By Alexis Grant

More companies are launching Twitter handles specifically to lure job applicants

As more companies warm to the idea of recruiting on Twitter, the world of tweets, at symbols, and hashtags is becoming populated with a new kind of handle: usernames created specifically to lure applicants. And for job seekers, that means opportunity.

Think @HersheyCareers, @JobsatGates (by the Gates Foundation), @GEconnections, and @xboxjobs. Recruiters behind these handles -- that's Twitterspeak for username on the social networking site -- say interacting there helps them find talented candidates who aren't necessarily looking for a job and makes their company more appealing to applicants who are already in the running for positions. Spin that 180 degrees, and you've got a way for job seekers to connect directly with hiring managers, gain valuable insight about companies they want to work for, and even hear about openings before they're listed on over-crowded job boards.

"It's a fun way to interact that acts as a reminder for both parties that there's a real person in that recruiter role or at the other end of that resume," says Christopher Hoyt, who works on social recruiting strategies for PepsiCo and is one of the voices behind @PepsiCoJOBS. "[Candidates] are looking for confirmation that their resume doesn't just go into a black hole." PepsiCo launched the jobs handle about six months ago, Hoyt says, and it drives more traffic to the company's careers portal than LinkedIn or Facebook.

[See 10 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Job Search.]

Many jobs-specific handles are new and have only a few hundred followers. But some organizations have made growing their jobs handle nearly as important as the company's main Twitter handle. Take Twitter itself: @JoinTheFlock, which launched in early 2010, has more than 94,000 followers, an impressive number by Twitter standards. (It helps, of course, that Twitter is a sought-after place to work among the tech community.)

More than half of human resources professionals now use social networking tools to source potential job candidates, according to a new poll from the Society for Human Resource Management . That's up from a third in 2008. But the majority of organizations focus recruiting efforts on LinkedIn. Of those who use social media for recruiting, 95 percent use LinkedIn, 58 percent use Facebook, and 42 percent use Twitter, the organization reports.

Recruiting via Twitter is particularly helpful for companies looking for programmers, web designers, and other digital types who hang out online. Likewise, job seekers looking to work in those fields may have more luck connecting with hiring managers via the site than those hunting for positions that don't include a strong online component.

While some companies use a jobs handle simply to announce open positions, others converse with applicants, responding to questions and tweeting about what it's like to work there. These are the handles that are most useful to job seekers, because they often offer insight into company culture and the type of employees the company values, information that smart job hunters take with them to interviews. Interactive jobs handles also provide another avenue for candidates to connect with the person who's actually doing the hiring, which rarely happens through job boards.

"The bottom line for a candidate is this is a place to establish a relationship before they're a candidate," says Jamie Morgan, staffing manager for online services at Microsoft. She helps manage @bingjobs, the recruiting handle for Microsoft's online services division.

[See Proactive Job-Search Strategy: Pitch Your Dream Company]

If job seekers don't already have enough reasons to always put their professional foot forward, some hiring managers use Twitter to get a sense for what applicants talk about online, which may help them determine whether that candidate would be a good fit for the company. "We found Twitter was a really awesome way to get this true representation of who that person was outside of the context of the typical recruiting process, where someone knows they're being evaluated," says Joe Fahrner, CEO and co-founder of InboxQ, a social-lead generation company. He used Twitter to find and hire a software developer, though his seven-person company is too small to have a jobs-only handle.

Specifically, Fahrner watches how candidates interact with others and whether they demonstrate what he calls "thought leadership." He finds potential candidates by entering industry keywords into Twitter's search to find people who discuss the tools and strategies he wants his next hire to understand.

Indeed, hiring managers behind company job handles don't always wait for the candidates to come to them. Caitlin Goldstein, a corporate recruiter for Medifast, a weight-loss program provider, says she's had success filling positions by scouting workers who have the skill sets Medifast needs. She calls them "passive candidates," because they may not be job hunting. In fact, many candidates she approaches are already employed but still open to new opportunities.

Goldstein uses Twellow, a Twitter search directory that serves as a digital version of the Yellow Pages, to find people with the skills she seeks. But she also looks to connect on Twitter with candidates who have already applied for positions and found the company through other means. For example, when candidate Gary Bacon included his Twitter handle on the resume he submitted for a web designer position, she sought him out on the social networking site.

"They reached out to me and said, 'We wanted to talk with you more,'" says Bacon, 27, who now works for the company. "It seemed more personable to me."

That's the goal, says Goldstein, one of several employees who tweets for @MedifastCareers, which launched in January. "Twitter has really allowed us to be a lot more approachable," she says. "We're able to share things about us and about the company."

[See The Most Effective Ways to Look for a Job]

The lesson here for job seekers?

Provide value in your Twitter stream, showcase what you're good at, and participate in quality conversations. Tweet smartly about the field you want to work in -- which means you'll naturally include industry keywords -- and your next job may find you.

Job hunters with a specific employer in mind should check the careers page on that company's website to find out whether they have a Twitter account, or simply ask Google. Another helpful source is @JobHuntOrg's list of nearly 500 recruiting-specific handles. (@USNewsCareers tweets tips about landing and keeping a job, not open positions at U.S. News.)

Those who don't yet use Twitter but are eager to learn about its potential should consider becoming familiar with the tool and building up an audience before trying to connect with an employer.

"If there's a job that you want or a goal that you have or a particular company you want to work with, be proactive about engaging in conversation," says Fahrner, who suggests asking questions about the company or the job or finding a subtle way to brag about yourself. "If you can cut through the traditional noise of applying for a job at a big organization by speaking directly to the person whose job it is to find great candidates, then you can put yourself at a great advantage."


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