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CAREER MAKEOVER

Internet tools can make or break a job search

Ron Messina, with daughters Lia (left) and Talia, made pasta. Messina is thinking of leaving the food services industry. Ron Messina, with daughters Lia (left) and Talia, made pasta. Messina is thinking of leaving the food services industry. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / May 29, 2011

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Ron Messina never planned to be a catering manager. But with kids, family health issues, and his wife finishing graduate school, it was a job he took to meet the demands of real life.

With a bachelor’s degree in history, Messina, 43, has always wanted to find a more fulfilling career, and, after eight years in catering, decided to make the move.

“As I approach middle age,’’ Messina said, “I am very motivated to look honestly at my strengths, experience, and gifts to find a career that is more closely matched to my personality type and interests.’’

When Messina met with Felicia M. Nurmsen, a career specialist with Adecco Employment Services of Worcester, for a Boston Globe Career Makeover, he had searched four months, hoping to find another customer service or hospitality job, and maybe down the road, become a paralegal. As he worked on building his professional network online, he wanted advice on job hunting in the digital age, as well as tips on interview attire and etiquette.

Since Messina was already familiar with social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, Nurmsen warned him about the pitfalls. “Just as these sites can help a search,’’ she said, “if content on the Web is deemed unprofessional, it can quickly harm you as well.’’

More employers are scouring the Internet for potential candidates, as well as conducting instant background checks, most commonly by “Googling’’ the candidate’s name. “Googling yourself is a practice you want to do often when job hunting, because every time you Google yourself, it brings you higher on the search page,’’ said Nurmsen.

Job candidates with common names, such as John Smith or Mary Johnson, want to make sure they’re not confused with someone else whose online profile might be less than stellar. Address any possible online confusion directly in a cover letter or e-mail, Nurmsen said.

Messina also wanted to know how to use online tools to zero in on key personnel in an industry. Nurmsen recommended prospecting tools such as Jigsaw and ZoomInfo that can help target hiring managers. “Find key contacts inside a company and ask if they’ll give you 20 minutes for an informational interview,’’ she said.

This brief meeting can give insight into the types of jobs, typical career paths, and how to break into a field. Prepare thoroughly by studying the company website, as well as periodicals, trade journals, annual reports, and blogs. “Be ready to ask intelligent questions,’’ Nurmsen said.

As far as interview attire, always be clean and presentable. Suits still rule even if the dress code is casual. The bottom line for men is dark socks (over-the-calf) with dark, freshly-shined shoes; for women, hosiery is a must and shoe heel height should be moderate and comfortable. “The saying ‘dress for success’ still holds true,’’ said Nurmsen. “Act and dress like a winner.’’

To be considered for a Money Makeover, fill out the application at the “Your Money’’ section of boston.com/business, or call 617-929-2916.

Ron Messina

Goal: Find a more fulfilling and less stressful job that uses personal strengths and interests.

Problem: The small details of a job hunt — how to strengthen online profile, target key contacts in businesses, and dress for an interview — need clarification.

Recommendations from career adviser Felicia M. Nurmsen:

■ Be aware of overall persona on the Internet. Check online profile regularly to ensure it remains professional and appropriate for potential employers to see.

■ Do a Google search and find out what the Web has to say about you. Getting rid of negative material can be difficult. It’s easier to create positive content about yourself and post it.

■ Address any possible confusion with online identity in a cover letter or e-mail.

■ Use online prospecting tools to zero in on key personnel in an industry.

■ Ask for 15- to 20-minute informational interview to build networks and relationships.

■ Prepare for in-person meetings by doing in-depth research on companies.

■ Dress for success by paying attention to appearance, from head to toe.