Tuesday 5 May 2009

"Broadcasting" a job loss on Facebook and Twitter

Just minutes after she was laid off from her job in early April, Brittany Ward pulled out her cellphone and typed a short message. "Needs a job." When she hit "enter," more than 2,000 friends, relatives and strangers learned of her plight via Twitter and Facebook.

In the past, victims of layoffs used to share the news with a close circle of family and friends. You might learn of a co-worker's job loss only if you saw him packing up his desk. But today, thanks to social-networking tools, the newly unemployed are coming out of the dark. For those accustomed to sharing news of breakups, car accidents and other major life changes, revealing a layoff online comes naturally.

Those who have used online tools to tell the world they're out of work say it's a more effective way to communicate news that might be too difficult to say out loud, and doing so instantly brings a stream of supportive and helpful messages. It can also be a good way to jump-start a job search. Ward, a 2006 graduate of the University of Central Florida, said posting online saved her the unpleasant task of having to repeatedly tell friends and family she was laid off. "You end up feeling worse after retelling the story many times in a row," said Ward. "With Twitter, all of a sudden they hear the story, and you don't have to keep repeating it."

Recently, Sarah Bryant was too upset to call anybody after she was fired from her call-center job of three years. Instead, she sat down at her computer and posted "I got fired" on her Twitter and Facebook profiles. Within minutes, friends responded to her with messages of support and surprise. Her mother saw her post and called to check in. A few friends skipped the phone altogether and drove to Bryant's house that night to take her out to dinner. "I just wanted to let people know, because otherwise, I would have spent the whole day freaking out," said Bryant, 24. "It's like a great big support group, basically."

Michael Mantell, a corporate psychologist in San Diego, said writing about a job loss on Twitter or Facebook is healthy, positive and useful. "When someone posts about a layoff, they are looking for either social support — (such as) 'Gee, I'm sorry to hear that' — or they are looking for a job, or they are saying, 'I guess I am part of the community, and I feel the same pain that everyone else feels,' " Mantell said.

Zack Hiwiller, 26, said he wasn't seeking support when he posted about losing his job as a game designer at Electronic Arts Tiburon earlier this year. He just thought he owed it to those who follow his life on his blog, Facebook and Twitter. So a few hours after leaving the office, he got out his iPhone and wrote on his Twitter and Facebook pages, "Was terminated today. Anyone looking for a gently used game designer willing to learn new tricks?" He wrote about it more on his blog that night. He was surprised at the response, which included messages from college friends he hadn't talked to in a while who had also lost their jobs.

Within minutes of Ward's online post, people started responding with words of support, questions and an offer to circulate her résumé. One person responded he had also been laid off.

Since that initial post, she has continued to chronicle her job search on Twitter, Facebook and her blog. And it's paying off. Within weeks, she already had two job offers and about 13 solid leads, all from people who read that initial message online. "I have spent no time proactively applying for jobs."


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