Brian Ward lost his job on a Friday afternoon. Eleven days later he had a new one. With nearly 1 in 10 people out of work and the typical job search lasting 12 weeks, how did the Cleveland-based software architect pull it off? In a phrase: online social networking.
Welcome to the new rules of the job hunt. Gone are the days of simply posting your résumé on CareerBuilder, e-mailing former colleagues and trolling company websites for open slots. These days, if you're serious about being hired, you really put your computer and PDA to work. That means getting word out on social sites like Facebook and MySpace, sending instant job-search updates via messaging feeds like Twitter, and meeting new people who might be able to lend a hand through Web-networking outfits like LinkedIn and Ryze. (See 10 ways Twitter will change American business.)
Why? Because for all our technology, the best way to land a job is still by having someone who already works at a company mention your name. Each year, the staffing consultancy CareerXroads surveys large firms about where they find new hires, and since at least 2005 the top spot has held steady: some 27% come from referrals. (Job boards, by comparison, have fed firms a consistent 12% of new hires; the rest come from recruiters, company websites, etc.) The difference today is that a lot more of those recommendations start with connections made through online networks. A recent report by market researcher Nielsen found that people now spend more time using social networking sites than they do personal e-mail. (Read "Your Facebook Relationship Status: It's Complicated.")
That doesn't mean the classic strategies have all been tossed out the window. Persistence, self-branding, professional presentation the things a career coach would have steered you toward two decades ago are still necessary. Social networks alone won't get you a new gig. But as Brian Ward's 11-day job search makes clear, they can go a long way to help. Here's how to do it:
As the sole breadwinner for his wife and three kids, Ward knew that he had to get a new job quickly. He found himself unemployed at 5 in the afternoon; by 8 that night, he'd called four people he knew in Ohio who did the same sort of computer work he did, as well as his college buddy Lyell, down in North Carolina. "I'd been using Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, but in a very passive, extracurricular way," says Ward. "I knew Lyell was big into the Twitter scene. He immediately began blasting information out to contacts he had, sending them back my way." Over the weekend, Ward updated all of his online profiles. He uploaded a fresh résumé to LinkedIn, the professionals' networking site, and sent out a message to all 200 of his Facebook friends, letting them know he was looking for work. (See TIME's cover story on how Twitter will change the way we live.)
One of them, a pal from high school, wrote back Sunday night. He now worked for a tech company in Louisiana, and asked if Ward would be interested in being put in touch with the Web-development group. Ward eagerly agreed and had a phone interview the next day. "Here I was four hours into being unemployed and I already had a phone interview," he recalls. "I was like, Wow, this is going to be impressive."