Blogs: an effective job-hunting tool?

Reviews are mixed as to whether they give job seekers an edge.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Tech pioneer: David Atkins, at home with his family in Westwood, Mass., hopes his blog will help him find a full-time job in the technology sector. His efforts have already led to a freelance gig.

For two years David Atkins has been blogging about blending work and life. So when he learned that his job as a technology director was ending Dec. 31, he turned to his blog as a path to employment.

Under the heading "My job search begins," he wrote: "I need your help to find a new job." He outlined two areas of interest – one as a start-up technology leader, the other as a strategic consultant – and summarized his qualifications.

"Blogging and social media are the principal means I am using to find work," says Mr. Atkins, of Westwood, Mass. "I was already a blogger, but I have ramped up my efforts dramatically in a nonstop effort to brand, promote, and network myself."

Atkins's high-tech quest puts him among the growing ranks of job seekers who are going beyond traditional methods – answering classified ads, sending out a blizzard of paper résumés – to make connections in new ways. In a sign of changing times, 40 percent of respondents to the 2008 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study say they use online methods in their job search.

"In today's job market, you really have to do things that differentiate yourself from others," says Scott Testa, professor of marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "Having a blog allows you to communicate to the world your insight and your knowledge." Those who write about subjects related to their occupation are more likely to secure positions, he adds. Niche blogs in law, medicine, and marketing are especially popular.

Although Atkins has not yet found a full-time position, his blog has already yielded fruit. When he responded to a freelance job posting, the company was familiar with his local blogs on a town website. It hired him to do a project immediately. "I'm not only looking for a job, I am working to build consulting revenue too," he says.

Atkins regards blogging as one of many tools in a job search. Others include social-networking sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. "I can send a quick note on Twitter and reference my blog," he says. Twitter also led him to a local career club, where he networks face to face.

He also sets aside time to send out résumés. "A résumé gets the attention of people who are looking to hire someone in a particular role," Atkins says. "A blog complements that by showing what else I do that makes me an interesting person."

Some workplace specialists call blogs "the new résumé" and an electronic business card. "In this 21st century, having a blog gives you credibility," says Lorne Epstein, author of "You're Hired: Interview Skills to Get the Job."

But no one should underestimate the work involved. "To build your blog base, you have to keep it relevant and update it regularly," Mr. Epstein says. "Blogging is a job, a responsibility that is continual. Even to blog once a week in a substantial way can take hours. And it could take a year before your blog gets any traction."

David Erickson, a director for an online marketing firm in Minneapolis, blogs extensively about his industry, in part to raise his profile within the industry. Although he is not looking for a new position, he says he regularly receives job opportunities from recruiters as a direct result of blogging.

The most effective way to use a blog for employment, Mr. Erickson finds, is to have one well-established before a job search becomes necessary. He says, "By demonstrating that you know what you are talking about, even if your blog does not have many readers, you'll establish a level of confidence with interviewers prior to any actual interview. But if you're just doing it to find a job, it won't be effective."

With or without a blog, Erickson regards social networks like LinkedIn as "the career tools of the future."

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. "Blogging and Internet searching for jobs is worthless," says Drew Stevens, a business growth consultant in St. Louis. "Almost 65 percent of positions are discovered from your network and peer group."

But Martha Finney, author of "Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss," defends blogging.

"It's an excellent way for job seekers to demonstrate their passion, smarts, and dedication to their profession over time, regardless of what their immediate job status is," she says. "If hiring managers find their material fascinating to read, perhaps even educational or groundbreaking, they're going to want to bring these people in for interviews."

Still, blogs carry potential pitfalls.

"You don't want to get into political arguments, or include anything racy, or write about religion and politics," says Glenn Dubiel, vice president of the Mergis Group, a placement firm. "We Google all candidates. There are many people we don't hire because of their negative Web presence. Those people don't know why they never got to the offer stage. Managing your Web presence is really important."

Noting that everyone needs to be "Googleable" these days, Ms. Finney says, "The question is, when someone Googles you, are they going to find pictures of your dog at the Grand Canyon? Or are they going to find evidence that you're so passionate about your work that you're compelled to be a voluntary thought leader in the field [on your blog], even when you're not being paid for it? My vote is for the voluntary thought leader."

Monica O'Brien, a business-technology professional in Chicago, blogs about young professionals and business technology. "Through my blog and social media accounts like Twitter and LinkedIn, I've received multiple leads on job opportunities for both contract work and corporate positions in my area," she says. "In all cases, the company has found me and requested a résumé."

Mari Feazel, who graduated last month from Chapman University, wants to work in public relations in Orange County, Calif. Instead of a blog, she has created a personal website to showcase her résumé and portfolio to employers. When she applies for jobs, she includes a link to her website. It's also on her business card, résumé header, and e-mail signature.

"I think I'm a pioneer," Ms. Feazel says. "Every time I bring it up to friends and classmates they react with surprise. The concept hasn't become very widespread."

Even so, she says she has received "great feedback" on it. One recruiter, impressed with her approach, set up an interview with a large public relations firm.

Calling a Web presence "unbelievably powerful," Mr. Dubiel says, "Even gainfully employed people need to build their network. The quicker you can start building that, the less chance you'll be out of a job for a long time."

Blogging tips for people between jobs

Rebounding from a job loss can be a long, difficult process. But according to Martha Finney, blogging can serve as an effective tool in the hunt for new work. For those interested in trying this strategy, she offers these suggestions:

•Make sure your blog features commentary that is timely and well thought-out. If you have an idea that moves your profession forward, so much the better.

•Try to find interesting, positively oriented topics.

•Stay away from topics that are so controversial they might risk alienating a potential employer.

•Weigh in on other people's blogs.

•Blog frequently. Demonstrate by your activity on your blog that you really love your career.

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