By Charles Purdy, Yahoo! HotJobs Senior Editor
The number of job seekers using networking sites like Twitter is rising: In a poll asking site visitors if they were using Twitter in their job search, 12 percent of respondents said yes, up from 8 percent a year before.
But compare that with numbers from a survey (conducted by Econsultancy) called the Social Media and Online PR Report: It found that only 10 percent of companies are not engaging in social-media activity.
Now, you're not going to be conducting your next job interview in answers of 140 characters (the maximum length of a tweet) or less. We're nowhere near ready to abandon traditional job-seeking methods like a well-crafted resume, online job boards and face-to-face networking. But in these days of Job Search 2.0, social networking sites like Twitter are valuable tools: They keep you informed, they help you network and they allow you to establish a credible online presence. And that's important for professionals in almost any industry: By all accounts, hiring managers and recruiters are researching many -- or most -- candidates online.
Not really looking for a job right now? Then now is the perfect time to get started. If you start online networking only when you need something, you're much too late. Here are some simple first steps:
Go to Twitter.com to Create an Account -- It Takes Seconds
Choose a user name that is appropriately professional and descriptive. And be sure to add a bio that explains who you are and why people might be interested in what you have to say. If you have a new career goal in mind, express it here.
Find People to Follow -- All These People's Tweets Will be Displayed on Your Main Twitter Page
After you create your account, Twitter will offer you categories to browse, will offer to search your email address book for contacts already on Twitter and will then let you conduct your own searches. Search for people you admire, leaders in your industry, companies you respect (or would like to work at), and industry publications or Web sites. (And look at whom they follow.) You'll be amazed at what you can find out from spending a few minutes each day reading their tweets: not only valuable industry news but also specific information about companies -- info that you can employ when you craft a cover letter or meet someone for an interview.
A key to building momentum on Twitter is to participate -- join (respectfully) conversations that the people you follow are having. If someone you follow says something interesting, retweet it (forward it to your followers), with or without adding your own comment; this is a great way to get a casual dialogue started.
Gain Followers and Build Your Reputation
There are many ways to do this. When you read something interesting online, share a link to it via Twitter. For instance, if you know that friends are looking for jobs, you may want to share links to career-advice articles. (Or if you see a job listing a friend might be interested in, forward it via Twitter simply by clicking on the listing's Share button.)
Also share your own insights, humor, achievements and so on. Twitter works best if it's a mix of personal and professional, and it lends itself to lightheartedness. But keep in mind that if you hope to someday use Twitter in your job search, you should avoid tweets like "Playing hooky from work and watching soaps in my pajamas." This may accurately reflect your activities on a certain day, but no employer is going to look at that and think, "This person would be a great fit for my company!" Make sure all your communications on your social networks are consistent and support your professional and personal goals.
And make sure people know you're tweeting: Add your Twitter handle to your email signature for instance, and include it as a way to contact you when you comment on blogs.
Manage Your Twitter Account
Numerous programs add a fuller-featured dashboard to Twitter, and help you with things like shortening URLs without making you go to a separate Web site. I use TweetDeck and HootSuite; both are free. Test-drive a couple, and see what other people on Twitter are using, to see if one works for you.
Stay Involved Online
Keep up the momentum you've gained by staying active. Consider starting a blog related to your profession or even one of your hobbies -- it'll give you something to tweet about, and it's a great way to continue establishing your online reputation.
Get Back from Twitter
Managing a Twitter presence takes minutes a week. The preceding steps are designed to establish your good reputation and create a foundation of good will -- when you need to reach out to your contacts for assistance, they'll be more inclined to help someone they feel connected to.
Say you decide you'd like to go for a marketing job at Company X. If you've been following the company, its CEO and its marketing director, you'll have a good idea where the company and its marketing department are -- this already gives you a tremendous advantage over the competition. Even better: If you've been retweeting the company's tweets, making helpful suggestions, adding positive comments to company and industry blogs, and sharing your own insights, important people at the company may already be aware of you.
That's the good will and good foundation that allow this Twitter direct message (a message you send privately to another Twitter user) to be received with interest: "I see you're making SEO marketing improvements: my area of expertise. I'd love to set up an info interview to discuss working together."