With more than 14 million Americans currently out of work and an unemployment rate higher than 9%, the old job-searching strategy of crafting a resumé and cover letter, then electronically submitting them to job boards and corporate Web sites, is no longer viable for most job seekers. There are simply too many applications and too few jobs. Michael Kelemen, a recruiter and host of the Recruiting Animal show,  a call-in career development and recruiting radio show on BlogTalkRadio, told Science Careers, "These days it's about being first to hear about new jobs and making yourself stand out as a job candidate. Social media makes that possible."
Listen to this week's Science Podcast interview  with Cliff Mintz to find out more about using social media Web sites as job-seeking tools.
Social media Web sites, which include online networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, microblogging platforms such as Twitter, and video- and slide-sharing sites such as YouTube, are changing the way those seeking work find jobs. This is because social media sites allow job seekers to craft a fuller image of themselves beyond just their resumés and to learn about jobs they might otherwise have missed. More importantly, it allows job seekers to communicate directly with prospective employers to learn more about job opportunities. Finally, it permits job seekers to more easily take advantage of the professional connections and networks they already have.
Besides helping job seekers find work, social media sites have also helped employers. Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition at Sodexo, an environmental engineering and facilities management company, believes that as her company has increasingly embraced social media, it has been able to more easily identify and recruit qualified job applicants. "Social media is a new way of communicating with prospective new hires, and it helps to improve the hiring experience for persons interested in our company," Ball says. "We almost exclusively rely on social media for recruitment purposes these days."
LinkedIn  is an online network that brings professionals and companies together. Currently, LinkedIn boasts more than 44 million members in more than 200 countries throughout the world. Professional colleagues can seek out and invite each other to join professional networks, allowing them to share contacts and job leads, as well as solicit personal and professional recommendations from their peers.
Recruiters and hiring managers can also search the profile database and reach out to individuals they are interested in. Most hiring managers at life sciences companies recognize LinkedIn as a legitimate source of job candidates, and companies are increasingly using LinkedIn to search for future employees, says Ruby Gadelrab, leader of social media initiatives and head of marketing for international markets for the genomic analysis company Affymetrix in Santa Clara, California.
Because recruiters often rely on keyword searches, it's important to consider what recruiters in your field might be looking for. For example, if you're looking for a job in the molecular diagnostics field, then you should include words such as "molecular," "biology," "genomics," "DNA," "sequencing diagnostics," and "diseases" in your profile. It may be helpful to look at job descriptions on job boards and company Web sites to optimize keyword usage in your profile.
A great way to promote your skills and abilities and draw prospective employers' attention is by participating in LinkedIn groups. There are thousands of such groups, which focus on specific topics such as vaccines, regulatory affairs, medical writing, biologics, recombinant proteins, and many others. Group members can message one another to share job listings or recommend each other to recruiters or hirers, allowing you to expand your network beyond those you know personally.
Todd Pelham, a bioengineer from San Diego, California, knows firsthand how effective LinkedIn can be. He landed a job as a quality control chemist shortly after graduating from college. In 2007, he decided to relocate to pursue a dual master's degree in bioscience and business administration at Johns Hopkins University. Needing a job to support himself, he quickly found one at a local biotechnology company. However, Pelham lost his job in 2009 -- a casualty of the economic downturn -- and desperately began seeking new work. But the economic conditions that led to his unemployment also made job hunting all the harder. "About a month into my search, I realized that I had to get more creative with my job search to land a job during a recession," he says.
So he decided to try LinkedIn. "I started asking questions about jobs and seeking career advice from people who I had never met," he says. "Many of them took the time to share their career experiences with me. It gave me some new ideas to consider and encouraged me to continue my search."
It took about 6 months and more than 100 applications, but his connections and perseverance eventually paid off and he found a job as a business analyst at a local consulting company.
Gadelrab believes that Pelham's experience highlights LinkedIn's value to both job seekers and hirers. "It's a great way for job seekers to brand themselves and allow hiring managers to get to know who they are and why they may be a good addition to their company," she says. She emphasizes that job seekers should be proactive if they want to see results. "Setting up a profile and then never visiting LinkedIn again will do you no good," she says. "Job seekers need to be active to showcase their skills and abilities to prospective employers."
Twitter  is a real-time microblogging platform that limits messages, called "tweets," to 140 characters or fewer. That may not seem like much space to sell your credentials to potential employers, but there are ways to use Twitter to search for jobs. Search engines like TwitJobSearch.com  seek out and aggregate job listings and job-related posts on Twitter. Or you can use Twitter's own search function to find job listings. Additionally, employers, recruiters, and job sites routinely post openings on Twitter. For example, @JoinAstraZeneca  and other big pharma companies tweet job openings to their followers daily.
You also can follow the corporate Twitter accounts of companies you are interested in working at, as well as their employees' accounts, to learn more about the companies' needs. You might even be able to make yourself known to them by asking questions via Twitter or responding to their tweets.
When Twitter first debuted, many life sciences companies were reluctant to use it as an informational or recruitment tool, Gadelrab says. However, that has changed over the past year. Now, many big pharma and biotech companies actively use Twitter to promote their business and advertise job openings.
Christine McKenzie, a job and talent acquisition recruiter at AstraZeneca who manages @AstraZenecaJobs , believes that Twitter fosters real-time communication between her company and potential new hires. "We want to hire individuals who exhibit certain characteristics that are consistent with our culture," she says. "Persons who follow @AstraZenecaJobs (and interact with us) have an opportunity [to] gain insights into those qualities and also learn what we are up to as a company."
Facebook , the largest social network in the world, boasts more than 750 million members. Unlike LinkedIn and Twitter, most people generally view Facebook as a personal network through which users regularly interact with family and friends. However, some job seekers and hirers are turning to Facebook for career purposes too.
Laura Uribe, manager of international markets at Affymetrix, did just that to land her job. Prior to joining Affymetrix, Uribe was working in a laboratory as a genomics analyst and researcher in Mexico's Ministry of Health in Mexico City, where she regularly used Affymetrix technology. After collaborating with Gadelrab on a genomics demonstration project, Uribe friended her on Facebook. Shortly after, Uribe began following Gadelrab's daily Facebook posts during a medical genomics road show in Asia. "I was fascinated with what [Gadelrab] was doing, and after reading her posts, I realized that I would love to have a job like hers," Uribe says.
As luck would have it, Gadelrab soon posted a job opening for someone to help manage Affymetrix's Asian markets. A social media enthusiast herself, she posted the opening on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Uribe saw the post on Facebook and applied for the job.
Gadelrab received resumés from nine qualified candidates; six who mentioned seeing the opening on Twitter, two on LinkedIn, and one, Uribe, on Facebook. Uribe ultimately proved to be the most qualified, and Affymetrix offered her the job. "It's simply amazing that I landed a job on Facebook," says Uribe, who currently lives in Singapore.
Although social media sites can be fun and easy to use, there are several things job seekers must keep in mind before they embrace the medium. First, remember to keep your real name separate from other online identities, especially if you engage in online activities that you wouldn't want a potential employer to discover.
Second, make sure your profiles on social media sites are simple but complete and that you include only information that you would want business contacts or prospective employers to see.
Third, be selective about who you invite to join your networks and avoid joining frivolous or inappropriate groups.
Fourth, assiduously manage your profile content and keep it up to date. It's a good idea to include a professional-looking photo or two, but don't go overboard and never post any foul language; references to drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity; or intolerant views, including racism and sexism; or diatribes about your current or past employers.
Finally, remember that any comment, photo, or remark that you post to an online network, blog, or forum will remain somewhere online in perpetuity. Although you may not remember them, others can and will find them if they try hard enough. In today's highly competitive job market, a single inappropriate remark or questionable photo may be the difference between a job offer and continued unemployment.