Some people use Twitter to broadcast what they had for lunch. Others, like those in Iran, tweet to protest oppressive regimes. But can you tweet and social-network your way to a new job or a promotion? "Everyone's job hunt is networking," says Penelope Trunk, founder of Brazen Careerist, a social-networking site. "Job hunters used go into a room full of people. Twitter is like a much bigger room."
With Twitter, you may only get 140 characters to be intriguing or inane. But unlike Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social-networking sites that require other users to approve your connection, Twitter encourages disparate strangers to subscribe to one anothers' streams. For anyone looking for a job or a promotion, that often means direct access to a prospective employer: a move that eliminates the idea of a good ol' boys' network. "It's a public atmosphere. Everyone is on the same platform, and they have the same rights," says Dan Schawbel, the 26-year-old author of the personal-branding book, Me 2.0.
For the unintiated, here's some context: Twitter is a cross between a newsfeed and a mini-blog that job hunters can use as a way to both listen to others and to establish themselves as experts in a particular field. Every few seconds, one of the service's 106 million users posts a 140-character message—either an original note or a message that highlights or republishes another person's link. Job hunters can use Twitter to show off their knowledge of a particular industry, while companies often use it as way to publicize information. This constant interplay lets job seekers research companies and lets businesses search for Web-savvy potential employees.
That's how 23-year-old Stephanie Maruca found her entry-level job at BlissPR in November 2009. She knew she wanted to work in New York after graduating from the University of Maryland. But given the economy and the tight job market, she realized she needed to be creative. "I'm convinced when you send your resume to a company, it goes into a big black hole," she says. Instead, she turned to Twitter, which she opted to use as a search engine and as a way to connect with hiring managers. She started following partners at several New York City public-relations firms. One day, a partner tweeted about a job opening. Maruca sent her a note through the service, called a "direct message" in Twitter parlance. This led to an interview and eventually, an offer.
Maruca successfully used Twitter in her job hunt in part because she didn't simply rely on it to promote herself. While it's fine to share your work with others, you also need to talk to people and share links to interesting information. Twitter etiquette demands that people give and take. Schwabel, for instance, says he spends up to two hours a day retweeting other people's messages and linking to new companies, groups, or individuals. "It's social capital," he says. If you're only in it for the self-promotion, fellow tweeters will tune you out, as they would with an annoying television commercial.
The second Twitter commandment is that job seekers should not be afraid to take the conversation offline. Use Twitter feeds as a way to research three or four companies you'd like to work for, but when you want to reach out to them, do so in an e-mail or through a phone call. Though Twitter is a great tool for introducing people, it does not supplant the importance of personal contact.
Twitter may be fast-paced and concise, but job hunters still need to recognize the need to keep things professional online. Hiring managers don't want to hear about your significant other or what you did last night, nor do they want to read lanuage that is full of text-message shorthand. "I recommend that people don't lose their professional edge on Twitter," says Erin T. Martz, a career counselor and member of the American Counseling Association. This includes everything from writing grammatically correct tweets to putting up a professional photo to sending thanks to people who follow you. If Twitter is like a huge room of people or a networking party, it's a good place to show off your smarts. Still, in this ever-connected world, job seekers need to treat all fellow Tweeters as potential colleagues or bosses.