started such positive dialogue; I always got compliments. And it always led to a conversation about work flexibility as a single mother.”
How companies use it
Companies, meanwhile, use social media to post jobs, search for candidates and give people a sense of their values and culture. A job seeker can follow companies to learn whether they seem like a good match, and if so, spot job opportunities when they occur.
LinkedIn is especially designed to help people find contacts within companies that might produce information or even lead to referrals. For example, if you want a job with Acme Corp., you can search for people you already know who work there. You can also introduce yourself to Acme employees you don’t know but with whom you have something in common — you attended the same school, for example — and politely ask if they have information about getting hired.
“Networking with someone you know in the organization is a really good way to start your job search,” said Tracy Bruckschen, senior director of talent acquisition for Allianz Life in Minneapolis. “Our employee referral percentage is actually quite high.”
The same is true at HelpSystems in Eden Prairie, said Ali Jonswold, who oversees recruiting and social media strategy. “We get referrals for people that might be a good fit for a job we don’t have open right now.” The company stays in contact with the candidate in case of future openings.
“I’ve had a handful of referrals from my CEO from her alumni network,” said Chris Becker, talent acquisition manager for Perforce Software in Minneapolis. “One of our finance team members, he’s a recent graduate and still involved with his university. He’s passed along four or five different referrals.”
Employers looking to fill a position will likely start by searching for people with that job title, then drill down further by filtering for particular qualifications or characteristics, such as years of experience or geographic location.
Nothing is private
Several local recruiters said they do not vet candidates by scouring their social media profiles for attitudes or behavior that don’t align with their company’s culture. But others might, they said. “At some of the recruiting events this year, it was something of a hot topic,” Becker said.
Experts recommend playing it safe. If there’s ever a good time to post a picture of yourself dancing at a party with a lampshade on your head, it’s not when you’re job hunting (at least not for most jobs). Posting strong political or religious opinions might raise flags, as well, and messages containing bias or profanity could be a big employer turnoff.
“I always caution people that nothing is truly private,” said Jennifer Radke, CEO and co-owner of the New Hope-based National Institute for Social Media and an expert on career development through social media. “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandmother, then probably don’t say it online.”