Stephen Weinstein’s LinkedIn profile photo shows him smiling and leaning back against a rock by a river, looking relaxed. His summary of his job experience fits in two succinct paragraphs with words like “dynamic,” “forward thinking” and “corporate vision,” and he lists his specialties in nice, clean bullet points. He has eight glowing recommendations from colleagues, is part of 21 networking groups, and has 500-plus connections. Fifty-three-year-old Weinstein spends two to three hours a day on LinkedIn, and it’s paid off: Two years ago, at the height of the recession, while millions were losing their jobs, a job recruiter noticed his profile and contacted him. Four months later, he was employed with a 20 percent salary increase.
LinkedIn, the popular career networking site launched in 2003, has grown five times in size since the start of the recession, going from 17 million members in December 2007 to a current 85 million, and according to LinkedIn, a new member joins every second. Social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have become increasingly important for job seekers, and those that haven’t utilized them could end up being left behind. “There are so many candidates now that employers are using social media recruiting to actually go out and source candidates because they don’t want to be overwhelmed with hundreds of resumes,” says career expert Alison Doyle.
With an estimated 15 million Americans unemployed, things aren’t looking up for the jobless anytime soon. The unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in November and the Federal Reserve forecasts that it will hover around 9 percent through 2011. More than 6 million Americans have been jobless for six months or longer, one of the highest levels ever recorded in the U.S.
Traditional resumes are still making the rounds, but some recruiters, like Kate at a nationwide specialty staffing agency based in New York City, who asked to have her last name withheld, have hundreds of outdated resumes filed away gathering dust, and are increasingly relying on places like LinkedIn to organize and monitor potential candidates. “It’s always open on my browser,” she says. “Monster, Career Builder and these places are just swamped. LinkedIn is the new frontier.”
She also uses Facebook and Twitter, but it’s usually only to gather further information about a candidate after she’s discovered them. But for job seekers, Twitter is useful to follow companies and spot job posts, which are sometimes announced on Twitter before job boards. Jim Allen, a job seeker who has been unemployed since October 2009, says he joined Twitter specifically for job searching and following target companies, not for tweeting details about himself. “I don’t see the point of telling them I’m going to Starbucks for coffee.”
Allen says LinkedIn is his platform of choice, spending an hour or two on it every day. He credits six or seven job interviews to the site, either from being contacted by a recruiter or following companies and their job posts. In preparing for one interview, he was able to contact the person who had recently left the position through LinkedIn’s InMail system, and had a 45-minute conversation with him about what to expect.
Facebook, on the other hand, hasn’t taken off as a job search tool yet, though Doyle says it’s starting to. Some companies, like Geico, have a career Facebook page devoted entirely to finding employment within the company. “Facebook is having more of a role than it did in the past,” Doyle says, “but people need to be careful about mixing the personal with the professional.”
Interestingly, young job seekers, who adopted social networking early on and are often seen as the pivotal force behind its runaway growth, have been slow to use these networks for job searching. Today, the average social network user is 37, a number that has slowly been creeping up, and the average user age on LinkedIn is even older at 44. LinkedIn states that over 200,000 college students join LinkedIn every month, yet only about 8 percent of LinkedIn’s users are 24 or younger.
One 23-year-old recent grad from Temple University has been unemployed since June, and was actively looking for work even before she graduated. But she only has four connections on her LinkedIn profile, zero recommendations and little information about her work history. She has struggled with finding any full-time work, even in the service sector, and recently settled for a part-time seasonal retail job. “College students and recent grads aren’t sure how to get started,” says Doyle. “They don’t have a lot of experience to put on their LinkedIn profile.” In October, LinkedIn launched Career Explorer, to be rolled out at 60 universities for college students to map out their desired career path and get connected with relevant users and companies, but it’s too soon to tell how popular it will be.
Older workers are also struggling with using social networking to find employment. About 17 percent of LinkedIn’s users are between 55 and 64, and only 4 percent are 65 or older. “For older job seekers, especially those who have been out of the job market for a long time and have worked for the same company for 20 or 30 years, it’s a challenge because they’re not used to all the tools that are available to them,” says Doyle. “They think Facebook is for kids — what would that have to do with me looking for a job?”
But social networking when unemployed has other benefits besides job searching, offering a sense of community and support during a trying time. Traditionally, technology has been thought of as a social isolator — think the lonely teenager holed up in his room playing a video game or blogging instead of engaging with his family or hanging out with friends. But last year a Pew Internet & American Life Project report found that social networking tended to increase live human connections. “People who are social networkers are, in all cases, engaged with their communities more than people who don’t use social networking sites.” Doyle says that social networking can help the unemployed feel productive. “It puts you out of that mode of ‘I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself,’” she says. “You can write recommendations for people, talk to people, and feel like you’re productively enhancing your job search and chance of finding a position.”
Weinstein says part of what helped him snag a job through LinkedIn, besides his robust profile, was being an active user. He participated in question and answer forums, joined numerous groups, had seven or eight recommendations, and managed two alumni groups on the site. “You can’t just put your information out there and hope that people are going to call you,” he says. “You will get out of it what you put into it.”