The chances of getting a job via an employment website are slim, a report by Forrester Research has found. The report says only 4 per cent of job-seekers are actually getting jobs online, and that your odds of getting a job via internet job sites are one in 250.

John, a friend of mine, knows these statistics only too well. Aged 59, his job was "disestablished" six months ago. Despite registering online and applying for over 60 jobs, he hasn't even made it to the short list.

However, it's not all doom and gloom. Used proactively, the internet can be a useful tool when job-seeking.

Using internet employment websites just to respond to job postings is missing their true value. A savvy job-seeker will use them to identify trends, build relationships, tap into the grapevine and target companies and opportunities that may not be obvious to others.

New technology means employment and company websites can offer easier links with job-seekers. This has led to a new kind of job-hunting online - "inter-networking" - with a global virtual community.

Management expert Tom Peters says the internet is revolutionising the job market, and candidates will need a recognised name online. With increasing numbers of people after fewer jobs, employees will need to act like they are self-employed to stand out from the crowd.

Creating a recognised name online and mastering the art of self-promotion could mean building a personal website, creating a professional blog or using existing specialist sites that help individuals connect with, and market their talents to, employers and clients.

An example of such a site is www.flokka.com, a blog community for women in business. On the site they share tips, support each other, promote their work and share news about important events to help members succeed.

Other websites like www.industryinsite.com put professionals in select industries in contact with employers that seek them.

Freelance job boards, such as www.guru.com or www.elance.com, allow job-seekers to post a profile and even list pricing for specialised services that employers can bid on. This is an excellent way to offer prospective employers a "try-before-you-buy" option and position yourself as an expert.

Professional networking websites such as www.linkedin.com allow professionals from all walks of life to showcase knowledge and widen their networks. As a registered user, the website enables job-seekers, professionals and self-employed people to interface with anyone needing advice and information about a speciality. It is a great source of referrals and potential alliances, and employers and recruiters are increasingly tapping into such sites.

Steve Zawodny of 920 Recruitment says his agency and others use LinkedIn.

"The two main ways we use LinkedIn are searching candidates via our LinkedIn networks, plus if we have an urgent recruitment requirement we will often put up a few words regarding our requirement," he says.

"Very quickly that will get around peoples' networks, which has often resulted in a phone call from someone that has been referred to our requirement."

Social networking sites like YouTube and Facebook have exploded in popularity in just a few short years. Increasing numbers of companies are tapping into social networking sites and posting job vacancies there too. These are excellent forums to establish a global presence and showcase your talents.

If you're among the millions of people looking for work, there's one more social networking site you may have to join: Twitter.

Twitter is a website that allows you to send tweets, the equivalent of text messages or Facebook status updates. The catch: tweets are limited to 140 characters, so you have to keep them short and simple.

If the thought of signing on to yet another online network makes you
shudder, consider Robert Lewis' story. After he was made redundant from his marketing job, he was determined to find an in-house communications position.

He "tweeted" about his decision and included a link to his professional blog. Within days his tweet was retweeted. That is, an acquaintance forwarded it - to his current boss.

"I don't think I would have gotten this if not for Twitter and my professional blog," says Lewis.

Here are some tips to help you use LinkedIn and other social networking sites effectively:

Communicate with purpose. Whether you're a business professional or a job-seeker, ensure you are selling that professional side. Think of LinkedIn and other social networking sites as your online CV.

Make sure you have indicated on your profile that you are happy to look at job opportunities.

Build as many contacts in your areas of interest and expertise as you can - it's not what you know but who you know. You never know where your next employment opportunity will come from or who is going to refer you.

Use your social networking sites to link to groups of interest and to highlight references from past associates.

Don't sign up and immediately blast people with a message saying you're out of work. Desperation doesn't sell. Instead, build momentum slowly. Position yourself as an expert and someone who is genuinely interested in your target industry.

Include a link to your professional blog, where you describe the kind of work you are looking for and the skills, talents and achievements you are offering. Be sure to communicate the value, or benefit, of what you do. One way to do this is to include case studies or testimonials of people who have worked or had professional dealings with you. You can create a free blog at www.wordpress.com.

When using the profile section of Twitter, put a few lines about what you do professionally. Since users can search tweets by topic, that's one way of making your feed more visible. It also helps your searchability.

Before you start networking, search for leaders in your industry, companies you'd like to work for and other potential professional contacts. Follow them. Many companies - especially in marketing, public relations and technology - use social networking sites to post job openings, and a lot of recruiters do too.

Update your status regularly. Position yourself as an expert. Offer your opinion on news, industry happenings and seminars. If someone you follow, particularly an industry leader, says something controversial or interesting, retweet (forward) it, email, or send the person a direct response.

"There is nothing revolutionary about this stuff," says Angela Johansen, who, after losing her job in New Zealand, used Twitter to network her way to a great job in the UK.

"It's evolutionary. Back in the day we would have sent out cover letters, a few years later emails, and a few years later we updated our blogs.

"The beauty of Twitter is that it's as if you're at a networking event all the time, in real time.

"You can hear about jobs, get a feel for a company, determine how to interact with them and see how you would fit in."

Increasing your social and professional networks is all about building relationships and, in turn, tapping into the hidden job market - the 80 per cent of jobs that are never advertised.

People hire people they trust and creating a strong professional online brand can help you break the ice and form enduring relationships.

For a job-seeker it's a way to say: "I can show you I'm a real person, I see you're a real person, and we have a connection."

However, nothing beats face-to-face contact in building trust and enhancing relationships. Wherever possible, try to get in front of the actual employer.

My friend John proactively used the internet to stand out from the crowd and create brand awareness - of himself. He created a professional blog showcasing his talents and providing links to video interviews on YouTube.

He also updated his profile to link to his blog and better communicate his strengths. He proactively increased his professional online networks by aligning with interest groups and targeting his best-fit industries. Several professional contacts also wrote personal recommendations.

All this extra activity led to him being approached by an international company looking to grow their business in New Zealand. John is currently negotiating his salary and looking forward to being happily employed again.