When Brooke Sommers, CMP, CMM, decided to leave her position as manager of events, sales operations for Sun Microsystems in Louisville, Colo. last June after 12 years with the company, she was starting her job search at one of the hardest times to be unemployed in decades.

“When I left Sun, I went on LinkedIn and put a message out saying, ‘Hey, I'm out there doing my own thing now. Does anyone know of anything?’” Almost immediately, messages started coming in.

“Within that first week, I had gotten three job leads through LinkedIn,” she says. Soon after she was offered a contract assignment for a meeting in Asia happening at the end of the year and has since landed a full-time position as senior project manager for Golden, Colo.-based Encore Planning working on site at MillerCoors.

As unemployment hits a 26-year high (reaching 9.7 percent at press time), the meetings industry has been hard hit by cutbacks and layoffs. But if you think the job market has dried up completely, think again. “I already knew of about eight meeting planning jobs out there before I had even really started looking,” adds Sommers. “Our industry is going to come back strong and those [planners] who have been laid off are going to find opportunities.”

Assuming they know where to look. The way employers are recruiting has changed, and social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have begun to play a larger role both in keeping candidates in the loop about job openings as well as helping them get a foot in the door when an opportunity presents itself. “If you're not 100 percent on top of your game in the social networking arena and actively looking for jobs or looking for contacts, you're going to miss out,” says Sommers.

“All of a sudden, LinkedIn became the place to be seen, and it also very suddenly became the place to look for a job,” agrees Jan Hennessey, CMP, CMM, who left a position as senior director, meetings and event management at Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. in May, and started her own company, Jan Hennessey Events LLC, Berkeley, Calif. She has become more active on sites like LinkedIn to grow her professional network and find opportunities.

“I actually found a job posting on LinkedIn that stated [the employer] would only consider candidates who had been recommended through LinkedIn,” she says.

The New Recruits

Hennessey's experience is becoming the norm. In fact, in a survey conducted last May by Jobvite, a provider of software tools for recruiters, 80 percent of companies reported that they used or plan to use social networking sites to find and attract candidates this year.

Among those companies that use social networking sites for recruiting, 95 percent use LinkedIn, 59 percent use Facebook, and 42 percent use Twitter to source candidates. Employers also reported that they are more satisfied with the quality of candidates from employee referrals and social networks than with those from traditional job listings.

The best news: Connections made through social media produce results. The study found that 66 percent of respondents using social networks for recruiting had successfully hired a candidate who was identified or introduced through an online social network.

Meeting planners who actively use social networking sites have a significant advantage when it comes to job leads, says Mark E. Berger, CPC, CIR, owner of St. Louis, Mo.-based Swat Recruiting, and an expert on recruiting through social media. “The people who have been using these sites for a while and then get laid off are the ones who are going to benefit the most,” he says. “These are the people who have connections on LinkedIn and the depth in their network to draw from to help them find a job.”

Those planners who apply for positions through sites like LinkedIn may actually have a better chance of getting the job, too. Postings on job boards like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com can get often get flooded with applicants, while social networking sites tend to attract a more targeted field of candidates.

Just ask Barry Seidenstat, owner of Multimedia By Design, a Boulder, Colo.-based event-production company. When he was asked to hire event management professionals for one of his partner companies, Encore Planning, Seidenstat opted to post two of the positions on LinkedIn and Meeting Professionals International's Web site. The posts went up on the job board section of two LinkedIn groups that Seidenstat belongs to: Event Planning and Management, and Event Peeps.

“We said, ‘Let's see what kind of results we get from posting the jobs on [free] sites, for 10 days,’” says Seidenstat. “Then we'll see if we need to supplement that with [traditional job boards] that have costs associated with them.”

Within a week, his postings for a “project planner” and “project manager” had yielded more than 100 résumés, with 75 of those coming from LinkedIn. He got enough qualified candidates through LinkedIn and MPI's Web site that he decided not to post the jobs anywhere else. Those who didn't see his posts on those sites were out of luck.

Time to Post

Of all the social networking sites out there, LinkedIn is best for including an online résumé in your profile and presenting yourself as a viable job candidate, says meeting technology consultant Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, Corbin Ball Associates, Bellingham, Wash. But just going on the site and creating an account isn't going to cut it when it comes to networking.

“You have to spend some time developing your online profile and building it out with all relevant information,” says Ball. “Also, make sure everything is up-to-date, and check your spelling and grammar.”

Sommers agrees. “If I go to someone's page and it just has their name and title, that tells me nothing about the person,” she says. “You need to be able to write a mission statement and get people to understand who you are and how you do business.”

In addition to her past work history, head shot, and summary of skills, Sommers' LinkedIn profile includes a link to a video hosted on MeetingsNet.com, which shows her talking about planning meetings in Las Vegas. “People can look at that video and see my face and see how I speak and present myself.”

She also has about 10 recommendations from colleagues on her page. The ability to request a recommendation and recommend others through LinkedIn is one of the benefits of the site for job seekers. “Whenever I send out a résumé now, at the top of the page it says, ‘Visit me on LinkedIn and view my recommendations,’” she says. “It saves the employer time and it saves me time, because I don't have to go out and ask for references each time I apply for a new position.”

While it may seem obvious, “padding” your résumé or fudging the timelines of a past position won't fly when posting your info online.

“I was once faced with an issue where someone asked me for a recommendation on LinkedIn and I saw that she had purposely left an old job up on her profile as if she still worked there,” says meetings industry consultant and attorney, Tyra Hilliard, PhD, JD, CMP, of Washington, D.C.-based Hilliard Associates LLC. “I knew she was no longer with that company and I thought doing that was unethical.” Hilliard confronted the person about the issue. “I said, ‘If you want me to recommend you, you need to be honest.’”

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There are also the occasional social networking horror stories when it comes to job hunting. “It always amazes me how many people act one way on LinkedIn and another way on Facebook,” says Pegine Echevarria, a leadership, diversity, and motivational speaker and owner of Team Pegine Inc., Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. “You have to be consistent in the way you present yourself.”

Echevarria says she knows of about four people who were not hired because “the language that was posted on their Facebook pages was not reflective of the culture of the organizations where they were interviewing.”

“Google yourself once a week,” advises Echevarria, especially if you are in the market for a new job. “You need to know who is ‘tagging’ you in photos and what is being posted about you online.”

The Old Rules Still Apply

For those who are new to the social networking scene, the experience can be overwhelming at first. How much time should you spend engaging in online communities and working on your profile? What groups should you join, and whom should you link with? When is it OK to ask for a recommendation?

While there are no hard and fast rules for social networking, “it's sort of common sense,” says Ball. “You wouldn't ask someone you don't know to be your friend [in the real world]. Social networking is a little bit different, but it's not that much different.”

“It has to be a give and take,” adds Joan Eisenstodt, a meeting and hospitality consultant and chief strategist at Eisenstodt Associates LLC in Washington, D.C. “Nobody wants someone to join a group just to take from the group. But if someone is very visible and answers questions within those groups, that person is going to be seen as smart and helpful and others are going to want to return the favor.”

If you are out of work, don't be afraid to mention you are looking for a new position when you communicate online. “Remember who you helped, and say, ‘By the way, I'm looking for a job,’” advises Eisenstodt. “Or add a line to the end of your posts that says, ‘I am a meeting planner with so many years experience and am looking for a job in XYZ city.’” Just be sure to be specific, she advises.

And when it comes to online recommendations or introductions through LinkedIn, most people are happy to lend a hand. Hilliard says she often makes introductions for her connections on social networking sites, provided the requesters are people she knows well and respects. “I try to link only with people I know in a professional capacity,” she says.

There are ways to approach people you don't know via these sites too, however. Echevarria says she recently posted a question through a LinkedIn group and got a response from someone in the meetings industry who was out of work. “He went and did all this research about [my company] and wrote me a phenomenal letter with some resources he thought I might be interested in.”

After joining each other's networks on LinkedIn, the two began communicating. “After about five e-mails, he said, ‘Just in case you were not aware, I am currently looking for a position,’ and he sent me this great résumé through Visualcv.com [a Web site that allows job seekers to post their résumés along with digital portfolios].”

Echevarria was so impressed by his background and résumé presentation that she began sending him job leads. “I have already referred him to five jobs I know of and I've never met this guy!” she says.

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