Professional networking has moved out of coffee shops and meetings over dinners to online sites to establish new contacts and find job opportunities.
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Career websites have become recruiters’ main stomping ground to find qualified candidates, so it’s important job seekers have a professional online footprint that showcase their experience and skills.
Simply creating a profile on social networking sites isn’t enough, according to experts. Successfully networking online takes effort and hard work.
“The internet is a great resource for job seekers and career-minded professionals who want to meet new people and grow their professional circles,” says Amanda Augustine, job search expert for job-matching website TheLadders. “Think of it as your primary research tool for networking. Use the internet to identify organizations, events, recruiters and other valuable contacts that could introduce you to new opportunities and advance your career.”
Whether you are already gainfully employed or actively job hunting, career experts recommend creating a profile on LinkedIn (LNKD). Not only is this social network popular with professionals, experts say recruiters also favor the site.
“LinkedIn is truly a professional networking tool,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners – Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. “Recruiters are using it to find people; your clients are looking at it to see what sort of brand you are building. It’s become extremely important.”
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Just having a profile on the LinkedIn isn’t enough, says Ruhl. She recommends keeping your profile up to date and continuously work to grow your connections by joining professional groups on the site, connect with other professional in and outside your industry and post relevant content frequently.
“One of the biggest things for LinkedIn is it increases your reach,” says Ruhl. “It gives you access to decision makers.”
Ruhl, for example makes sure to tweet five times a day and has her tweets link back to her LinkedIn page. By posting interesting articles and material and answering industry-related questions online, she says it makes you more credible to recruiters and hiring managers.
There are a host of online networking sites beyond LinkedIn that are also important to have a profile on and meet new people, groups and companies. Augustine pointed to BizTradeShows.com as one site networkers can use to find trade shows and conference for pretty much every industry and field around the world. Even Facebook can be a career networking tool.
If you are having problems finding the right online networks, Augustine suggests searching online for professional associations that are relevant to your career or peruse co-workers’ online profiles to see which groups they are part of and research them.
“Join a number of groups and then choose one or two to become active with on a weekly basis,” she says.
Once you’ve identified networking websites to participate in, Augustine says to clean up your online presence before reaching out to people.
“You want the person they find online to match the one they meet in person or read about in your resume,” says Augustine. “Once you’ve hidden or deleted the accounts that don’t align with your brand, leverage social media to build profiles that highlight the work history, skills and professional memberships that are relevant to your current career goals.”
Networking online has become a vital component to landing a job, but it’s not enough to simply make the connection. A two-way relationship has to be created and maintained in order to make it a lasting and fruitful one.
Augustine says one of the best ways to foster a connection is to “look for opportunities to pay it forward.” That could mean making a restaurant recommendation, introducing your online connection to someone you know or simply extending an invitation to an event. “The goal is to keep the conversation going and to always look for ways to provide value,” she says.