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Online friends can be lifelines for the unemployed

Web networking among the unemployed is surging, but experts stress that human contact matters as much as online friends.

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Support from friends, even if they are online friends, is important, say people who have been out of work. Becky Blanton of Richmond, Va., says her online conversations with friends helped take away a sense of desperation.

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"Employers can smell it on you," says Ms. Blanton, who figures she has tried dozens of jobs and was recently hired as a blogger for Change.org.

For some of the unemployed, social media can be the way to alert friends to their job search – and can also lead to actual work. Take Lisa Travnik, who as a Detroit resident used LinkedIn and Facebook to let friends and associates know she was looking for work. She moved to New York, where she ultimately heard about a public-relations job from a college friend.

"I think all the jobs I've had have been from networking, perhaps from a recommendation," she says. "Very rarely have I had to rely on cold calling, which I don't think works very well."

In the new-media age, many job candidates have set up their own blogs. Last year, Laura Zanzal, now in public relations, started 89thandbroke.com, which highlights bargains in New York.

"It's helped me get a job," she says. "I [brought] it up in interviews, and it shows dedication, creativity, and personality," says Ms. Zanzal, who will start a new job shortly.

Social media can also allow job seekers to connect to decisionmakers much faster, says Ms. Hild of Right Management. "It can be a great tool at finding specific connections that might give you entry in a target company," she says.

Yet some professionals caution that job hunting on the Internet has a downside. One of those raising warning signs is Michael Jeans, president of New Directions, a career-management company in Boston.

"It's an easy trap for job seekers to sit down and think if they search long enough and hard enough on the Web, they will find the right jobs for them," he explains. "The reality is that, yes, there are a lot of jobs posted on the Internet – and if you apply for one of them, you may be one of hundreds applying."

It's understandable that people want to use the Web, Mr. Jeans says, because rejection tends to be softer. But his firm cautions job seekers not to make scanning the Web their day job. "Between 8 and 5, you should be out meeting people," Jeans says.

Sometimes that's not easy. Hong and her husband moved to South Carolina from Michigan, where they were involved with auto-related businesses. He has found a job. But right now, Hong's main job is running her family – and providing a website so that the unemployed have a friend.

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