Almost as soon as Guang-Yu Xu was laid off from his engineering post at a Silicon Valley Internet company last month, he visited LinkedIn.com and updated his job status from "current" to "past."
Through their interconnected contacts, he soon heard from headhunter Robert Greene, one of more than 530,000 recruiters trolling the professional networking site for job candidates. Within a few weeks, Xu had three offers. He started at Mint.com, a personal finance website, two weeks ago.
Welcome to the well-connected recession. As economic woes deepen and more people compete for fewer jobs, personal introductions to potential employers are more important than ever. Millions of Americans are turning to social networking sites such as LinkedIn, which has 37 million members, to seek an edge in landing work.
Job searches on the site rose 51% in February over December, according to David Hahn, LinkedIn Corp.'s director of product management. The number of job applicants doubled in the last six months, and more people are adding connections and getting recommendations -- even those who are still employed but growing nervous.
"As people are feeling less secure and more concerned about their careers, they are really investing in their professional network," Hahn said.
They're still heading to traditional job sites such as CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com and Yahoo HotJobs. Traffic to such sites is among the fastest-growing on the Internet, according to research firm ComScore Inc.
But job hunters also are blogging and reaching out to friends on general networking services such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as to narrower communities such as TheLadders, which is for people seeking salaries of more than $100,000. It's all about making connections and building a personal brand, said Forrester Research senior analyst Jeremiah Owyang.
There's at least one downside: The trend toward online networking could hurt job seekers at both ends of the age spectrum.
Older workers may not be entirely comfortable with the technology, said Celeste Calfe, president of the Assn. of Career Firms of North America. And younger workers know their way around social networks but don't necessarily know enough people with the connections to get them a job.
"Most of my contacts on LinkedIn I made through my work life," said Calfe, 54, owner of Calfe & Associates, an outplacement and human resources consulting firm in Pittsburgh. Young people "don't have that many. That's what's hurting them in the marketplace today. They don't have the network."
They can build one, however.
Joel Franusic, 26, was laid off in January from his systems job at PBwiki, a company in San Mateo, Calif., that creates collaborative websites known as wikis. "As I was sitting in the office at PBwiki after I got all the news, I was thinking, 'I should Twitter this,' " he said. "Then I thought, 'No, people would just feel bad for me."
The San Francisco resident waited a few hours to consider the best approach, then posted his resume and a message on Twitter and Facebook: "Laid off from PBwiki and looking for my next adventure!"
An hour later, he had a lead on a job. An hour after that, he had an interview scheduled. Within two days, he had an offer from the first company, NetBooks Inc., a San Francisco start-up that makes online accounting software for small businesses. He took the job.
LinkedIn, based in Mountain View, Calif., seems to have a story about how its network reflects the economic agitation almost anywhere you can think of. Detroit, home of the struggling auto industry, has been the site's fastest-growing region for networkers, said Kay Luo, LinkedIn's senior director of communication. And when Wall Street powerhouse Lehman Bros. fell apart last autumn, the browsing of people on its network tripled.
"In other recessionary times, we have seen people lean on education and go back to school," Hahn said. "This is the first major recession where you have a tool like LinkedIn and can use your professional network more effectively."
Sometimes there aren't jobs to be found.
Kevin Kimball of Los Altos, Calif., was laid off in August from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. He built a profile and began cultivating a network. Though he hasn't yet landed someplace, he says his ability to research employers has given him a foot in the door for interviews.
Among the LinkedIn features he favors are ones that let him figure out who has looked at his profile and see by how many degrees he's separated from the hiring manager of a place he's targeted (or anyone else with a profile on the site).
"Typically, you'll go to a website, post your resume and cover letter, and you're one of many, many, many," he said. "It's like going into a black hole. You want to get someone in the company to give you some internal gravitational pull."