Drawing had always been Katie Shanahan’s passion, but it was her blog that turned it into a career. “Putting [the images] out on the Internet sort of became my own brand,” says the 27-year-old Torontonian. As her online fan base and industry contacts grew, she opened profiles on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and finally LinkedIn, all the while making frequent blog posts. “I started getting little commissions, and gradually I got big jobs.” One day, a TV producer saw her work online and, without even telling her, recommended her for a contract on a PBS Kids cartoon.
Having employers seek you out on the web is a common scenario today. Last year, recruiting-tool developer Jobvite published a survey showing that nine out of 10 companies currently recruit, or plan to recruit, using social networks. And many do so successfully: 58% of those polled had hired someone they found online. The upshot is that the two-page resume is increasingly a relic. As more companies bypass headhunters and flock to networking sites like LinkedIn — the runaway favourite of the respondents in Jobvite’s survey — it has become vital for job hunters to develop an expansive, artfully crafted and well-targeted online footprint.
Surranna Sandy, CEO of Canada’s largest resume-writing firm, Resume Solutions, says that when you build your online presence, the words you choose matter for reasons beyond proving your eloquence. “If your profile on, say, LinkedIn doesn’t have the right keywords, you’re not going to come high in the results,” says Sandy. She recommends using action verbs such as “spearhead,” “direct” and “administer” to describe your achievements and responsibilities, and employing industry jargon, especially for valuable skills. If, for example, you’re looking for a position as a project manager, you’d mention an ability to budget, co-ordinate, develop a project charter and lead cross-functional teams.
Lots of new sites now offer to help job seekers promote their talents. About.me, for one, allows you to build a comprehensive online identity by being the central point from which you link to your other networking accounts. VisualCV.com is a similar service that enables users to create online resumes incorporating graphs, images and video on a single web page.
Facebook and Twitter can be useful tools as well, but unless a colourful personality and online popularity are important in your industry, it’s best to keep those pages neutral — like painting a house beige before putting it on the market, so it will appeal to the broadest possible audience. “You may inadvertently tweet things you don’t want a potential employer to know,” cautions Sandy. “You don’t want to give too many insights into your social, political or religious life, as that can bias employers against you. There should be nothing that gives an employer pause.” Some people not only clean up their own social-network pages but ask friends to eliminate any potentially embarrassing photos or comments from theirs.
No matter what site, or sites, you choose to market your skills, you have to take the time to stay in regular touch with your network. “You don’t necessarily have control over the stability of your employment,” notes Sandy. “If you are terminated and you have not been in touch with your contacts — you haven’t updated them on what you’re doing, they haven’t heard from you in two years — and then you call them, it looks disingenuous. Like you’re using them.” Another reason to stay active online is to avoid raising your current employer’s suspicions when you do start looking for a new job — your online resume and blog will have been well-established by then. Furthermore, regularly updating your online accounts pushes outdated references to you further down in search lists, giving you more control over your web identity.
Job seekers are wise to research their interviewers on the social web, as well. Finding commonalities can help you make an immediate connection. Even just reading up on a company’s initiatives, white papers and major deals can make a difference. The successful candidate, says Sandy, “is often someone who can demonstrate fit within the organization through passion, drive and enthusiasm.”
Shanahan, who now has a steady stream of contracts in animation and illustration, has learned that certain things that work in personal networking — such as modesty and self-deprecating jokes — don’t play well online. And she finds the opportunities a professional online presence can bring go beyond jobs, to include speaking engagements and mentorships. “As long as you’re there so much that people trip over you, it’s hard for them to forget about you,” she says.