How LinkedIn will fire up your career

By Jessi Hempel

If you need a job, or just want a better one, here's a number that will give you hope: 50,000. That's how many people the giant consulting firm Accenture plans to hire this year. Yes, actual jobs, with pay. It's looking for telecom consultants, finance experts, software specialists, and many more. You could be one of them -- but will Accenture find you?

To pick these hires the old-fashioned way, the firm would rely on headhunters, employee referrals, and job boards. But the game has changed. To get the attention of John Campagnino, Accenture's head of global recruiting, you'd better be on the web.

To put a sharper point on it: If you don't have a profile on LinkedIn, you're nowhere. Partly motivated by the cheaper, faster recruiting he can do online, Campagnino plans to make as many as 40% of his hires in the next few years through social media. Says he: "This is the future of recruiting for our company."

Facebook is for fun. Tweets have a short shelf life. If you're serious about managing your career, the only social site that really matters is LinkedIn. In today's job market an invitation to "join my professional network" has become more obligatory -- and more useful -- than swapping business cards and churning out résumés.

More than 60 million members have logged on to create profiles, upload their employment histories, and build connections with people they know. Visitors to the site have jumped 31% from last year to 17.6 million in February. They include your customers. Your colleagues. Your competitors. Your boss. And being on LinkedIn puts you in the company of people with impressive credentials: The average member is a college-educated 43-year-old making $107,000. More than a quarter are senior executives. Every Fortune 500 company is represented. That's why recruiters rely on the site to find even the highest-caliber executives: Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) found CFO Jeff Epstein via LinkedIn in 2008.

The reason LinkedIn works so well for professional matchmaking is that most of its members already have jobs. A cadre of happily employed people use it to research clients before sales calls, ask their connections for advice, and read up on where former colleagues are landing gigs.

In this environment, job seekers can do their networking without looking as if they're shopping themselves around. This population is more valuable to recruiters as well. While online job boards like Monster.com focus on showcasing active job hunters, very often the most talented and sought-after recruits are those currently employed. Headhunters have a name for people like these: passive candidates. The $8 billion recruiting industry is built on the fact that they are hard to find. LinkedIn changes that. It's the equivalent of a little black book -- highly detailed and exposed for everyone to see.

For a generation of professionals trained to cloak their contacts at all costs, this transparency is counterintuitive. So far most conversations about how to use social networks professionally have focused on what not to do: Don't share drunken photos on Facebook. Don't use Twitter to brag about playing hooky from the office.

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