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New tools for hunting

Until just a few years ago, looking for a job was a relatively straightforward process. Write a résumé. Scour job sites or the classifieds. Submit an application for listings that seem appropriate. Reach out to recruiters. Then, wait.

“It doesn’t work that way at all anymore,” said Nancy Halverson, senior vice-president for learning and talent development at the recruiting firm MRINetwork.

Like everything else in business, the job search process has undergone a revolution since the advent of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Job hunters today must learn to navigate the sometimes slippery social mores of online discourse — for instance, learning to promote themselves without coming off as self involved.

At the same time, they must be constantly vigilant about managing their online reputation; the slightest slip may discourage potential employers.

“It’s almost like social media has replaced the white pages,” Halverson said. “Recruiters don’t even know how to find you if you don’t have a presence online. It’s non-negotiable — you have to have a profile on a social networking site.”

For many people looking for work, however, the technological requirements of the modern job hunt present a profound hurdle. Increasingly, these people are turning up for help at the career offices and continuing education departments of their local universities and community colleges.

“Teaching people how to use these new tools is really becoming one of the main things that we do in career counselling offices,” said Nancy Richmond, assistant director of career counselling and exploration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It’s sometimes a tricky process, as many people looking for work have never had reason to set up a presence online and have no idea how to go about it. These people worked in industries like manufacturing, where Facebook and Twitter weren’t a part of daily life.

In an economy that ejected people from jobs suddenly, and with such finality, career counsellors say, these people feel bereft — they have all the skills necessary for new jobs, but few of the skills required for the job search process.

It’s not the technical skills that are the toughest to master; what’s often more difficult for people who haven’t used networking sites, say job coaches, is mastering the subtle social skills involved in asking people online for help.

It’s an art that can befuddle even technically adept people. In 2008, Oliver Schmid, an IT consultant based in Los Angeles, lost his job with a technology company. Jumping into the job market for the first time in 20 years, Schmid did what job seekers have always done — he sent out his résumé and waited for companies to call him back. He didn’t get any takers. Scouring the Web for tips on job hunting, Schmid found several sites and forums with advice on how to set up his “personal brand” online. He began to blog about his work and then to use Twitter to reach out to others in his profession.

All of this took a lot of work. Miriam Salpeter, a job coach based in Atlanta, says that one of the main conversations she has with unemployed people concerns expectations — even if you do everything online correctly, there’s no guarantee you’ll find a job immediately.

“What you’re really trying to do on social networks is expand your sphere of influence,” Salpeter said. “You want to grow the number of people that know about you. As more people get to know about you and see who you are, that can pay off.”

That’s how things played out for Schmid. A former colleague noticed his posts on Twitter and recommended Schmid for a freelance position.

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