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Chris Abraham may now be a leading social media and digital marketing expert, but his journey toward that job began with a simple blog post.

Abraham was working for a social media firm in the U.S. and struggling to move up the corporate ladder when a public relations agency noticed his tongue-in-cheek post about Wal-Mart. In it, he described how the discount retailer's inventory of inexpensive, Chinese-made goods should be credited with giving middle-class Americans a much higher standard of living than they should reasonably be able to afford.

The posts may have been somewhat ironic, but they showcased enough of Abraham's skills, savvy and insight that within two weeks he was offered a job on the agency's social media team on behalf of Wal-Mart.

The gig only lasted a few months, but Abraham went on to found Gerris digital, a D.C.-based digital strategy company based on the same skills that got him noticed in the first place.

"You can blog for your dream job," said Abraham, who has been tracked as a top online influencer. "(But) you definitely need to focus on what your goal is (and) make a point of trying to develop a voice and show skill and reliability and intelligence."

"You could very easily give the people who are your future employers an opportunity to build a relationship with you well before you ever have an opportunity to work with them."

In an increasingly competitive job market, time spent creating the right online presence can make the difference between landing an in-person interview or being left on the resume pile.

Whether you're looking to work in communications, with a tech company or at a start up, Abraham says, "it doesn't hurt to start flirting well in advance of the interview."

But like with all things social media, simply being online isn't enough. If you're going to do it, you have to do it well.

"You no longer just can hide behind a resume; we live in an online world and what you're putting out online could make or break your chances for career success," said Eileen Chadnick, a career coach with Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

That includes showing potential employers that you are engaged and productive, even if you haven't had much paid work experience. For those working in their field, online branding may translate to advancement as they deliberately build their reputation as thought leaders in their area of expertise, Chadnick said.

The interactions can come through platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or a blog, although some people have gone as far as to create their own personal web page, a tool Chadnick says can be particularly useful for young graduates who may not have had many formal employment opportunities.

And while branding is important, there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. What matters is to do it in a deliberate, strategic and proactive way, and to take all the necessary steps to protect your reputation.

"You want to be really thoughtful about the boundaries and about how you're putting yourself out there – you don't always get to hide behind a disclaimer," Chadnick added.

In addition to paying attention to privacy settings in any social media page, job seekers should also be careful with comments they post on other people's websites or on media sites, as well as posting personal opinions such as reviews or endorsements.

"It is important for everybody to take responsibility for their brand; both the pro-active deliberate brand, but also a brand they may be creating without really realizing it," she said.

"It's not always the deliberate blog post that you put on your site. It's how ever you're engaging."

Nicholas Greschner, a human resources director with global management consulting firm Accenture in Montreal, says that when it comes to social media, LinkedIn is the top site his company uses to find candidates.

"We look at what are people's interests, what groups do they follow, where are they engaging from a LinkedIn perspective," he said.

"It's more than just the site where they have their online resume, we also look at how people network."

Networking on LinkedIn, however, means something different than on Facebook, so Greschner suggests saving those vacation photos for other social media sites, and keeping your LinkedIn profile professional.

"If we looked through LinkedIn and we see a lot of the personal things up there, it's a distraction on what we're seeking," he said.

"It's not to say that you wouldn't necessarily get the job, but it makes it more difficult for us to figure out exactly what the skills that individual are because you have to filter through too many things."

It's all those opportunities job seekers now have to tell their story that Abraham considers most useful because, if they achieve the right mix, prospective candidates may just find themselves ahead of the pack in ways they never expected.