New job-seeking tool? It's the network

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Tess Vigeland: Social networking sites can be hazardous to your job. You may not want your boss to hear the ballad you wrote called "I Quit" on your MySpace music page or read your Facebook status update that says "skipping work for band practice."

But if used properly, these sites can be good for your career. The business of online networking is growing, in part because people are using the sites to recruit and job-seek.

Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson found that just as in the offline world, it's less about what you know than who you know.


Jeremy Hobson: It's a sunny afternoon in San Francisco and I've asked Mark Gentry to take a break from his day job as a recruiter and join me at the Embarcadero. We're at the water's edge in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, with thousands of lunching downtown workers just a block or two away.

It's a rare outing for Gentry, because he says these days, recruiting is done almost entirely on the Internet.

Mark Gentry: A good recruiter is living online.

And, he says, a good job-seeker should be as well because the old way of finding work doesn't cut it anymore.

Gentry: Right now, if you sent me a resume in a envelope, there's little chance that I'll even open it and the first thing I'm going to do when I get it is I'm gonna look online to see where you are. And if you're not online, then I'm going to think, well, why aren't you online? Are you even current to the market? Do you even understand what's going on in the world?

If you are online, there's a good chance Gentry can find you. He's found jobs for thousands of people after looking at their profiles and the people they're connected to on social networking sites, sites like Facebook, MySpace, Ryze, Xing and most of all, LinkedIn.

Scott Nelson: You come to LinkedIn to get business done, basically.

That's the company line from Scott Nelson at Linkedin's headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley. The site has 15 million users, and Nelson says it's growing by a million a month.

He describes the job searching on competitors' websites as a happy hour:

Nelson: Where you're all getting together, meeting around with, you know, a drink in your hand. LinkedIn is more about, let's sit down around a conference room table and discuss it.

Hobson: So LinkedIn's not a cocktail party. It's a conference room.

Nelson: It's a conference room. And in some cases, you might have a couple cocktails with you.

Now, drinks or not, each conference room table can have thousands of people sitting around it. Your connections -- people who agree with you that your relationship with them is worth advertising.

But Nelson says too many connections can be a bad thing:

Nelson: You know, it's important to manage your network correctly and what I mean by manage is not to just grow it out as much as you possibly can. It's not a competition. It's really where the value is, and those values are in relationships that you have.

That's where Misiek Piskorsi of the Harvard Business School agrees. He's done extensive research of online job-hunting, and he says the size of your network is important. Not too many -- that means you're spending too much time online, or you're being indiscriminate in choosing your friends. Not too few -- that means you don't have any friends, or you don't care.

Misiek Piskorski: Striking a middle ground between, you know, 100 and 500 is probably a sensible thing to do.

But it's not just size that matters, says Piskorski. Pretending to be off-the-market is a good thing, too.

These social networking sites are filled with what are called passive job-seekers.
People who are employed -- maybe even happy in their jobs -- but they'd take a better offer if it came along. And if you're one of those, you're actually more attractive to a recruiter.

Piskorski: If I have a choice between recruiting somebody who's already employed, or recruiting somebody who's unemployed, the sheer fact that they're already employed gives me a strong signal that they're basically higher quality.

Piskorski says the people who benefit the most from the social networking job hunt are the masses in the middle -- not entry-level candidates and not senior VP's.

Piskorski: Beforehand, there was just a huge inefficiency in the labor market. People who wanted to look for another job had to rely on their personal friendships. Now, I think what you see with these online social networks is that the playing field has been leveled.

And as more companies use social networks to recruit, Piskorski says it will become increasingly difficult for job-seekers to stay out of the online game.

In San Francisco, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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