Monday, May 6, 2013

The LinkedIn Overview

I've been dealing in a love/hate relationship with LinkedIn. The concept is there, and the importance of having a website dedicated to professional networking is obvious, but their interface and ability to truly interact and network leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, it is a useful and almost critical tool in today's technology-centric world.

In this article, I am essentially giving a beginner's guide to LinkedIn. How to build a profile, gain connections, and overall use LinkedIn.

Reasons to have a LinkedIn

It gives you a positive social media presence and often shows up at the top of a Google search for your name. I have seen potential employers look at mine in the past, including my current employer.

You might say that your merit alone should get you the job, not some fancy schmancy social media site. Well, you're right - yet also jaded. While a LinkedIn isn't necessary in the job search, it helps. Why would you refuse to do something that only helps in the long term? In a world where every available job position seems to gather a hundred resumes, you need something to help make you stand out.

Building your LinkedIn profile

Building your LinkedIn profile is obviously the most important thing about LinkedIn. If you don't feel like using all the features, at minimum you should have a well thought out profile. 

Picture
Yes, you should have a picture on your LinkedIn. When I browse profiles and I do not see a picture, I generally assume that the person is not active and don't click on them.

It should be a decently professional pictures with only your face in it. Avoid full body pics, pictures with friends, nude photos sent to your ex, etc.

Bad example, unprofessional dress and it's hard to see your face!

Good example, well dressed and face shot
Headline
Your headline will default to your current or last job position at the company you worked at. For example, it will say something along the lines of "Realtor at Generic Realty Company" While this isn't bad, it is generally better to put your field and some kind of descriptor. 

Examples:
1. "Professional and licensed Realtor in the Chicago area." 
2. "Programmer with 4 years of professional experience."
3. "Instructional design consultant." 

Profile
Your summary section is incredibly important. Try to use as much up as possible. This is a potential employer's light onto your personality, your working habits, and your experience in general. This will give a great foundation for what they are about to read. Imagine reading a book and skipping the first chapter. That's what a LinkedIn profile is like without a summary. I particularly enjoy this article about writing a LinkedIn summary.

Your job position descriptions should not be a copypasta of your resume. Instead of bullet points, I like to include a real small summary of what I did at each of my positions and my achievements. You may like bullet points, that's cool. This is an area however that you can go beyond your resume a little bit. Make sure you include achievements under each job position, not just what you did at each job.

Example:
"I sold stuff." vs. "I sold over 1,000 pallets of beer in July 2012, beating the previous record of 940." Which person would you be more interested in talking to?

Take advantage of the profile boxes such as projects, honors and awards, certifications, and volunteering & causes. These add a dynamic feel to your profile and it's what really makes a LinkedIn profile a step above your typical resume as it allows for potential employers to see your work in action.

Use these!
Skills and Expertise is an especially important section to fill out. People can endorse you based on your skills and they are brought up in keyword searches by recruiters and other hiring professionals.


Fill out as many skills as possible, even if it means more or less repeating yourself. Maybe the recruiter decided to search for "writing" one day instead of "blogging" for example.

Profile Don'ts:
  • If you have been to college, do not include your high school under education.
  • Don't make your summary one big block of text. Break it up into headers and paragraphs.
  • Don't put anything you would not want a potential employer to see. Duh.

Building Connections

Start with the people you know. Let it search your address book, and begin to add them. Often if they are your coworkers or people you see and talk to frequently, you do not need to specialize your message to them. However, if you do not see them often (maybe you want to add your professor from that class a couple years ago), then it is nice to include a sentence or two that refers to how you know each other.

Example:
Former professor: "Hi Dr. Bob, I hope you are doing well. I enjoyed your class on ethnographic field studies, so I wanted to add you on LinkedIn in order to keep in touch. Have a great day!"

As you build up your connections, do not ignore the "people you may know" option at the top. People are constantly joining LinkedIn! 

Connection's Connections
Some people recommend then going through your connection's connections, however I realize that not many people feel comfortable doing so. I have been connected to this way successfully, but it was based off of a message that had it's own merit:
"As a fellow young technology professional I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn to keep track of your career progress. If you even need an introduction in [City] let me know."
After he introduced himself in that way, I responded him thanking him for the request and adding him to my network. He responded:
"Absolutely, how do you know [Mutal Connection] in [City]?" 
This made him both memorable and he gained brownie points in the networking portion of my brain as the mutual connection was a new coworker and had already proved himself to be a great employee. Someone connected with him would likely be good as well.

This may not gain very many connections at all, but it can be successfully done and is likely the most effective way of sticking out in someone's head.

Groups
Groups are one of the best ways of gaining connections of people who you do not know, and I believe one of the most important functions of LinkedIn - especially when attempting to network. The groups interface is rather weird, but they are still exceptionally useful.

Types of groups to join:
  • Local groups
  • Industry specific (to either your industry or one you want to get into)
  • College alumni
  • Interest specific (Oh hey, you like sailing too? Come be our new marketing assistant! We will get along great!)
How to use groups to your advantage:
  • Start a general yet answer producing thread. In an industry specific group, I stated that I was new to the industry (and I am) and asked for resources to learn more about the subject. I thanked each person that responded in a comment (you really don't need to comment each time someone responds), and then added a few of them individually, thanking them again for their response in my invite message.
  • Participate in other threads whether it is advice, follow up questions, or more. People will often add you or will be open to you connecting with them.
Overall...
Never stop building your network, both in real life and online. You never know which one you are going to catch a break with!

Using Connections

There are many ways to "use" connections, but overall, it's okay to think about it like Facebook. How often do you look at every single friend's profile? Like, never, right? And that's totally okay. Many of my connections I have never interacted with over LinkedIn except for the initial connect stage. That being said, it's still good to have them in case the need arises.

When job searching
One of the first things I did when I began to job search was looking at all of my connections' companies. If their company was hiring for a position I was interested in, I would message them asking them how they enjoyed working there and would mention that I was interested in a particular role there. Many companies offer referral bonuses, so they would likely be happy to refer you. It is well known that employee referrals help significantly when trying to nail down a job!

In addition, I recently had someone connect with me who was going through the interview process at my current company. He asked me questions about the company (general work environment, how was the manager that he would likely be working for, etc.) and generally held a nice amiable conversation with me. It was a smart thing to do because not only is the company interviewing you, you are interviewing them too. Is it a place you would really want to work?

Not job searching
When you're not job searching, it's more difficult to see the value in using LinkedIn and especially in using your connections. That being said, if your company gives you a referral bonus, it would be advisable to check and see which positions are currently open and seeing if any of your connections fit the bill. In addition, you have just built a stronger bond with one of your connections if they do get hired. 

It is also useful if you have a very specific industry to connect with higher up professionals and ask them for (easy to give) advice or to simply say hello and that you admire their work. This can help you do fantastic work in your current job, and give you a stronger connection down the road if needed.

References

Maybe I'm just egotistical, but one of my favorite features on LinkedIn are public references. While employers are still going to check the references that you provide to them, these give a potential employer a reason to contact you to begin with. You can say a million positive things about yourself, but until someone else affirms them, they can mean almost nothing.

Ask for references from previous coworkers, employers, professors, etc. I also have references from people I have worked on one time projects with. The worst that will happen is that they will decline.

Also - don't be scared to give references! 

Conclusion

Right now, it's an employers market. Rather than employers having to sell themselves to prospects, it is the other way around. Sell yourself. Having anything that makes you stand out from the crowd is critical today and LinkedIn is one of those ways. Best of luck!

Other Resources

If you would like to do more reading on how to use LinkedIn to your advantage, here are some articles that I deemed useful.

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