Courtesy Smith Group
ENR Art Department

Looking back on the past year spent working in marketing for Smith Group in Washington, D.C., Kate Erdy, 27, remembers the uncertainty she felt when she had to decide whether to take the job last November, leaving a secure position at a smaller design company for the unknown at the larger firm.

“That was a scary move, kind of risky at the time to change when I already had a job,” she says. “I had managed to survive two rounds of layoffs.”

But the uncertainty for Erdy, who is a senior marketing coordinator at Smith Group, an A/E based in Detroit, was limited somewhat because she had been communicating with her future colleagues over a long period of time on Twitter.

“It helped so much coming in and already knowing people,” she says.

The uncertainty about using social media is quickly evaporating on both ends of the hiring process.

While higher-level executive posts still are filled mostly by recruitment firms, with most other jobs social media allow employers to focus in precisely on skill sets and take in fewer, higher-quality resumes than when using or

Costs are lower, too. Corporate subscriptions that provide access to thousands of candidates on Monster and CareerBuilder can cost $1,000 or more per month.

How Many Hours of Effort?

About the only unsettled matter is how much time employees and employers must devote to social media in order to exploit their potential.

For employees, it can seem like an overwhelming number of hours are needed to keep current on social media. On the other hand, the networking achieved by mingling and messaging on social media can pay off.

“It’s worth the time,” says Erdy, who says when she’s not on a hard deadline or pressed, she is monitoring social media.

Carol Hagen, a social media strategist based in Chandler, Ariz., warns against employed people neglecting their LinkedIn accounts. “I’ve seen people with LinkedIn accounts that haven’t been used in six months, and they’ve forgotten the passwords,” she says. If they do lose their jobs, they end up having to “scurry at the last second.”

Hagen advises students to get in the habit of networking while they are still in college. She recommends using LinkedIn features for adding slide shows, blogs and videos to profiles and building “work, school and volunteer experience story lines using these tools to attract potential employers.”

In the past year, Smith Group’s Washington, D.C., office has hired 15 new employees. Of that total, three came through social media, one each via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, says Mike Kohn, a human-resources representative for Smith Group’s Washington, D.C., office.

Erdy didn’t exactly tweet her way into Smith Group, but Twitter was the way she initially began talking to other Smith Group staffers, first through Twitter discussions involving Washington, D.C.-based A/E firms and, later, through direct messages.

For employers that devote the attention to social media, the savings in time and money can be significant.

Amy Cadriel, human-resources director of Satterfield & Pontikes Construction Inc., a Dallas-based general contractor, sees only advantages to using social media.

For a subscription fee of $49 a month paid to Linkedin, says Cadriel, she is able to perform a keyword search and zero in on job titles and locations. And when a job is posted, LinkedIn automatically informs Cadriel when 80 matched profiles have been found.

The issue for employers is how much time and effort is needed to get from 80 or 100 candidates to a more manageable pool of three to five.

Cadriel says she used LinkedIn to fill an accounting position. She first turned up 80 matches; after that, she drilled down to key words or to specific experiences and “eliminated a few dozen right off the bat.”

“It really hasn’t been that time-consuming for me. I can get five top candidates and hire from those candidates with LinkedIn versus CareerBuilder and Monster. One click in and I can see more details of their experience. The last three to four positions filled with LinkedIn, I spend only one and a half hours for each one.”