Now LinkedIn, that site I know like the back of my hand.  But Twitter?  That tool continues to confound me a little bit, even though I’ve been using it for a few years now to distribute some of my blog articles and to share tips, leads, and advice with members of my network.

I guess the question mark I can’t shake, in my mind, is why so many “experts” out there seem to rave about the site’s usefulness as a job search tool.  I mean, I understand the appeal of Twitter from a general networking standpoint, and in terms of the fun/enjoyment/curiosity aspect of it, but I’ll still flummoxed as to why so many folks act as if it’s an indispensable resource for professionals in career transition.  Based on my own experience with the site, it wouldn’t even make the cut in a “top 25” list of tools I’d recommend for career-related purposes.

So I thought I’d pen a quick article with my latest thoughts on the whole Twitter thing — since I get asked about it all the time — and when I finish up this piece, I’ll sit here with a gapingly open mind for anybody who wants to contradict me, point out my thinking errors, and help me see the light in terms of what I might be missing!

1.  Can I find job leads on Twitter?

Sorry, folks, but the answer is pretty much no — barring a fluke — and I’m therefore perplexed as to why this notion is so often repeated out there around the water cooler of cyberspace.  I recently read yet another article by an “expert” on this topic, for example, raving about how useful it is.  Here’s the case study that was given:

“Bob, a Spanish-speaking professional, recently used Twitter to land a great job.  He set up an automatic Twitter search for job AND bilingual AND atlanta using a free third-party application called Tweetdeck.  He then saw a posting for a Bilingual Support Renewal Representative with a technology company in the stream.  He applied. The recruiter liked that he had found the job on Twitter.  Recruiters always like people who prove them right in their sourcing innovations. Bob now works for said technology company. Cool!”

The problem?  When I duplicate the exact same search the author recommends, for any major city such as Atlanta, Seattle, or Boston, not a single job listing currently comes up.  Not today.  Not from last week.  And nowhere in the Twitter (or Tweetdeck) archive.  So it seems ridiculous to get excited about this strategy or recommend it to job hunters, when every test I conduct suggests that this approach faces longer odds than finding a proverbial needle in a haystack.

2.  Can I cultivate useful contacts on Twitter?

NOW we’re getting somewhere!  While it takes a little getting used to, at first, once you master the Twitter interface you’ll find that the population of people who use Twitter are, by and large, even friendlier and more receptive to conversation than the users of similar social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

This makes sense, I suppose, since anybody willing to share their thoughts with a bunch of strangers multiple times per day (aka the prototypical Twitter user) is probably a more “open” person to dialogue, in general.  So you definitely can try poking around in Twitter to find some “thought leaders” worth following in your field — at which point you’ll not only benefit from the occasional bits of wisdom they pass along, in 140 characters or less, but can also try engaging them in conversation about various topics.  I’ve definitely met people who have added some great new relationships to their network, over the years, kindled from some initial dialogue in the tweet-o-sphere.

And while I’m not usually a person of the “groupie” persuasion, I’ll even admit (if you don’t hold it against me) that I’ve recently signed on to follow the tweets of certain celebrities, such as the cast of Stargate Universe and a few of my favorite mixed-martial-arts (MMA) competitors.  Curiosity was killing me — and I just couldn’t resist seeing what these people had to say for themselves, once in a while, even though I’ve never tried to engage them in direct discussion.

3.  Anything else I can do with Twitter?

Not all that much, from what I can tell, since part of Twitter’s charm is its profound simplicity — versus sites like LinkedIn and Facebook which continue adding umpteen (and often confusing) new bells, whistles, and features on a daily basis.

If you haven’t already done so, however, you definitely should update your “Profile” on Twitter to include some keywords related to your target occupation and industry (e.g. CFO, Paralegal, Marketing Communications, etc.) so that you’re “findable” by other Twitter users, such as recruiting and staffing professionals.

Also, another article sent to me recently by a client alerted me to a relatively new phenomenon called “Twitter Chats” where various users of the system decide to congregate online, at a set time, to exchange thoughts and discussion around a specific topic.  I haven’t participated in such a chat myself, as of yet, but it sounds like an interesting concept.  You’ll find the article in question here, written by a career coach named Donna Svei, and this piece will tell you how to get involved in Twitter Chats and will point you to a few specific groups that meet regularly related to career success and job hunting.

In closing, and as stated earlier, I would welcome any/all additional insights about the usefulness of Twitter in a job search capacity from any of you out there with direct experience using the tool.  Please don’t be shy about enlightening us if you think I’ve made the wrong call on any of the above questions or if you’re aware of other potential benefits Twitter can provide to the employment-challenged!