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Big Rock Brewery's Grasshoopper ale.

For a small Calgary company, Big Rock Brewery generates heady online buzz, which gives it a decided advantage when recruiting in the competitive Alberta labour market.

The brewer has attracted a Facebook and Twitter following among fans of its premium craft beers. Sellout crowds attend its annual awards for the best amateur beer commercials.

The brewmaster's blog promotes the latest product offering, Gopher Lager, and throws in recipes to pair with Big Rock ales: Guacamole, with Big Rock Lime; an Italian sausage dish with Grasshopper, a wheat ale; and - "I know it sounds weird" - apple pie, with Big Rock's Traditional Ale served at five degrees Celsius, or even warmer, brewmaster Paul Gautreau recommended in a recent blog posting.

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And then there's what human resources specialists refer to as the "employer brand," which gives prospective employees a taste of what the work environment is like.

"Imagine taking your work home with you," the brewery posts on its careers Web portal. "If you're the type of person who thinks that making exceptional beers for discriminating customers while working for an underdog that takes on the big multi-nationals describes your perfect job, please send us your resume."

"Our website gets a lot of hits, it's very popular," said Lynn Thomson, supervisor of human resources and administration at Big Rock Brewery Income Trust. "So we have had a lot of success hiring from our website. We posted three opportunities in March and the response was overwhelming, just overwhelming."

Companies have always focused on their brand to win over customers. Now, many - like Big Rock - are finding they can gain an edge in the war for talent by focusing on their "employment branding" as well.

Another way companies are recruiting people is through social media sites such as LinkedIn, which has become a fertile hunting ground for employers on the prowl, said Bill Greenhalgh, chief executive officer of the Human Resources Professionals Association. "Social [media]networks in general in the recruitment industry are a game-changer, there's no question about that."

"They allow potential recruits to check out what other people feel about an organization, and they allow organizations to identify people who are not necessarily looking for jobs but might be amenable to being approached."

LinkedIn, which members use primarily for business networking purposes, has emerged as a favourite with recruiters, he said. "A lot of people who go on LinkedIn and put their information on there are surreptitiously looking for jobs. They don't want to broadcast it too broadly, but of course they are always open to offers and approaches."

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Neil Crawford, leader of Hewitt Associates' Best Employers in Canada study, said that for employers, Facebook and LinkedIn are "valuable ways to connect with people and get your message out, particularly for companies that are not household names."

But once employers have tapped into this pool of prospective candidates, they need some sort of process to determine which candidates will be the best fit, Mr. Crawford said.

Right Management Canada, a career and talent management company, has found more employers seeking help with the assessment process as the economic recovery gains traction. They are now hiring again, but very selectively, Bram Lowsky, the firm's senior vice-president and general manager, said in an interview.

Employers are looking for candidates who have the capability and technical expertise to do the job, "but ultimately the cultural fit is going to be the driver of success, and the more senior the role, the more critical that becomes," Mr. Lowsky said.

When Ms. Thomson posts a position at Red Rock - listing all the requirements of the job in question - those candidates whose resumes address every single point in the posting warrant a second look. If a current employee recommends one of the applicants, even better. Who you know still counts - a lot.

"It's important," said Ms. Thomson, who places a lot of weight on employee referrals. "If an employee comes forward, they are putting their reputation on the line."

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"We look for people we feel will blend in with the close-knit staff, because we are a modest size," she said of the company, which has 120 employees. "Attitude and the ability to blend in and fit the culture is really paramount."

Mr. Greenhalgh said it has always been the case that more than 70 per cent of positions are never advertised. The Internet just makes it that much easier to find someone who might know someone who would be ideal for the job.

Ms. Thomson herself was recommended to Big Rock by a former business acquaintance - now in a senior role at the brewery - with whom she had kept in touch by e-mail.

"I was interviewed by the president and the brewmaster," said Ms. Thomson, who joined the company in March.

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