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Social media can lead way to your next gig

By Scott Kirsner
Globe Columnist / September 11, 2011

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Social media can seem sort of aimless - until it helps you land your next job. I collected advice from Boston-area human resources executives, CEOs, and consultants about how to use sites like LinkedIn or Twitter to make yourself a more appealing candidate. Here’s what they said.

Set up a blog. It’s a way to establish yourself as an authority in your field. “Let’s say you are a beer aficionado and want to work for a cool brewer after completing college,’’ says Brian Halligan, chief executive of the Cambridge digital marketing firm HubSpot. “Start a terrific blog about beer while in school that reviews new products, talks about the competitive landscape, compares regions, etc. If your articles are good, people will link to them, you’ll start showing up in Google searches for the brands, you’ll start growing your reach, and before you know it, the execs at the brewers will be reaching out to you.’’

Contribute to industry news sites. It can set you apart from other job hunters, says Sarah McAuley, director of marketing communications at EnerNOC, a Boston firm that helps utilities manage periods of peak energy demand. “A candidate that actively writes for a blog in our industry immediately rises to the top of my list,’’ says McAuley. “It shows he or she is passionate about what we do, and not just looking for their next paycheck.’’

Use different Web venues to highlight your expertise. Programmers might contribute to open source software projects on sites like GitHub, which can attract attention from recruiters. Others might answer questions for fellow users on Quora or in LinkedIn’s “answers’’ area to demonstrate knowledge of a topic like mobile advertising or passing the bar exam. Smarterer.com, a Boston-based site, lets you take online tests to show you know your way around tools like Microsoft Excel and then add the scores to an online resume or Facebook profile.

Follow companies you’d like to work for on Twitter. People who follow @VertexPharma, for example, would hear more about the company and its people through Twitter than by reading press releases and SEC filings, says spokesman Zachry Barber.

Like a company? Say so. Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith says his company looks for candidates who already act as “brand ambassadors’’ through Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. “We like folks who are already advocates for Zipcar in the social space,’’ he said.

Get your LinkedIn life in order. What would each of your LinkedIn connections say about you as an employee? Many prospective employers will tap people they know from your LinkedIn circle as a reference, says Matt Douglas, founder of party-planning site Punchbowl.com. Collect recommendations from colleagues as well as former bosses, to show how well you work on a team. And don’t stretch the truth: Discrepancies between what you say on LinkedIn and your resume can set off alarm bells, says Megan Bradley, recruitment manager at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Let LinkedIn and Facebook connections know you’re in the job market. But don’t over-post, warns social media consultant Patrick O’Malley. “Post at a strategic time, like 4 p.m.,’’ O’Malley says, “so your post is likely to be seen by people leaving work or checking Facebook when they get home from work.’’

Brush up your Twitter bio. Believe it or not, recruiters sometimes search through the directory of Twitter users to find people with skills that fit an open position, says Jennifer Ramcharan, global recruiter at TripAdvisor, a Newton-based site that collects travel reviews. “Make sure your Twitter bio accurately describes your career and goals,’’ she says. And be sure to fill out the “Location’’ field in Twitter profiles, so prospective employers know where you are.

Show some respect. Social media doesn’t instantly turn prospective employers into your best buds. “I’ve had strangers write to me on Twitter and say, ‘Hey Di - I love your company,’ ’’ says Diane Hessan, chief executive at Communispace, a Boston firm that helps companies build communities of customers online. “I don’t know you, and you are saying, ‘Hey Di’? It makes me wonder how you would handle consumers in our communities, or our beloved clients.’’ What sort of Tweet is appropriate? “I have lots of people connect with me on social media and say, ‘Diane, I have applied to your company on your website, and I am so excited about what you do. Fingers crossed.’ That’s nice.’’

Ask the right questions. Using social media to ask intelligent questions about companies and opportunities is typically welcome by hiring managers. “Candidates are expressing interest in the organization, and also building upon their personal brand as a job seeker,’’ said Shawn Tubman, manager of corporate employment at insurance giant Liberty Mutual. But think before you tweet. “Someone tweeted to me, asking what jobs we have open and what our criteria are,’’ said Communispace’s Hessan. “Do your homework. Go to our website.’’

Stay positive. Just as you shouldn’t slag a current or former employer at the job interview, don’t do it online. Another turnoff: innocuous-but-public complaints about being bored at the office.

Be selective. Dave Gowel, author of “The Power In a Link,’’ a forthcoming book about LinkedIn, cautions against adding weak connections to pump up your numbers. “Quality is better than quantity,’’ he says.

At EnerNOC, recruitment manager Daryn Lewis emphasizes that a candidate shouldn’t simply to set up a presence on every social network that has been invented. “My main advice,’’ Lewis says, “would be to think carefully about the message you’re trying to relay across those media, and how it contributes positively or negatively to the reputation you’re trying to develop.’’

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.