There are a couple of things to note about Shreve's and Sornstein's experiences. Neither of their gigs had been advertised; the firms were only looking to hire through referrals, so Facebook gave them a leg-up over job boards. Notice, too, that they weren't shy about letting their friends know about their unemployment. "I don't think there's any shame in being laid off right now," Shreve says. "You can only gain by reaching out to everyone you know."
Still, both Shreve and Sornstein are special cases. They work in an industry that's acclimated to doing business online, and Sornstein can design Web sites from home, so he's open to employment from firms all over the world. Other industries don't work that way. Thomas Gladysz, who was laid off from his job at the San Francisco bookstore the Booksmith in January, posted this message last week: "Thomas Gladysz is job hunting. Got work?" He got some leads but no solid work as of yet. John Hart, a young lawyer in Northern California who's been looking for a job since last year, recently posted a status update saying he's looking for work—"and I only got a few condolences," he told me.
LinkedIn: If you're unemployed, jump on this social network for networkers. David Hahn, LinkedIn's director of product management, advises users to begin their job search by typing in the companies they want to work for—the site then lists friends, friends-of-friends, and even friends-of-friends-of-friends who work there. Now you can ask for a buddy-to-buddy introduction at your dream company. "This changes the application process," Hahn says. "You're no longer dropping a résumé into a black hole. You've got a warm connection at a company you love."
Though Hahn's method sounds promising, none of the people I spoke to had any luck landing jobs through LinkedIn. Michael Stearns, of myhusbandneedsajob.com, did tell me that he'd used the site to set up a lot of "informational" interviews with companies—interviews to get to know people at a firm, even though no specific job was being offered.
There's another way to use LinkedIn—to investigate the organizational structure of any firm before you go to interview there. "You can see the résumé of the person in the job that you want or where the person who was in the job that you want has gone," says Willy Franzen, who runs the entry-level jobs blog One Day, One Job. Many job listings don't include a position's full description. By looking at the bios of others who've filled the job, you can get a better idea of what's required from you.
Twitter: A couple of weeks ago, I explained why Twitter isn't a great Web search engine, so I was naturally wary when people began calling it a great job-search engine. Boosters say that people looking for work can use it just like they'd use Facebook or LinkedIn—to connect with people and companies they find interesting and to engage them in conversation in the hopes that they'll get noticed. Last year, for instance, a software developer named Kevin Smith began following several Ruby programmers over Twitter. He became friends with a guy who worked at a small company called Gnoso. He sent them a résumé and told the friend about it over Twitter. The friend pushed for Smith to get the job—and he was hired.
TheJobMagnet, a Canadian startup, recently launched tweetCruit, a service to let firms streamline the process of posting job listings on their Twitter feeds. Divesh Sisodraker, the company's CEO, told me that this lets companies push their listings to a far wider group of people—he told me that one recent posting for a social-media strategist reached 15,000 views within a few hours. But such successes seem rare. Twitter is a niche product; it may work well for you if you're looking for a software development job on the Web, but if you want work as a doctor or a fireman, you probably won't find it as helpful.
General guidelines: Social networks demand careful etiquette. The experts I spoke to offered these tips: Don't spam people. Don't put on like you're best friends with people you don't really know; if you're contacting an old friend for the first time in years only to ask for a job, at least be up front about it. Don't ask your friends to recommend you for positions you're not qualified to do. And don't sound like a sad sack—whining about not working isn't going to convince people to help you. It's also easy to get carried away when selling yourself. Sure, you can make a funny video as your cover letter, or take out ads on Facebook targeted to people in your industry, or ask your wife to hold up a sign begging for a job on your behalf—but to a lot of people, such efforts could signal that you're not taking the process seriously.
Many of the people I contacted for this story work in tech or media (my circles run geeky), but even beyond those fields, people reported feeling that old ways of looking for work no longer pay off. Gladysz, the guy who's looking for a job at a bookstore, told me, "I've been feeling that creating a kind of brand or persona online is going to be important."
There's also some advice for people who are currently employed: Maintain your presence online. Some people believe Facebook is destroying America. But if you lose your job, you'll probably lose e-mail addresses for all of your colleagues, and you'll need some way to stay in touch. As Kay Luo, a spokeswoman for LinkedIn advises, "Build your network before you need it."