Professional recruiters have started hunting for job 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. She says the new tools have changed her life.
"Social networking technology is absolutely the best thing to happen to recruiting -- ever."
One of Crawford-Hentz's favorite sites is Linkedin, a network of 8 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 that 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.
"I ended up looking for consumer product marketing," Crawford-Hentz says. "And I hit upon his profile, and I sent him this e-mail saying: 'Hi, Alfred, I found your profile on line. And we have a position that I think may be of interest to you.'"
"I was very impressed by that, that someone reached out to me, so to speak, with a position and looked at my background and realized there might be a fit here," LaSpina says. "And so I replied and conversations ensued from there, which became more and more positive."
LaSpina applied and he's now an employee of Osram Sylvania.
Such sites also help job hunters market themselves online by setting up profiles, listing work history and specific skills.
Crawford-Hentz says it's important to load your profile with the right keywords so people can find you the way she found LaSpina.
To learn more, I set up an account on Linkedin. Crawford-Hentz showed me how tweak it so that sources on my beat -- labor and the workplace -- can find me.
"You could put something like: 'Always looking for interesting story ideas on the following topics,'" she said. "And then I would do everything under the sun you can think of: ADA, business-place issues, sexual harassment, and recruiting, work-force development. And that will help you be found."
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. Company co-founder Konstantin Guericke says users can also set the rules of engagement.
"We have a setting when you sign up for the site that says, Are you open to being contacted about job opportunities?" Guericke says. "And a fairly large percentage of the user base checks that. It doesn't mean they are now actively looking for a job. I think they are just being realistic. There is 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 people feel it doesn't hurt to have a profile there."
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.
"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 I'm looking for a job, who do you know?'" Steckerl says. "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, I have a thousand contacts that could potentially lead me to 100,000, now I have 8,500 contacts that could potentially lead me to 4.5 million."
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 is no substitute for a much older social networking tool: the telephone.