Job hunting? Use social networks to make crucial connections

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can do much more than just let you blow off some steam

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Cooper's advice to IT job seekers? Use the Web to keep track of trends and new start-ups and reach out to companies, Web sites, bloggers and other resources. By "reaching out" he means taking the initiative to contact people you may come across on the Web. "Never be afraid to reach out. If someone leaves their e-mail address, send them a message, ask questions, send suggestions. You never know what will come of it," Cooper said.

Urschel agreed. If you follow people on Twitter who are looking for business opportunities of some sort or are more professionally focused, Urschel advised, get in conversations with them and build up a following of those people and build up a number of followers in the same way. "It's obviously a place you can waste huge amounts of time," he said. "But if you approach it a little smarter and a lot more disciplined you can really get a lot out of it."

Chandlee Bryan, a career coach in New York, said, "For me, the value of Twitter comes in the potential for tracking trends, analysis in bits and bytes and -- most importantly -- exchanging information." One of the most valuable features of Twitter is being able to search its stream by keywords or common discussions (marked with a #hashtag), which people can do without joining Twitter -- just use its search engine -- Bryan suggested.

Using specialized job-search tools

In fact, a specialized search engine for Twitter has been developed by TwitterJobSearch, which isn't connected to Twitter but takes advantage of its API. Twellow.com also lets you make Twitter searches with all kinds of search parameters and categories.

With so many tools out there that require regular attention, "It's a lot to keep up with," admitted Wilson.

Of course, if you're out of a job, it's certainly worth the effort.

The best message for the recently laid off may be summed up in Wilson's "signature" found at the end of her e-mails, where she quotes Lou Holtz, a famous former college football coach: "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it."

Next: Can your online past come back to haunt you?

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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