By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/4/2009 11:13:30 AM ET 2009-05-04T15:13:30

The sale of her distressed management consulting firm is imminent and so is her impending layoff.  Yet, by the time Patricia Brown's employers at BearingPoint sign her severance check she will have completed the unfamiliar task of feathering her nest on LinkedIn.

But Brown knows that just putting her resume up on a social network doesn't guarantee her a safe landing elsewhere. Though professionals can find jobs with the assistance of social network connections, it requires a bit more planning and effort than most job seekers realize. Dan Schawbel, the personal branding guru, contends that "most job seekers don’t optimize their profile, cultivate their network, join and participate in groups, use applications and exchange endorsements." In other words, they don't do the important things that will get them noticed by hiring managers or recruiters.

In fact, social networking experts say that job seekers tend to think of social networks as a solitary pursuit. They invest the time to build a profile, invite friends or professional contacts to connect with them and hope for the best. But in recent months, some freshly unemployed professionals such as BearingPoint's Brown have formed or joined groups on LinkedIn among other sites for purposes of achieving strength in numbers.

A case in point: One dozen recruiters have joined BearingPoint's soon to be alumni-network of marketing professionals on LinkedIn. "This group is set up as a one-stop-shop for recruiters and others who are looking for good communications/marketing talent," reads the 68-member BearingPoint Marketing Talent group's description. "This is an open group so headhunters can go in and look at our individual profiles," says Brown, whose title is senior manager, thought leadership. "It's an effective use of social media for a job search."

Jose Gonzalez, laid off in January from his job as an investment analyst at an asset management firm, co-founded the "405 Club Project" both on LinkedIn and the Web for other recently unemployed New Yorkers. Up until the stimulus package became law, 405 was the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in New York State.

The group's ranks have swelled quickly and recently "we held our first open event," says Gonzalez. "We hosted it but invited one of the recruiting groups that we met through LinkedIn to join us. We had 150 to 200 '405ers', and 20 to 30 different professionals ranging from recruiters, to HR reps, to wealth management managers. We tried to get them to mingle."

Social networks provide active job seekers with opportunities to expand their range of contacts and target a specific employer. Brown recently mined her social network on LinkedIn to help a BearingPoint associate gain access to a prospective employer. An employee mentioned that he knew of an opening at a company. And Brown knew someone at the target company who might help. "I contacted my friend through LinkedIn and said my employee is applying for a certain job where you work," says Brown. "And he agreed to forward my employee's resume to someone in the appropriate department." And that's important because job search experts say that an unsolicited resume has little chance of getting noticed.

What can your contacts do for you?
Although it may sound complicated, the basic concept of social networking is that you are tapping your contacts and their connections, too. Thus it makes perfect sense to ask your contact to introduce you to someone in his or her network. While it is acceptable to ask your social networking contacts for assistance; don't ask them directly for a job. Better yet, offer them assistance first – a tactic social networking gurus call “paying it forward.”

How do you approach people in a social networking group?
The truth is there's a fine line between demonstrating vs. proclaiming your expertise. "You are not there to pitch your stuff, or announce your availability for employment, or tell how great you are," says Jason Alba, CEO of JibberJobber.com & co-author of “I’m on LinkedIn – Now What???”. "The guy who is pitching is quickly disregarded. The guy who is there to help, and be a part of the conversation, is building trust."

What's the right size network of connections for you?
Experts suggest concentrating more on quality rather than quantity. The reason for this is that good contacts are more likely to open doors for you by introducing you to hiring managers or people inside companies you would like to work for one day.  One advantage of LinkedIn vs. Facebook is that it shows you how many "degrees" of separation you are from a target contact. In some cases you may need to ask a friend to introduce you to one of his or her acquaintances who knows the hiring manager you have targeted at a corporation.

Should your profile disclose your unemployed status?
Yes. "In this economic climate, it’s much more acceptable to be unemployed than in the past and hiring managers are very understanding of the job market and the number of layoffs," advises Alison Doyle, author of “Internet Your Way to a New Job: How to Really Find a Job Online”. She says it "can come back to haunt you" if you misrepresent your employment status. She recommends stating that "you're open to opportunities" on your social networking profile.

Does it make more sense to start out on Facebook or LinkedIn or do both?
Doyle recommends starting out on LinkedIn, which she says is more focused on professional rather than social networking. "You can build a profile quickly and easily, and find contacts from your employers, clients, vendors, and schools," says Doyle. "Users can also search for jobs right on LinkedIn, plus see who they know at companies they apply to or are interested in working for."

Rusty Weston, founder of Third Set Media, is a San Francisco-based journalist and public speaker.

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