When Mark Gozzo got a request from a stranger to connect on LinkedIn, he considered it just another chance to expand his professional network. In a month's time, the invitation had turned into a new job.
"I wasn't super-actively looking, but somebody happened to reach out to me and I hopped over," said Gozzo, 24, who cut his commute in half when he started his new position in January at a creative staffing agency in Raleigh, North Carolina. While workers have always recognised the importance of networking, "there are so many outlets to do it these days, more so than a couple generations ago."
Employed and unemployed workers alike are finding it easier than ever to keep up a perpetual job search using an array of social media and online recruitment platforms, while employers are also taking advantage of more access to candidates and their backgrounds. That's poised to increase the frequency of labour-market musical chairs as Americans become emboldened by an improving job market to seek out better positions.
"The more information that people have, the more efficient the labour market should be in matching people with the optimal job for their skillset," said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities in Stamford, Connecticut. "The fact is, you're probably going to see more churn."
Some 77 per cent of employers used networking websites to recruit potential job candidates last year, up from 34 per cent in 2008, according a 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, a trade group representing human resource professionals.
As for those looking for work, 21 per cent found their "favourite or best" position through online social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, according to a report released in February from social recruiting platform Jobvite. So-called social job-seekers tend to be younger, wealthier and are more likely to be employed full-time, the study found.
"There's almost an explicit understanding now that anyone is available to be contacted for any new opportunity at any time," Dan Finnigan, the San Mateo, California-based chief executive officer of Jobvite, said in an interview. "The enabling technologies of the internet have created a situation where everyone's always looking for a job. It's taken the stigma away."
Less competition for work may also give job-hunters a better shot at finding a new position as the economic recovery grinds on. About 2.5 unemployed people were competing for every opening in February, near the lowest level since July 2008 though still up from 1.8 when the recession began in December 2007.
At the same time, the quits rate for private employment, which shows the willingness of non-government workers to leave their jobs, was at 1.9 per cent in February, near its highest level since October 2008, Labour Department data show. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sees the figure as "a sign of the health of the economy," she said in a March 19 press conference at the conclusion of a two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting.
"When workers are scared they won't be able to get other jobs, they show a reduced willingness to quit their jobs," Yellen said. "Quit rates now are below normal pre-recession levels, but on the other hand, they have come up over time, and so we've seen improvement."
Employers in the US boosted payrolls in March by 192,000 after a 197,000 gain in February that was larger than first estimated, a Labour Department report showed last week. Private employment, which excludes government jobs, surpassed the pre- recession peak for the first time.
A rosier economic outlook may give some employees an impetus to change jobs, especially younger workers who were spooked by the recession and stayed with their companies as opportunities became scarce, according to Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and a former chief economist for the US Labor Department.
Because workers experience their largest earnings growth in the first 5 to 10 years of employment, more job-shopping may also mean improved incomes, Holzer said.
The tenure of the US labour force has increased over the past decade, largely reflecting a workforce whose median age rose to 42.3 in 2012 from 39.4 in 2000, according to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Older workers had been with their employers for more than double the time as their younger counterparts in 2012, and as the economy improves, that difference might grow.
Social media can remove some of the frictions in the job-search process as the economy continues to mend by bringing the "right opportunity to the right person," said Dan Shapero, LinkedIn's vice president of talent solutions and insights.
Workers today are "more visible to the world, they're more accessible to companies," said Shapero, who is based in Mountain View, California. "Technology platforms are getting very good at matching people to jobs."
That comes at a time when Americans' attitudes about job availability has been improving, according to Conference Board data. The difference between those who said jobs are hard to get and respondents who said employment opportunities were abundant in March was near the smallest since August 2008, the New York-based private research group said last month.
A labour market that's gaining strength means that job searches for the employed and unemployed alike have a greater chance of paying off. People who are frequently looking for opportunities are also more likely to remain attached to the labour force, "and that's ultimately good for potential GDP," Neil Dutta, head of US economics at Renaissance Macro Research in New York, said in an interview.
Even so, it may be already-employed workers who benefit the most from online platforms. Four out of five employers used social networking sites with the primary goal of recruiting so-called passive job candidates - those who aren't intensely searching for a new position and might not otherwise apply or be contacted, according to the survey by Alexandria, Virginia-based Society for Human Resource Management.
Wells Fargo is among those that see social media's value, especially in recruiting such candidates.
"We want them all, but if you talk to people in talent acquisition, the holy grail in recruiting is the passive job-seeker," said Aaron Kraljev, employment branding manager for the bank in Portland, Oregon. It's crucial to "get access to those job-seekers that are revered in their current roles, whose current employers want to hang on to."
Wells Fargo does "a great deal in the social space," Kraljev said, using LinkedIn, Facebook and a dedicated Twitter account for careers to reach out to prospects. Recognising the competition for top-level talent, the bank also deploys online job advertisements on Sunday nights and Monday mornings to attract the highest volume of applicants. The bank sees its greatest number of ad clicks in the first quarter of the year, Kraljev said.
Ultimately it may be something at the intersection of the personal touch and a computer screen's glow that cinches the decision to switch. For Gozzo, who worked at an advertising agency for almost two years before taking his new position helping companies find creative talent, the animated office environment at his current employer helped seal the deal.
He's happy in his new job, though he still goes to LinkedIn to check out moves that colleagues and contacts are making. While his grandfather worked for Honeywell International for some 30 years, careers today are more fluid, he said.
"People yearn to gain connections," Gozzo said. "Everyone wants to feel wanted."