Social networks have changed our lives, so it's no surprise they have also changed how companies recruit employees.
While LinkedIn has been a popular choice for a long time, many recruiters are starting to pay attention to the other big social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Jobvite, a recruiting software company, conducted a 2011 survey of human resources professionals that found 55 percent of them recruit using Facebook and 47 percent use Twitter.
And in this competitive job market, job seekers need to heed this growing trend and take full advantage. Because most job seekers are not using multiple social networks in their job searches, those who do will appear more proactive and might have a distinct advantage.
For those who are new to social networking sites, here's a brief description of the three main ones with ways you can use them to your advantage. All are free to use and easy to set up.
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LinkedIn: This site is used for professional networking and is designed to make networking more selective as the company prefers you connect only with people you actually know.
It shows your connections up to three degrees away and how you are connected with those individuals.
You can search jobs, join discussion groups and research companies. Your profile page resembles an online résumé, but there are also capabilities to post documents to display examples of your work.
LinkedIn also provides a way for members to write referrals for others that are posted on your profile after you've approved them.
There are also some job search boards such as Simplyhired.com that can connect with your LinkedIn profile and show the connections you have in that company posting the job.
Facebook: Many people are reluctant to use Facebook in their job search, but even if you don't, you should still be careful about your privacy settings and what you post.
Do not post comments or pictures that could be perceived in a negative way. You never know if a friend of a friend might be connected with someone who knows your boss or the recruiter to whom you just sent your résumé. So don't vent your frustrations about your current job or your job search. Try to also sound upbeat and positive, not desperate for a job.
Facebook's new time line and "about me" section makes it easier for recruiters to find your job history information. Keep that updated with relevant jobs and education.
Also, there are several applications in Facebook specifically for professional networking such as BeKnown and BranchOut.
Web sites such as Glassdoor.com and Simplyhired.com are job search engines that can show what companies or job postings your Facebook friends are connected to.
Twitter: Commonly referred to as micro-blogging, Twitter has been picked up by many celebrities as a public relations and marketing tool.
If your account is public, then anyone may "follow" you and receive your posts in their Twitter feed. Twitter can be used to supplement your online brand.
Demonstrate your areas of expertise by tweeting advice, articles and information relevant to your chosen profession or industry. Make your bio professional by including a sound bite from your "elevator speech" that people can see when they find your account.
Also consider these ways to maximize the use of any social media sites in your job search.
■ Join discussion boards and use your knowledge and experience to answer others' questions.
■ Follow recruiters and ask for information regarding their companies' culture and job postings you've seen.
■ "Pay it forward" by reposting their tweets and updates through your social media outlets, as that will leave them with a positive impression of you.
Any of these networking sites can be valuable in your job search to increase your visibility and brand you as a quality candidate.
Using multiple ways to connect may give you an edge over others in this competitive market. But the key to effective use of social media is to engage in quality ways with other people and especially target companies of interest and industry professionals.