Hunt online for work, but tread carefully

Your Money

March 04, 2007|By Carolyn Bigda

It's well known that networking is one of the best ways to land a job. And in an age when almost everything seems to be moving into cyberspace, you can connect online with colleagues and potential employers.

Several Web sites allow you to network professionally online, and the potential can be huge: LinkedIn, founded in 2003, counts more than 9 million members, and roughly 100,000 people join each week.

When you sign up, you invite friends, colleagues and classmates to join your network, and then search to see if they can connect you to other professionals.

"That reach is powerful when you're looking for opportunities," said Kay Luo, director of corporate communications for LinkedIn. "Instead of calling up everyone you know, you can do a quick search online."

It is a tool, however, that needs to be wielded carefully. Though virtual, what you write in your profile and messages is taken seriously.

The same rings true for nearly anything personal you put on the Web.

In a survey of 100 executive recruiters in June, 77 percent said they use search engines to learn more about candidates before extending an interview, according to ExecuNet, an executive job search and recruiting network. Of those recruiters, 35 percent said they have passed on applicants because of material they find online.

Some hiring managers treat entry-level candidates the same way.

In the National Association of Colleges and Employers' fall job-outlook survey, more than one in 10 employers said they planned to review profiles on social networking sites when recruiting.

"What a lot of people forget or don't know is that the information you put on the Web can still be sitting there five years from now," said Dave Opton, chief executive and founder of ExecuNet.

That doesn't mean masking who you are in order to safeguard a future job interview.

It just means being smart:

Write well.

When you create a profile online and contact sources, write in complete sentences and pay attention to grammar and punctuation.

"You have [the] opportunity to demonstrate your skills, particularly communication skills," Opton said. "Showing you can communicate effectively in writing - that's not bad stuff."

Think twice.

Blogs and discussion forums online make it easy to voice your opinion. If you're writing on a particularly heated topic, give yourself time to think through your argument. Once it's in virtual print, it's hard to erase.

Google yourself.

Type your name into a search engine and see what pops up. If you find something you don't like, take steps to change it: Ask that an inappropriate picture of you be removed from a Web page. Or write a follow-up to something you have written and no longer agree with.

Talk to people you know.

Don't overlook the network you already have: family, friends, mentors and professors.

While their jobs might not match your career ambitions, they could have friends or associates who do. So, instead of trying to cast a wide net, "you're increasing the weight of everyone in the network you have," said Yu-kai Chou, 20, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who started FD Network, a professional networking site aimed at college students.

Even a small network can provide results because of the personal connection.

Though it has little more than 400 members to date, FD Network makes the most of its resources, requiring members to update their profiles annually and respond if contacted.

You don't have to make cold calls. Chou connects members based on their needs. "This is like a friend who just wants to help," Chou said.

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