As the country's recession deepens and millions of Americans swell unemployment rolls, workers are turning to professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to search a dwindling pool of jobs.
In the past several years, millions of people have flocked to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which allow users to post messages, share photos, music and videos, and update friends and family on everything from weddings to musings on politics and weather.
The sites' growing popularity has moved beyond mere entertainment. Just as artists can instantly distribute content to a global audience, companies realize they also can tap a broad pool of talent. LinkedIn now boasts profiles from more than 30 million professionals around the world.
Corporate recruiters increasingly are scouring professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, looking for the best candidates through references and recommendations. But a personal connection is still the most powerful lure.
"It's common knowledge today that (human resources) people collect resumes in databases that take them forever to pull up the candidates," said Lisa Hendrickson, manager of LinkedIn Minnesota, a network of LinkedIn users in the state. "A hiring manager does not want to go through a database of 200 applications. They will, but they don't want to. They would rather know someone who knows someone."
According to a survey by Robert Half International, 62 percent of executives say sites such as LinkedIn will prove useful in recruiting job candidates over the next three years. Another 35 percent said they also plan to tap Facebook and MySpace. Robert Half, a staffing firm that specializes in finance and accounting, polled 150 senior executives from the country's 1,000 largest companies.
"It still is quite challenging to find qualified workers," said Kami Schneiderman, a Minneapolis-based regional vice president for Robert Half. LinkedIn "is a good way to tap into additional contacts."
A person found through networking "tends to be a stronger candidate than a blind job seeker," Schneiderman said.
LinkedIn allows users to post resumes and search companies and job openings. But its real value is allowing people to "link" with other users whose own links may prove useful to the job seeker. For example, a software designer seeking a job at Microsoft can link with a friend who's linked to his college roommate whose fiancee happens to be the company's vice president of product development.