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Sunday, April 04, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Job Market
Networking sites becoming job grapevine

By Stacy A. Teicher
The Christian Science Monitor

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Staffan Sandberg soon will be hopping a plane from Sweden to Boston to see someone he's met only online — not for a romantic rendezvous, but a job interview.

After seven years abroad producing television programs and helping some high-tech startups, Sandberg is returning to the U.S. And making contacts for jobs got a whole lot easier recently when a friend invited him to join LinkedIn, an online networking site.

By connecting him to friends of friends of friends, LinkedIn has given Sandberg access to companies he hadn't even heard of before. So far, "every one of my requests (for referrals) has led to either a meeting, an interview or new contacts," he writes in an e-mail interview.

Compared with the old way of networking, "this is a lot more efficient and discreet."

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Networking sites are quickly becoming a mainstream way to find jobs or employees, make deals and meet mentors. Several million people have raced to link up everyone in their little black books on the Internet.

Online networking has come a long way since SixDegrees.com tried it in the mid-1990s and folded a few years later. Now the Internet is faster and offers more sophisticated functions, and the popularity of other online activities has wrought a massive change in attitudes: Buyers and sellers have been connected through eBay, boyfriends and girlfriends through Friendster, and Howard Deaniacs through assorted blogs.

"We have become convinced as a society, reluctantly ... that if people can build a close enough relationship to propose marriage without having met face to face ... then surely we can build the kind of relationships that allow us to hire someone for a six-figure position," says Scott Allen, co-author of the forthcoming book "The Virtual Handshake."

Quantity vs. quality

The concept raises a classic dilemma: quality vs. quantity.
 
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"With face-to-face networking, you get much greater depth to your relationships, but it takes so much longer, so your circle cannot be as great," says Steven Rothberg, president of CollegeRecruiter.com in Minneapolis. "My concern is, if each of those hundreds of relationships created online aren't meaningful individually, why would any one of those people be inclined to stick their neck out to help you?"

Founders and users of the sites say they supplement face-to-face interactions, revealing new layers of connections. Online introductions are typically followed by in-person meetings, says Margarita Quihuis. As founding director of the Women's Technology Cluster in San Francisco, she's part of the networking circles in Silicon Valley. After posting her profile on LinkedIn, she was discovered by another member whose organization named Quihuis one of the 21 leaders for the 21st century.

Online networking doesn't diminish the quality of relationships, Quihuis says. "It's kind of like living in a really small town, where old-fashioned notions like reputation and character really come to the forefront. We're kind of moving away from this urban anonymity where what we do doesn't matter."

On Ryze.com, another networking site, one member threatened to tell others about a fellow member who didn't pay her promptly for a project. A hiring manager who checked with other "Ryzers" who knew a job candidate got negative feedback — and hired someone else.

Once people decide they're ready to try online networking, they need to think about which of more than a dozen sites would be a good fit. Some are open to anyone.

On Tribe.net, for example, people join online interest groups and post classified ads within them. In December, the job-search giant Monster.com added a networking component, where members can ask to be connected to others they find through detailed searches. Friendster.com is popular among the under-35 crowd and is known as more of a social and dating network, but job recruiters also have their eye on it as a potential resource.

By invitation only

Some sites require that you be invited by other members. Google's multipurpose networking site, Orkut, is so new that many people eager to join are frustrated because they are waiting for someone they know to link them in.

Sites that combine social, romantic and professional networking appeal to many people, but they can create confusing situations. If you post your picture and your hobbies but someone e-mails you to talk about a professional issue, how do you know the true motive? Something similar could as easily happen at face-to-face networking events, online networkers say.

The business sites that work by invitation, such as LinkedIn, appeal to people who would probably be flooded by requests in a more open forum. LinkedIn's members include many venture capitalists, as well as executives from companies such as Netscape and Sony Worldwide, says spokesman Konstantin Guericke.

The exclusivity of an invitation-only site has its pros and cons, users say. When Quihuis joined LinkedIn, she says, "it tended to be very male-dominated ... kind of the old boys' network. ... So I decided to be the anarchist in the network and just bring some other people in." Quihuis, a Mexican American, invited hundreds of women and minorities.

But she's waiting to see how much they embrace it. Some either don't see the importance of networking or are still uncomfortable sharing a lot of information about themselves. "My suspicion is that, like most things, the technology will help accelerate and deepen the advantage of experienced networkers."

Youth catching on

College seniors about to apply for their first job have probably heard the mantra: network, network, network. But some young people don't get the reciprocal concept of networking, says Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com. When his site tried networking a few years ago, it failed because too many college students asked for help finding jobs but didn't offer connections or advice to others.

But new college grads are taking advantage of Monster Networking, says Senior Vice President Michael Schutzler. "A kid in Florida sent us a thank-you letter saying, 'This has been great, I've tapped into three people in this industry (Web design), and they're mentoring me.' "

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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