Mark Buell had no intention of leaving a job he enjoyed - until one day last September, when a message flashed on his computer screen.
It was a tweet from one of the avid Twitter user's contacts that simply read: "New job being posted, social media communications manager in Ottawa."
With an instant inside track to a job that had not yet been advertised, Mr. Buell jumped on the enclosed link to the organization's website, and sent off a cover letter and résumé by mail.
Three weeks later, he was called for an interview. When asked to present how he would put together a social media campaign for the organization if he got the job, Mr. Buell decided to let his Twitter stream speak for him. His Twitter profile showed he was well-connected, with 1,900 followers built up since he started tweeting two years ago.
"I sent them a link to my Twitter account, every tweet I sent in the past year, at least 2,000. I don't think they went through them all, but it gave an idea of who I was as a communications professional, as well as an individual," Mr. Buell says.
An idea good enough, in fact, that it got him the job: He was told that his tweets had turned him into the top choice for the position as communications manager of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which was looking for someone to expand its presence on social media.
"My life was suddenly changed because of just those few words," Mr. Buell says of that Twitter job posting. "I can definitely say I got the job through Twitter."
Other lives may be changing, too, as an increasing number of those on the prowl for employment discover the new power of Twitter in finding a job - or having one find you. That those 140-character messages can be posted almost instantaneously makes Twitter an invaluable tool for getting tips on jobs before they are posted anywhere else, experts say.
While Twitter use has grown exponentially since its introduction three years ago, few have harnessed its power in the hunt for employment, says Toronto career coach Randall Craig, author of the new book Social Media for Business.
As recently as last June, an Ipsos-Reid poll done for CBC found that just 26 per cent of 826 regular Internet users surveyed had even heard of Twitter, and only 6 per cent were regular users. That's much lower than the 42 per cent of Canadian Internet users who have Facebook accounts, according to a report by Statistics Canada last July. A Globe and Mail online poll last month found that only 2 per cent of respondents had used Twitter in a job search.
Still, Twitter's influence is growing and, in some industries, not being a tweeter could hurt your potential as a job candidate, Mr. Craig says. "Companies are using it for marketing and if you want to get a job in marketing or communications and are not on Twitter, you won't be considered a strong candidate," he says. He's also seeing growing use in other industries, from technology to finance.
But Twitter is so new that even savvy users don't maximize its potential, says Deb Dib, president of Medford, N.Y.-based leadership consultancy Executive Power Brand and co-author of the new book The Twitter Job Search Guide.
How to make the most of Twitter? Here's advice from both experts and users on the smartest ways to make Twitter part of your job search:
Cultivate a following
"Twitter can be a way to do an end run around the classic pile of anonymous résumés by giving you a presence and a personal brand that people recognize," says Jacob Share, a Canadian career coach living in Israel and the author of The Ultimate Twitter Job Search Guide.
Twitter messages are so short that they are like comments in a conversation; people will join if it interests them, he says.
Post a series of tweets about your professional interests and insights online before you even start a job search, Mr. Share recommends. If you can make impressive points and demonstrate your expertise, you will gather followers and the attention of decision makers who can assist with leads and advice.
Don't leave a professional following to chance. Jump start the process by sending invitations by e-mail to friends and network contacts to follow you on Twitter, Mr. Share says. Those who already know you will be your best sources of leads to jobs and guidance.
Be prolific, within limits
To gain and keep a following, you've got to make a commitment to post regularly. But don't overdo a good thing, Ms. Dib recommends. If there is a gap of more than a couple of days between postings, you look like an opportunist or uninterested dilettante. But "mucking up people's tweet stream with dozens of tweets a day makes you look like a spammer."
Her advice: Aim for a minimum of 15 tweets a week, but no more than 20 a day. You also have to encourage conversation by following others, thanking them for information they tweet to you.
Let them know you're hunting
Tweet all your followers and tell them you are looking for job and would appreciate their advice and references. In further tweets, be upfront about your career objectives, skills, strengths and preferred job functions, Ms. Dib says.
In your Twitter bio, you have only 160 characters to describe who you are, so come up with a title that nails you in three-attention grabbing words, she suggests. For example, you're a "billion-dollar deal maker" or a "corporate change leader." Then add a unique accomplishment, such as "with major film company win," Ms. Dib suggests.
But be modest, she recommends. "An unspoken rule is, Don't declare yourself an expert. Show others what you know by being yourself."
Give to get
As your search goes on, keep people updated on progress. Remember to thank them for their advice.
Also, tweet useful information in return for their following. Re-tweet potential jobs that you run across that are not right for you so others can know about them. "Help others who are looking for a job on Twitter and then they will help you back," Ms. Dib says.
Stay professional, but real
Strike a healthy balance between tweets about your public and private lives. Many users of Twitter as well as Facebook misunderstand how public the site is, Mr. Craig says. "You have to be careful that your tweets about parties, pet peeves and philosophy don't show you as out of tune with the culture of the company you are approaching," he says. "It's not that you have to be professional all the time, but there is no privacy and who you are is open for all to see."
While on a job hunt, put extra effort into compiling posts that show your expertise. Direct people to blogs or other sites that demonstrate your enthusiasm and success.
At the same time, not every post should be about your search or your job. Otherwise, you'll come across as desperate or with no other interests.
"The big thing about Twitter is to be yourself, be natural," Mr. Buell recommends. "My tweets were a blending of personal and professional, and it gave the hiring managers a sense that I was not one-dimensional. My life is played out on Twitter. I did tweets about my mountain biking, what I did with my kids on weekends, restaurants I like, stories in the news that I think are relevant."
Still, know your boundaries. Shannon Yelland, whose recent twittering helped land her a position as online marketing manager at ActiveState Software Inc. in Vancouver, advises editing out trivia about mundane activities, which can be distractions to the professionalism you want to get across. "Your potential boss doesn't care if your cat threw up or if you are having a martini on a sunny deck." While Twitter asks people to tweet about "What are you doing now?" you should interpret that as "What are you thinking now?" she suggests.
Expand your reach
Facebook and LinkedIn, other sites employers look at in job searches, now tie in to Twitter. When Ms. Yelland updates information on Twitter, she has it automatically update the profiles on her other website pages, as well as her blog.
It's also relatively simple to set up alerts on Twitter that flag messages that include key words and phrases you specify, she found. It's best to combine job titles and city, such as: "hiring online marketing manager Vancouver" to avoid becoming overwhelmed with messages not suited to your needs, she says. But don't get too specific about job titles or other specifics, or you'll end up eliminating some potential jobs, Mr. Share says.
Use search resources
A lot of people don't realize that you don't have to have a Twitter account to use it in a job search, Mr. Share says. You can open twitter.com and search for jobs that appear in tweets using key words, just as you would in Google.
Experiment with different sets of terms to home in on opportunities in your area. For example, if you search using the words Canada and Toronto, you may find hundreds of tweets that aren't related to jobs; put in Canada, Montreal, sales and marketing, and you will get results about sales jobs.
Browse Twitter directories to find industry professionals to follow for trend information and job leads, Mr. Share says. "Use Twitter search for people who have twittered relevant job offers recently and follow them, because more job openings could be on the way. Notice keywords that the postings about the jobs you're interested in have in common, and then search on those to find conversations among other industry pros to follow for leads on future openings," he suggests.
You can use Twitter's "Find People" tool to locate industry leaders who post on Twitter, to start to follow them.
A number of other Internet sites specialize in scanning Twitter for messages about jobs or industry professionals who use Twitter and are worth following. Among those the experts suggest checking out are: TwitJobSearch.com and TweetaJob.com, which search for job-related tweets by profession and location; as well as Twellow.com, and justtweetit.com, which search for Twitter users with similar career interests; and wefollow.com, which identifies top users and opinion makers and can be searched by industry and city.
Don't rely on Twitter alone
Twitter is only one part of a job search. "It's important to remember that Twitter in itself is not going to get you a job," Mr. Buell says. "It's a great networking and icebreaking tool, but it should not be your only tool. You still need a decent résumé and have to meet people face to face."
ON THE JOB HUNT WITH TWITTER
One search that turned into a find
Shannon Yelland, Vancouver
Reason seeking job: Laid off last June from previous job as online marketing director at a Vancouver software company in a staff downsizing.
Position found: Online marketing manager at ActiveState Software Inc. Hired at the end of October after two-month job search that revolved around Twitter and other social media sites.
Use of Twitter: "I let it be known in some my tweets that I was looking for a new role, but I was careful not to make the point so constantly that it sounded like spam," she says. She updated her Twitter profile saying she was looking for a job in online marketing and linked it to other profiles she has on social media sites Facebook and LinkedIn.
She searched for tweets about jobs she was interested in finding in her city, by putting in key words such as "looking online media specialist Vancouver." She also put in similar key words on Twitter search sites twellow and tweepsearch.
"When I bumped into interesting jobs that weren't for me, I tweeted them for my 4,000 followers to see. I started receiving tips from my Twitter followers, including recruiters, on new opportunities that I'd be interested in.
Results: Within days, she received tweets and e-mails from six companies. She sent off her résumé and got her first interview just two weeks after her initial tweet about her job search.
Insight: "My tweeting definitely paid off. I had feedback that, after I went for the interview for the job I now have, they immediately checked out my Twitter stream and it convinced them that I should be short-listed for the job." After starting this job, she had a handful of other responses, asking about interest in other jobs.
Following @Shannonyelland job search tweets:
Jun 19, 2009: Possibly taking summer off to rethink, consider options and take UBC web analytic courses. Things will always work out.
Jul 10: Looking forward to my 3rd web analytics course starting today...thinking of taking next one at same time, since I have time on my hands now.
Sept. 2: Gotta get my new blog up and live tomorrow for sure ... need a place to document my thoughts and what I am learning.
Sept. 9: It's official, all profiles updated, résumé updated and looking for Online Marketing/ Online Director position in Vancouver.
Sept. 23, via web in reply to joshchandler: @joshchandler No, I am not there any more. Just in career transition & looking for an online marketing manager/director role. ;)
Sept. 24: Thinking wow 3 calls for interviews in one day, hoping one will be a match soon. I guess good things happen when you wait. ;)
Oct. 28: Yippee, it's official! Starting my new job Monday at www.activestate.com (@activestate) as the Online Marketing Manager. Good team there!
Basic terms for the uninitiated
Tweet: A message on Twitter, each one limited to 140 characters.
Tweeter or twitterers or tweeple: People who post and follow Twitter messages.
Follow: To choose to regularly receive Tweets from selected people
Buttons: Links you can add to a message urging people to do things such as "follow me on Twitter"
Background: Personalized information that can be added to appear around a Tweet, which can include artwork, a photo and contact information.
Direct message: A private Tweet. Putting the letter "d" and a space in front of the address of a follower will allow only that person to see the message. Otherwise other followers of that person can see it as well.
Hashmark: Putting the # sign in front of the subject you're tweeting about. For example, #oilspill, indicates that you are contributing to the discussions about the topic. It can be a way to develop a following for your expertise.
Retweet (RT): A re-post of a message you've received that you think will be of interest to others following you.
Twitterati: A name given to high-profile people and celebrities who post regular tweets that many people want to follow.
Tweet cred: Status you gain over time as more people follow you.
Twitter putdowns: Tweeterboxes are people who tweet too much. Those who have no new thoughts are Twitterpated, and a Dweet is a Tweet posted while drunk.