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Career Coach

Do you need a social media presence to find a job?

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Is the social web essential when looking for a job? (Thinkstock)

Is the social web essential when looking for a job? (Thinkstock)

When work colleagues suggested that meteorologist Steven Secker join LinkedIn for networking, he did. Almost immediately, he decided it was a big waste of his time.

“I found there were far too many self-aggrandising messages and far too many worthless comments to make the experience worth the effort,” wrote the Perth, Australia-based Secker in an email. Since that experience, Secker has decided to forego social media altogether, instead sticking to emails and phone calls within his own professional network.

According to experts, however, Secker’s choice should be the exception, rather than the rule. Most career experts agree that a public persona gives you a leg up, especially when looking for a job.

“Failing to pay attention to your social media presence during [a] job search in 2014 is like driving with a flat tire,” Irene McConnell, executive coach and director of Sydney-based Arielle Careers, wrote in an email. “You might still make it to your destination, but it will cost you more time and money.”

Competitive edge

For anyone in an executive role, a social media persona via LinkedIn, company blogs or Twitter is almost mandatory, according to McConnell. “Executives are expected to have an online presence which casts them as a thought leader, passionate about what they do and able to inspire others,” she wrote.

At minimum, jobseekers should have a fully developed LinkedIn profile with a professional headshot, according to McConnell. But don’t let it sit idle.

“Creating a polished LinkedIn profile and leaving it abandoned is not a strong strategy,” she added. Jobseekers should update their status at least a few times per week by posting links to interesting, relevant content, which they find online. Then, they can add their own context to the link through discussions in LinkedIn groups. 

Headhunting 2.0

We have entered the era of Headhunting 2.0, according to McConnell. In the past, the hidden job market — open jobs that don’t appear on job boards or company websites — was only accessible to a select few.

“It was very niche business for the elite, while the rest of us hung out on job boards,” she wrote. “Now anyone can be tapped on the shoulder with a job opportunity. These roles aren't advertised on the traditional job boards, and the only way you would be considered for these roles is through having a strong online presence and personal brand.”

Without one, you essentially don’t exist, said Jayne Mattson, senior vice president at Keystone Associates, a Boston-based career management consulting firm.

“Not having a strong and effective social media presence [means] your job search will be longer, and [it will be] more difficult for hiring managers, recruiters and HR to find you,” she wrote. “Your online presence is more important than your resume. If you can’t be found online, then you must not exist in today’s market.”

(For more on this topic, see: The death of the paper CV and resume)

Missed opportunities

Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, XING and Viadeo let others recommend or comment on the skills you have listed on your CV or resume. Your network connections are also shared. Many employers use these comments and feedback to give them a deeper sense of candidate qualifications.

The features also provide another sort of "check" for the employer, according to Ashley Ringger, managing director of Switzerland-based Set Sails Social Media. “Are others confirming the applicant’s skills, and is the applicant connected to the right people in the industry?” she asked. If you don’t have a presence, you won’t benefit from this.

Workarounds possible

If you turn your back on social media, then you are going to have to be more proactive in other ways during a job hunt, according to Karalyn Brown, founder of Australia-based job site InterviewIQ. Start by getting a good pair of comfortable shoes since you’ll be on your feet a lot. Examples include getting out to industry events, actively volunteering, taking classes and keeping on people's radars via email, coffee meetings, etc. “Essentially [you’re] building up your network of people who can refer you to roles, recommend you for roles, or give you leads,” she wrote.

You’ll also want to make your CV really stand out. The best CV will come across as the answer to an employer’s problem or immediate need. “That means researching where the organisation is heading, making sure you understand why a job was created and the problem you are there to solve with that role,” Brown wrote.

Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at careercoach@bbc.com.

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Your online presence is more important than your resume.