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Working Your Online Social Networks

An excerpt from Career GPS: Strategies For Women Navigating The New Corporate Landscape

If you've been joining social networking sites but spending most of your time uploading vacation photos--or if you've been hitting the delete button when friends and colleagues invite you to connect on a new online platform--you might want to start paying more attention. Especially if you're looking for a job.

Social networks, most prominently LinkedIn, have radically changed the old concept of networking and leveled the professional playing field. Gone are the days when networking meant handing someone a business card, sending your resume, following up with a phone call, and going in for an informational interview. The process has been streamlined so that you can meet other professionals through your network and stay in touch without seeing them offline or ever meeting them in the flesh. The people in your online network can give you a heads-up about openings, introduce you to others in their companies or networks, pass your resume along, and even hire you.

For tips on using social networking as a job search tool, I spoke to Marci Alboher, whose blog is called Working the New Economy (www.heymarci.com). She is also the author of the book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success (Warner Books).

LinkedIn has taken hold as the standard for most professionals, so link in. But you can also find networking opportunities on Facebook, MySpace, Orkut (created by Google), Spoke and Vidaeo (smaller versions of LinkedIn), Xing (international), and even Twitter. Keep up with the trade press in your field to figure out where your peers are congregating online, since niche communities are cropping up all the time. for example, Mediabistro.com is where media professionals hang out, and Lawyrs.net is the online spot for attorneys. Both feature industry news (and gossip), job listings, and workshops.

Give more than you ask for. Social networking site--like old-fashioned in-person networking--are most effective when you build a reputation as someone who is a giver, rather than as someone who is always asking for favors. For example, if people in your network ask for help or introductions, check in periodically and respond when it's appropriate. If you've shown that you are a giver, you'll find that when you have a need to tap your network, people will be rallying to help you.

Find ways to use these site to showcase your experience and achievements. If you have recently given a talk, published an article, or appeared on television, post a link describing what you did. Ors start a blog, and feed your blog posts into the various social networks you're on.

Build your presence on these networks when you're not looking for a job. Make sure that your profile is up to date. Periodically check to see if there are people you know on the site that you could be connecting with. Be responsive to requests from your network. Also, don't wait for request--for example, write unsolicited recommendations on LinkedIn for colleagues whose work you admire. Should you then need to look for a new opportunity, your network will be well tended, and it won't be awkward to connect with people who can be of help.

A few words of caution:

When you create a presence on a social networking site, take the time to learn how to use it properly. If the site offers an online tutorial, take it. If possible, find a friend or colleague who is already part of the community to give you a primer on the site's etiquette.

Be mindful of your manners. Social networking sites make it easy to contact people, but in general, don't try to connect with people whom you don't know personally or whom you haven't been "introduced" to. do not use these tools to spam anyone or to stalk people who haven't been responsive in other media. And make sure to review and follow the rules and guidelines of any community that you join.

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