They way we communicate with each other changes rapidly these days. With cell phones that are actually small computers, all our friends are only a text, email, Gchat, tweet or Facebook update away. Long distant conversations get easier everyday – even videoconferencing is becoming commonplace. How, though, does this communication translate to the professional world? Can an online presence help you get a job? We asked our to some of our employed friends to get their experiences with social media and job websites.

Monster and CareerBuilder:

Many years ago there was the “Dot Com” age and companies that never made a profit (or product in some cases) were spending money like Nicholas Cage on a castle buying tour. Monster.com paid for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial and critics chimed in about another website misusing funds. Well, they are still around, along with CareerBuilder and so are the SB commercials (CareerBuilder usually wins that battle).

Their existence aside, do these sites actually help anyone? In theory, many jobs must be found through these companies, but our small sample groups did not reveal any. In fact, a typical response was, “Oh yeah, I think I get job recommendation emails from them. I should unsubscribe.” That is the major problem with these sites, too much information. Users are bombarded with job recommendations after filling out a profile and searches often return a lot of unattractive positions. Companies simply looking to hire 50 warm bodies to schluck some marketing scheme, hoping 3 stay more than a month, seem to have a monopoly on the sites. We find Craigslist.org, to actually be a more useful site for getting in touch with local employers, because of slightly less muck and seemingly more accurate search results.

Facebook and social media:

Many years ago people did not have 500 friends, but now we count every drunk friend-in-a-dive-bar we’ve made as a best-ie, at least online. Our real life friends whom we polled about using social media for professional purposes mentioned mixed results. Again, no one actually accepted a job due to Facebook, but several mentioned friends or relatives posting positions via status updates and following up with them. Being such a simple, quick medium for speaking with people whom you know (hopefully) Facebook is a reasonable avenue for reaching out to many “friends” when seeking employment or employees.

The site can also hinder your hire-ability. A former employee in the University of Puget Sound admissions office told us that the staff we often “pre-screen” students they were interviewing for on-campus jobs like Resident Assistants and Peer Mentors, using Facebook. Groups like UPS Drinking Club or pics of students known to be underage consuming adult beverages at parties were highlighted. Only in extreme cases did this result in someone not getting that job that was otherwise qualified, but it serves as a caution to understand what sort of information is available to employers, whether you are in college or not.

LinkedIn:

If you are not familiar with LinkedIn, it is basically Professional Facebook (If only “Facebooking” was a profession, our girlfriends would make us wealthy). Another social media style site, LinkedIn allows you to create a profile and make networking connections. For anybody worried about revealing too much via a Facebook page, LinkedIn is a great alternative. This way, you will still appear if “googled” or “binged,” you just don’t appear drunk. It is important, also, to remember to update your profile. This is probably not as fun as Facebook, but if a potential employer finds your obviously outdated profile, they will almost certainly not contact you.

A banker buddy of ours who managed to not lose his job relayed his LinkedIn experience. Like a good young professional he had created a profile with his education and work background, along with very limited personal information. He was not actively looking for another job when he was surprisingly contacted by another bank. He spoke with them, went through a lengthy interview process and was eventually offered a nice position. His current bank made a counter offer, which he accepted. He nearly upgraded without even trying!

Industry-Specific sites:

Many industries will have sites and forums dedicated just to them. They are usually created and maintained by those with a solid understanding of said industry, and thus we find them to be the best source of job postings, if you know exactly what you are looking for. “Marketing” is too broad of an industry, but if you want to work in brewing, for example, ProBrewer.com is the place for you. This site hosts a forum that posts equipment for sale and wanted, along with discussions about brewing issues and of course, job openings. Sites like these are great because they are generally known only by those in, or looking to be involved with, the industry. If you are lucky enough to be searching for work in one of these niche job markets, find out what discussion/forum sites are well known and respected and check for job listings. Even if there is not a category, you could post your availability or questions about breaking into the business. That is what sets these sites apart, the access to very specific jobs and knowledgeable professionals willing to share information, sort of a hybrid between Montser and LinkedIn.

So, what did we learn? The internet machine is helpful for getting you off the couch and back into the workplace, but it does not happen by magic. You need to be prepared to wade through a lot of garbage and you may be putting yourself at the mercy of your friends’ response time. Do some research and know what you want, keep your online presence up to date and remember that mom said you could be anything you want.