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Let's face it - networking is hard, especially for those of us who are shy. However, making real life connections can be extremely beneficial to your job search. Just how beneficial is it to know the right people? Referred candidates are twice as likely to land an interview and three to four times more likely to be hired. So, we are left with a dilemma - networking is rough, but we know should do it. Enter social media, or, as I like to call it, networking 2.0. With social media, you can take networking to the next level. Social media allows you to connect with almost anyone who has an online presence, making it easier to find even more job opportunities than you would offline. This “social media side door" allows you to bypass the traditional ways of contacting hiring managers and high-powered individuals. And not only that, but over 90% of employers now use social media to find new recruits. So, how can you use social media to network, make connections, and earn referrals that are meaningful and helpful to your job search? Here are some tips for how best to use social media to advance your job search, using Twitter as an example.

1. Craft your presence carefully, but not too carefully!

First and foremost, you need to put yourself where the action is. If over 90% of employers are recruiting on social media, that means you need to get in the game. In doing so, it's important to establish an identity that is authentically 'you;' after all, you're a person, not a product, and your online presence should reflect that. Interested in education? Good, make that clear on your profile. Got an unusual hobby? Awesome, let the world know! If you're using Twitter to meet influential people, you shouldn't only tweet at those people. Instead, you should craft a presence that shows who you are. For example, I use my Twitter account for work. However, I also let the world know who I am by tweeting about things I care about: (And yes, I care a lot about soup. :)). While you're showing your personal flair, you should also demonstrate any expertise and interests that you may have and discuss your industry. Include this information in your Twitter bio, and tweet and retweet links and news relevant to your field.

2. Build the right network.

Now that you've got a spiffy profile that showcases what makes you great, you'll want to engage in conversations. To do that, you'll need to first follow people: companies you want to work for, employees of those companies, industry experts, and so on. Build a network that makes sense for you, and by doing so, you'll stumble upon relevant opportunities.

3. Engage + add value to conversations.

Now that you're following people and reading their tweets, it's important that you don't just follow their conversations, but actively engage with people and share your own insights about what they are saying. What does this mean? If someone asks a question and you know the answer, respond! Or, you could share tips or articles relevant to your industry. Position yourself as a valuable resource to your community and your network. Not only will this get you noticed, but you'll also be helping people in the process, and building real relationships.

4. Take it offline.

Once you've established relationships online, ask your new connections to meet up offline. Since you've already engaged in conversation with these people online, offering advice and exchanging tips, you'll have a starting point for a face-to-face conversation. You'll know a bit about them and what they do, and vice versa, so you'll have plenty to talk about. Now, doesn't that sound a lot easier than just walking up to someone you don't know at a networking event?

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