Sometime since 2003 (LinkedIn launched in May of 2003), you received that first invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Or maybe someone asked you the cryptic question, “Are you on LinkedIn?” Since then, if you’re like most people, you have been adding the occasional connection but all the while feeling that there was much more potential to LinkedIn than you were leveraging.

Then something happens, and you find yourself in a job search. And there you are with few strategic connections and an unimpressive profile. Now what?

While some people have largely avoided social media, for most of us, it has touched many aspects of our lives from connecting with old friends, keeping up with children or grandchildren, and managing our careers. In the world of career management, in particular, LinkedIn has become a force. Yet, while most people may have a LinkedIn profile, it remains largely underutilized and misunderstood.

The following are typical of what I hear from people trying to utilize LinkedIn:

“I don’t know how to use LinkedIn effectively.”

“LinkedIn has too many options. I don’t know which ones are important.”

“I don’t have enough contacts.”

“My contacts are all in an industry in which I no longer wish to work.”

“My contacts are all where I used to live, not where I live now.”

Four fundamental uses of LinkedIn:

A place to be found. Most people hope that by having a LinkedIn profile, someone will find them online and offer them a job. While this is possible, it is not as likely as you think and might be the least significant use of LinkedIn.

While recruiters are increasingly using LinkedIn to find candidates, you are much more likely to find your new job informally. Recruiters looking at your LinkedIn profile will be looking for the same kinds of things they look for on your resume–a pedigree for the job they are recruiting for. So, if you have an excellent work history for the kind of opportunity you are pursuing and all the right keywords and certifications, it is possible someone will see your profile and contact you about a job. But, just like the old resume game, if your job history is less than ideal or you’re trying to change industries, this will be very unlikely. The truth is most people don’t have the career pedigree, no matter how talented they may be, to hope that passively being found on LinkedIn will be a useful strategy.

Building a network. Assuming you have started by connecting with the people you know, the next step is to find out who they are connected to, that might be helpful to you. These would be your second level connections. If you look up a particular company on LinkedIn and you find there are second-level connections there, this becomes a great starting place for seeking a conversation since you have a mutual acquaintance. Or, maybe your second level contact works in an industry in which you are interested. Again, because you have a shared acquaintance a conversation with this individual to uncover industry knowledge can be very beneficial. As you can see, I’m talking about leveraging LinkedIn to get conversations with people rather than just adding sterile Internet “contacts” that are meaningless.

Research. By following a company on LinkedIn, you will not only gain insight into what is going on with the organization, but you can also see who is coming and going in that organization (this will be especially true for larger companies). For example, if there is a new director in a particular department there may well be changes coming. It may be a good time to approach someone in that department especially if you feel you have a value proposition relevant to departmental needs. Don’t wait for a job to be posted, be proactive and approach it less formally.

Personal branding. This is one of the most powerful uses of LinkedIn. Let’s start with three key opportunities in your LinkedIn profile.

First, take advantage of the profile headline. This should be more than your current job title and company you work for (that information will be in your job history anyway). If your title and company are impressive, it is fine to include it; however, there is an opportunity here to make a bigger statement about your professional brand.

Which makes a more powerful statement?

Vice President of Internet Marketing, XYZ, Inc.

or

Online Marketing Officer. Expert in SEO, Social Media, Email Marketing, PPC, and Mobile Advertising

The second example speaks more to the difference you can make and therefore comes across stronger.

Second, make the most of the Summary. Here you have a tremendous opportunity to send a clear and compelling professional branding message. It’s very important that you don’t just start composing your summary without considering who it is you’re trying to reach. Who is your target audience, those for whom you have a value proposition? What do you want them to know about you?

With your target audience in mind, start a very rough draft of things you may want to use. Make it your personal brainstorming session.

Include short statements of quantifiable achievements, things you love, things that are important to you

What are the things that make you stand out, that differentiate you from others who do the same kind of work? Be specific and give brief examples.

Also, include things that make you interesting. Unique awards, mountains climbed, languages learned, other hobbies or interests.

Remember this will be a work in progress rather than a once and for all final product. You will be tweaking and making changes to your LinkedIn summary as you learn more about yourself and discover better ways to communicate your brand.

As you look through your draft material with your target audience in mind, you want to start your summary with something that will give it a little “pop.” Make those first two lines cause them to want to see more.

While it is not a hard and fast rule, I encourage you to write it in first person. It will come across warmer and more personable. Remember it is, after all, social media.

Once you have composed your summary, test it. Share it with a handful of people – peers, friends, a coach. Be sure they are people who understand your work and your value proposition. Use their insights to edit your summary. Now you’re ready to post it in your profile.

Creating an excellent background summary is an art, and you may want to get some help. You want the summary to be strong. But if you’re overly braggadocios, it looks like you’re trying too hard. The challenge for most job seekers is that they lack the objectivity to see they are coming across too eager or too needy and this diminishes the perception of their value.

The third opportunity is in the Featured Skills & Endorsements section. Here, you want to enter your Motivated Skills (the things you do best and enjoy most). Resist the temptation to make this a catchall; listing everything you have ever done even the things you don’t particularly enjoy–it comes across a little too desperate.

There is so much that can be done with LinkedIn that it can seem overwhelming. But if you start with the idea that LinkedIn is a powerful personal branding tool and a means to work toward actually having conversations and meetings with people in the companies and industries in which you are interested, you’ll be far better off than if you are just adding sterile “contacts.”

 

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