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Whether you’re looking for your first job, exploring a career change, or just setting yourself up for future success, social media sites have proven themselves as important platforms for facilitating connections, demonstrating passions and interests, and ultimately landing you the job you actually want.

We know it’s possible to land a job with social media know-how but the bigger question is how? In putting together this post we turned to those with the most knowledge on the subject matter: individuals who have secured jobs thanks to social media.

Because of these personal stories we were able to identify common trends and themes contributing to their real results. Keep reading to hear how job candidates are taking risks, discovering that their online presence has real value, and engineering their own success through social media.

Taking Risks

In our research on the subject one thing rang loud and clear — social media sites allow job seekers to take risks, and more often than not those risks are received well by potential employers.

Risks worth taking:

1. Put yourself out there:

The nature of social media is such that you could be conversing with important people in public channels at any given time. It may be intimidating to use Twitter or Facebook to communicate with an individual you don’t know, but taking the initial risk and putting yourself out there is the best way to show you’re serious about the position or opportunity you seek. If you can get past the initial fear of communicating with a complete stranger, you’ll have a much better chance of landing the job you want.

David Cohen took a risk and used Facebook IM to ping a contact — merely a friend of a friend — when he learned that the man in question had recently started his own Internet marketing agency. Prior to that small act of bravery, Cohen, a recent college graduate, had spent months looking for a job with no success. The social media maneuver, however, ended up making all the difference.

“I randomly hit up a guy on chat that I knew through some acquaintances who recently had broke off from his parent company to launch his own internet marketing business in early 2009,” said Cohen. “He basically told me to come on in and meet his partner and have a small interview … I am now the resident social media coordinator, blogger and general office helper for the small start-up company. This all happened because I took a risk and sent a Facebook IM to this man.”

2. Match application style to the position:

It’s definitely risky to take an unconventional approach to the typically staunch application process, but doing so might make you stand out from all the rest.

Scott James did just this when applying for a social media internship. He decided to try a somewhat unconventional approach to creating a cover letter and used Twitter-style status updates in his application email. James said that he “wanted to make myself stand out. Instead of a traditional cover letter, I figured, ‘Why not highlight my skills with a set of Twitter messages?’”

James’ unique style landed him the internship and he is now an in-house social media strategist at the company.

Social Savvy With a Touch of Serendipity

In reading through the many stories of those who managed to secure their current gig through social media, the biggest trend seemed to be that a chance tweet, Facebook post, or online connection made all the difference.

You could call these job seekers’ social media success stories serendipitous but the reality is that each of these individuals set themselves up for the chance happening with months, if not years, of intentional or unintentional online breadcrumbs that demonstrate their own unique savvy.

Here’s a sampling of people who were able to parlay their social media savvy into solid leads and careers after chance encounters.

Todd Armstrong stumbled on a new opportunity by paying close attention to Twitter and following up on a potential lead.

“Basically, I was “stuck” at my previous job in that there was no place to move up, and my job was morphing into something completely different than what I was hired for. So I was on the lookout. Submitted my resume to a few places, but never heard back from anyone. I had seen tweets from @nateritter for a couple of weeks that he was looking for a CakePHP developer. I knew PHP but not specifically the Cake framework. One day, while on the elliptical at work, I saw a tweet from him saying he needed a “PHP” dev. I DM’d him back saying something like “don’t you need a Cake person?”. To which he replied that he couldn’t find a Cake person so he expanded to just PHP. I said I was interested and met him later that week. Now I work with him and couldn’t be happier.”

Sue Spaight Moorhead inadvertently networked her way to her current position:

“I started on Twitter almost a year and a half ago, thinking it would just be a good way to get feeds of research, articles, etc. Then a friend who was on Twitter introduced me to the managing director of his agency, on Twitter. We had drinks. I interviewed. He offered me a job. It wasn’t quite right so I passed. But then that managing director introduced me to one of his friends, on Twitter. We had coffee, and became friends on both Twitter and IRL. That new friend-in-the-third-degree became a consultant for an agency. And when that agency’s President was looking for a new Director of Account Management and Digital, he asked the consultant for leads, and was referred to me. He contacted me via LinkedIn, not Twitter. ; ) We had lunch. I interviewed. And for the past six months I’ve been VP of Account Management/Digital Strategy at his agency. It’s been quite the chain reaction, and it continues today.”

Kasey Fleisher Hickey’s online penchant for discussing her food and music passions landed her a new gig:

“I got my job thanks to my food and music blog. A recruiter that was working with my company, Context Optional, happened to be a foodie that was familiar with my blog and was impressed with my social media know-how. Funny enough, a number of people at my company got their jobs through social media–our Community Manager, Lauren Friedman was also discovered through her blog, TheOffBeatReport, and Twitter.”

Social Engineering

When you don’t have time to wait for luck, engineering your own is the second best option. The job seekers we talked to found that social media enabled them to glean the information they needed about the position they were seeking or the individuals staffed at an organization in order to manufacture a bit of their own serendip

Kevin Thompson may no longer work at SuggestionBox, but the story of how he was able to use social media to engineer his way into a new opportunity is quite remarkable.

“I was living in El Centro with my soon-to-be wife, who had moved there to pursue a promotion, and her contract in El Centro was about to expire. As part of our preparation for the move back to San Diego, I began looking for a new position in web development. … I had begun to follow [on Twitter] a number of web professionals from the San Diego area.

Before long, I saw a tweet from Gema Torrones (@gemalynn) advertising a development position at SuggestionBox. I followed up with Gema on Twitter and asked a few questions about the position and the company, then proceeded to apply and send in my resume. Within 24 hours, I was contacted by Adam Levenson (@adamlevenson) by email to schedule a phone interview.

After the interview was scheduled, I, as I’m sure a number of web-savvy individuals would do, Googled my interviewee and I found that Adam was active on both Twitter and I caught up on some of Adam’s interests and activities, including a few tweets about loving waffles (random, I know, but it’s relevant). I also found a few videos from the SuggestionBox office that gave me a bit of insight into the personalities of other team members and the general atmosphere at the company. I followed Adam on Twitter and, and I remained active on both of those networks, expecting Adam to view my profiles to, in turn, learn a bit more about me.

I began to weave some of Adam’s interests into my activity streams including, among other mundane videos, a goofy video of me with a plate of waffles.

When the interview rolled around, I touted my experience and abilities (which alone qualified me for the position) and as the call progressed and became more casual, Adam mentioned that he liked my videos, and moreso, specifically named the waffle video.”

Have you used social media to land a job? Tell us more about your experience and tips you have for other job seekers in the comments.

Series supported by Gist

Gist helps you build stronger professional relationships by bringing together information from across the web for all your contacts and their companies giving you the right information at the right moment to get a first meeting, deliver an amazing pitch, or just find a better way to make a connection. Gist does all the work for you, assembling a dynamic collection of all your contacts and their companies from your email inbox, your social networks, or even your CRM system automatically building and updating their profiles as new content is published – by them or about them.

[Img credit: Zach Klein, Pawel Niewladomski, Darwin Bell]

Tags: business, career, careers, job search, jobs, social media, social networking