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Get to Know the Hiring Manager

Natalie Wilson doesn't have that technical of a background, but she is another new hire thanks to social-networking tools. She was part of the recent massive Circuit City layoff in Richmond, Va., where the failed electronics store chain was headquartered. She had worked for the company for 24 years, most recently as a business analyst.

Now, she is about to start her new role as a technical analyst for third-party logistics reporting at a Fortune 500 company in Richmond that she didn't wish to name. LinkedIn was vital to her success. "It's really worked out well," Wilson said of using the site.

She had started her LinkedIn account about a year ago, but didn't update it much. After the layoff, she went back to it and concentrated on improving her profile.

She garnered 35 recommendations from former co-workers and posted them on LinkedIn and used LinkedIn contacts to help her get an edge over other candidates.

According to recruiters and other careers professionals, that is the No. 1 way to land a job in the current economic climate. You must make yourself stand out from the pack, and the best way to do that is to get connected to someone working at the company you're targeting.

"That's the greatest value" of LinkedIn, said Harry Urschel, owner of the staffing and recruiting company e-Executives in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. "If you're applying for positions posted online, you're one of hundreds of others that are doing the same thing. And even if you're a great fit for a job, it's incredibly hard to get noticed because you just fall into a database or you're in a sea of other resumes they have on their desk."

But if you can make direct contact with the hiring manager or someone else in your target company who might be in the same department or area you're interested in and who can put you in touch with the right people, "you're miles ahead of every other candidate that's just applying," he said.

Why In-House Contacts Matter

That's the common refrain, and there are some numbers to back it up. "I collect data," said Gerry Crispin, owner of Careerxroads job placement consultancy in Kendall Park, N.J. He has been analyzing job hiring trends for 40 years and has conducted extensive hiring trend surveys for the past eight years. His data confirms that an in-company referral is priceless.

Last year Crispin analyzed more than 300,000 job openings and how they were filled. His data emphasizes how crucial it is to use social networking sites for one specific purpose and one purpose only.

"The only goal you have is to meet somebody, is to network to someone in the company you've targeted, so they can be your employee referral," Crispin said. "Because when you have an employee inside a company refer you for the specific job that does come open, you'll have 50 to 70 times more likelihood of being interviewed than if you do anything else."

Last year's survey indicated that "employee referrals represented more than a quarter of all the positions filled externally," Crispin said. "You must find an employee inside the company who can be your referral. Period. If you do that, you change the game."

Of course, Crispin added, not every job search is "average" and individual mileage may vary. "But the reality is, which lottery would you rather be in, one out of 10 or one out of 500?"

Wilson is a living testament to that. She applied for a job through and after an initial phone interview with a human resources person in her targeted company, she used LinkedIn to actually find four people she knew well who in turn knew current associates in her targeted company. Coincidentally, one of those people on the inside was the HR rep she had spoken with.

Even more important, one of her recommendations was a CIO who knew the targeted company's CIO."I e-mailed [my CIO friend] the day after my HR phone interview and he stated that he knew the CIO at the company I was interviewing at. He asked if it was ok to 'drop a line about me' to him . . . of course I said no problem," Wilson said.

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