RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And on Wednesdays we focus on the workplace. Last week we told about new companies that help people manage their online identities and help them scrub negative information. Today we're examining how people use social networking technology to find better jobs and better workers.
NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
FRANK LANGFITT: You've probably heard about the big Internet job sites: Monster.com and Career Builder. More recently, some recruiters have started hunting for candidates using social networking technology, like the kind found on the popular sites MySpace and Facebook.
Maureen Crawford-Hentz recruits for Osram Sylvania, the global lighting company. The new tools have changed her life.
Ms. MAUREEN CRAWFORD-HENTZ (Recruiter for Osram Sylvania): Social networking technology is absolutely, hands down, the best thing to happen to recruiting -ever.
LANGFITT: One of Crawford's favorite sites is LinkedIn, a network of eight million professionals spread across the world. LinkedIn says users include executives from all of the Fortune 500 companies. Typing keywords into a search engine, Crawford can scrape the entire network to dig out high-quality candidates she can't find elsewhere.
Recently, she went trolling for a product marketing manager and unearthed Alfred LaSpina, who was doing a related job for another company. The two describe their virtual courtship.
Ms. CRAWFORD-HENTZ: I ended up looking for consumer product marketing and I hit upon his profile. And I sent him this e-mail saying, hi, Alfred, I found your profile online, and we have a position that I think may be of interest to you.
Mr. ALFRED LASPINA (Recruited by Ms. Crawford-Hentz): I was very impressed by that, that there was someone who actually reached out to me, so to speak, with a position and looked at my background and realized there might be a fit here. So I replied and conversations ensued from there, which became more and more positive.
Ms. CRAWFORD-HENTZ: He then applied, and as soon as he applied, I knew - I knew he was going to be a good fit.
Mr. LASPINA: And the end result, I'm now an employee of Sylvania.
LANGFITT: Sites like LinkedIn also help job hunters market themselves online. Users set up profiles listing work history and specific skills. Crawford says the trick is loading your profile with the right keywords so people can find you the way she found Alfred LaSpina.
To learn more, I set up an account on LinkedIn, then Crawford showed me how tweak it so that sources on my beat - labor and the workplace - can find me.
What do I do to fix up my profile and be able to contact people better.
Ms. CRAWFORD-HENTZ: You would put keywords in your resume. So for example, I am always recruiting for certain number of job titles: chemical engineer, power engineer, blah blah blah. You could put something like, always looking for interesting story ideas on the following topics. And then I would do everything under the sun that you can think of: ADA, business-place issues, sexual harassment, recruiting, work force development. And that will help you be found.
LANGFITT: LinkedIn started in 2003, and posted its first profit in March. It's among a number of business networking sites, including Spoke, Jigsaw and Ryze. Like social networking sites, LinkedIn has privacy controls. You can decide how much of your profile people see. And company co-founder Konstantin Guericke says users can also set the rules of engagement.
Mr. KONSTANTIN GUERICKE (Founder, LinkedIn): We have a setting when you sign up for the site, which says, are you open to being contacted about job opportunities? And a fairly large percentage of the user base checks that. It doesn't mean they're now actively looking for a job. I think they're just being realistic. There is, you know - virtually, for everyone, there is a job that maybe pays more, is closer to your home, with a more prestigious company. And we have 130,000 recruiters on LinkedIn. So I think a lot of people feel, you know, it doesn't hurt to have a profile there.
LANGFITT: But what really makes LinkedIn helpful is that it allows users to share their online Rolodexes. Shally Steckerl used to hunt talent for Microsoft and is a leader in online recruiting. With LinkedIn, he can find people faster using a vastly increased network of contacts.
Mr. SHALLY STECKERL (Online Recruiter): With my Rolodex, I had to call any one of these thousand people and say, hey, Bob. I'm looking for someone that does this, or I'm looking for someone in this industry, or, you know, I'm looking for a job, who do you know? With social networking, I don't need to go to Bob directly to find out who Bob's friends are, or Bob's friends' friends. So, effectively, where I had 1,000 contacts that could potentially lead me to 100,000, now I have 8,500 contacts that could potentially lead me to 4.5 million.
LANGFITT: Of course, Steckerl's network didn't explode over night. Like other users, he took time to build up his online connections. And social networking software has its limits.
Using LinkedIn, Steckerl says he can scout a group of job candidates in just half an hour. But if he wants to develop a relationship with any of them, he says there's no substitute for a much older social networking tool: the telephone.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News.