Advice for seasoned professionals on how to benefit from social media during a job search. By Liz Ryan, Contributing Columnist February 29, 2012 Older workers who remember the days when it didn't take a ton of effort to nail down an interview are now having to flock to social networking sites just to stay afloat in this competitive job market. While some job seekers are more Web-savvy than others, social media has become essential for every professional in search of a new job. So if you aren't up to par, you need to be. Nowadays, hiring managers want to read about your background and see samples of your work before they even decide to set up an initial phone interview.SEE OUR SLIDE SHOW: 10 Great Work-at-Home Jobs Sponsored Content Here's a quick rundown of why you should be using social media sites for job-searching purposes and which sites you should be using. How to Sell Yourself Advertisement Years ago, job seekers simply had to apply for an open position through the mail or a recruiter. Today, the majority of workers applying for new positions do so via an online career site or their own professional network. One of the most popular social networking sites aimed at professionals is LinkedIn.com. With more than 150 million members, there are lots of businesspeople to get to know and collaborate with on this site. A basic membership is free. After registering, you create a profile page that highlights your professional experience and skills to help you stand out to recruiters searching the site. Be sure to poke around the site and join relevant community groups, which can connect you with other professionals in your field. If your former managers or colleagues are also LinkedIn members, ask them to write you recommendations that'll be viewable by anyone who looks at your page. This is an important element for headhunters who are reading through profile pages -- the types of people who vouch for you speaks volumes. Another helpful tool on this site is LinkedIn's company database. It allows users to search company profile pages to learn about their latest news, as well as job openings. How to Build Your Network Advertisement To grow your professional network, you used to have to attend industry events on a regular basis to meet new people. While face-to-face interaction is still an important part of the process, the Internet has made it much easier for today's multi-tasking professional to make those initial contacts online. This is where a site such as Facebook.com comes in handy. While Facebook is generally geared toward the lifestyle aspect of social networking, it still offers many networking opportunities for working professionals. The site allows you to search for and connect with friends, family members and current and former colleagues -- all of whom have their own friend networks that you could potentially benefit from with a simple online introduction. Also, you can become a "fan" of various topic pages, including those created by big companies, such as Lockheed Martin and National Public Radio, to stay abreast of recent happenings and other relevant news. Facebook also offers a more business-focused application called BranchOut, which has characteristics similar to LinkedIn. While Facebook is a natural place to find and connect with business colleagues, BranchOut makes it easier to keep track of them and their career moves. Once you're registered, you can create a business profile, invite others to join and "endorse" each other's professional profile pages. A great feature for job-seekers is that you can add recent projects you’ve worked on. Doing this helps keep your network up-to-date on your growing skills. How to Get an Edge Over the Competition Advertisement You used to have to know someone on the inside to gain valuable knowledge of a company that could help boost your selling power. That's no longer the case. Sites such as Twitter.com have significantly impacted how and when companies share information with the public. They have now become much more accessible -- no "inside man" required. Twitter lets users create a profile from which they can send out short messages (up to 140 characters) to their network of followers, linking to interesting articles they’ve read or projects – personal and professional – that they've worked on. Even Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric and Microsoft are using Twitter as a tool to connect with consumers, and they post pertinent industry and company news, including current job listings. Experts are split on just how helpful the site is in getting companies to find you (because HR managers don't have the time to sift through millions of feeds to find potential candidates, especially when other sites offer a simpler way to do it). But job seekers can still use Twitter to their advantage. Add it to your arsenal of go-to sites when researching prospective employers before applying for a job and in preparation for an interview.