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 paltry few 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. But 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.”

Here, I’m going to touch on some important initial fundamentals of perspective on the utilization of LinkedIn. For an in-depth, detailed treatment I highly recommend Jason Alba’s book, I’m On LinkedIn Now What? 

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. This, however, is unlikely, and probably 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 largely 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 an effective 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 mutual 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 very good time to approach someone in that department especially if you feel you have a strong value proposition relevant to departmental needs. Don’t wait for a job to be published, 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 stronger statement?

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

or

Vice President of Internet Marketing, XYZ, Inc.

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

Second, there is the Background Summary. This provides a tremendous opportunity to send a clear and compelling professional branding message. This should include the kind of results you’re able to get as well as the kind of things you are excited about. Creating an excellent background summary is an art, and you may want to get some help. If you’re overly braggadocios, it looks like you’re trying too hard. The biggest 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 Skills and Expertise 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 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 strong 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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