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computer-webRISMEDIA, May 14, 2009-(MCT)-Facing a tough job market, Facebook “friends” and LinkedIn business associates are clicking a well-worn adage and dragging it into their virtual worlds. That old chestnut says: Getting a job is not about what you know. It’s about who you know.

Since online networks put millions of potential contacts at the fingertips of job seekers, why not mine them?

Sharon Fredrickson of Sacramento made it work for her. “My job search lasted all of 2 1/2 weeks,” said Fredrickson, who searched in January as the economy slid.

She was looking for a position in sales and account management. When she got a lead on a company that might be hiring, she logged on to her Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. “I just jumped on Facebook and found out who was on there,” Fredrickson said.

If she found a company executive on Facebook, she could make a friend request and start a dialogue about employment. She was able to use LinkedIn to send messages as well.

While job postings often refer applicants to human resources departments, “I totally bypassed them,” said Fredrickson, who now works for CMPro Services, an Arizona firm that shows companies how to maximize profits.

Even in state government, where hiring is constrained by rules, Facebook comes in handy.

Sam Delson, deputy director of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, used Facebook to post information about a position he was trying to fill. The bad economy brought out more than 100 applicants. Most came from the standard personnel board listing, but “some of our strongest candidates came from our recruiting effort.” In the end, two of the five candidates interviewed, and the one who was tentatively hired, came from the posting that Delson sent to Facebook friends, who passed it on to their friends.

More than 100 million people a day log on to their Facebook pages, the company says. That’s how networking works.

The online networks-MySpace, Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn and others-were not created specifically to facilitate employment. Facebook was started in a Harvard dorm room and initially served teens and college students for social communication. LinkedIn was designed for the work environment as “a way to stay in touch,” said Krista Canfield, LinkedIn’s spokeswoman. Only one-fourth of LinkedIn’s 39 million users are looking for work, which actually makes the site more useful for those who are job seekers, she said. They can approach those who already have jobs at potential employers for information about work environment, benefits and even contacts.

The online networks aren’t a one-stop employment tool though. They are just an aid to extend the employment search, but their uses are limited only by job seekers’ creativity. In fact, using them creatively may help a candidate be more memorable. “People are looking for out-of-the-box thinkers,” Fredrickson said. “It allowed me to actually be one and show that.”

Twitter is another outside-the-box tool, said Stephanie Chandler, local author of several books on business and marketing. Someone looking for employment can use it to send out short bursts with qualifications or innovative ideas appropriate to their field. “It’s just a great platform,” Chandler said. “You want to stand out right now. It’s the worst job market in my adult life.”

But you want to make sure you stand out in a good way.

Hiring executives may use the same networks to research candidates. “They want to know the kind of person they are hiring,” Fredrickson said. “That allows them to see a little of what your personality is-as long as you have a good personality.”

If your Facebook profile reflects a bad attitude toward work or your LinkedIn resume is full of misspellings, that’s a liability. Experts also stress that going online doesn’t replace old-fashioned networking and follow-up.

Scott Olling, an art director, will check out prospective clients on LinkedIn but goes in person to offices to introduce himself. “I contact them the old-fashioned way,” he said. That personal touch will stick in their mind more than an e-mail. He mines LinkedIn for information on the company and on acquaintances that he and the prospective client may share.

“It’s now a real tool,” Olling said. “Two years ago, it was a toy. Now, it’s a must-have.”

(c) 2009, Sacramento Bee
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.