There's a lot you can do beyond the obvious.
Call me old-fashioned. At age 51, I still struggle with, and sometimes resist, 21st-century technology. When I first started getting invitations to connect on LinkedIn a few years ago, I winced. Do I have to do this, I wondered. But I begrudgingly spent a hasty five minutes clicking through one of those invitation e-mails and filling out some basic information about myself. Then I left the site.
From time-to-time after that I'd get invites and messages. Often I ignored them, or put them off for another day. Since Facebook seemed more fun, with its photos and games and fan pages, I spent much more time there, accumulating more than 200 "friends," revising my bio several times, and posting my article links.
Then 10 months ago I started covering leadership and careers, and every career expert I interviewed, from coaches to headhunters to campus recruiters, told me that LinkedIn was an essential job search tool. Not only can you instantly get the word out to hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues, bosses and potential employers about your latest accomplishments, ambitions and changes in employment status, but your LinkedIn profile can serve as a passive job magnet, since recruiters and hiring managers use the site as a gold mine for locating candidates.
I figured I would draw on my expert sources for advice on how to best polish up my LinkedIn profile and do whatever I could to make the most of the service. Then I'd offer my experience to you, my readers, as a kind of how-to guide. If I can do it, anyone can.
As a journalist, I was lucky enough to be able to start by talking to a LinkedIn staffer, career expert and spokeswoman Krista Canfield, who spent two patient hours with me on the phone, walking me through LinkedIn's most essential steps. I quickly discovered that the site's tools are so deep and rich that I ought to write more than one article about how to use it.
Consider this the first entry in a series, a kind of LinkedIn 101, or LinkedIn for Dummies.
First up: your URL, which stands for uniform resource locator and is the address of a page on the World Wide Web. I had no idea that you could alter it. But on LinkedIn, you can tweak your web address to drive it further up toward the top of a Google search. If you have a common name, as I do, it's not so easy. But if you have a distinctive name, like my husband, Clive Helfet, you can give yourself a LinkedIn Web address that's an elegant first and last name, with no space in between, right after the words "linkedin.com/in/." Just scroll down to where it says "Public Profile" in your profile, and edit the URL. Canfield recommends trying your first and last name, then your last name and first name, and then adding middle initials if you must. The site will tell you if your first choices are already taken. Because of my common name, I wound up writing a URL that's my first name, middle initial (C) and last name, no punctuation and no spaces. If you want to check me out, go to http://www.linkedin.com/in/susancadams.
Next it was time to add websites that showcased my work. This is probably easier for a journalist than for other types of workers, since our work gets posted online with ready web addresses. Canfield suggested putting in the general Forbes site and two stories I was especially proud of. For a designer or photographer, this is an opportunity to include a link to a personal website that showcases your work. If you're in sales, you can link to customers.
Then it was time to write a summary of my career. This seemed daunting at first, but Canfield helped by advising that I list the topics I currently cover in my writing and emphasise the kinds of stories I most like writing and editing. She said I should include a broad range and throw in as many keywords and phrases as I could muster, even if I didn't have direct experience in those areas. For instance, a headhunter might consider me for a job in media training, since I have broadcast experience, so on the end of my summary, I tagged on the words, "I'm interested in media training." I wanted to know how long my summary should be, and Canfield said it's a question of quality over quantity. When I pressed her on word count, she suggested 100 to 300 words. I wound up with 133 words and the feeling that I might have gone on too long.
Next up: recommendations. Canfield gave me a mini-lecture about this. Positive stuff that people say about you can spread "virally" through the internet, she told me. I got confused about what she meant at first, but it's simply that if my boss writes me a recommendation, his 138 connections will be able to see that he's done so, and so will all of mine. Once I was ready to get those recommendations, I should make sure they included plenty of meaty specifics about my skills and accomplishments. Canfield said it's kosher to offer to write a recommendation myself and have a contact vet it and post it.
But first I needed to beef up my connections. I had a measly 39 at the beginning of last week, when I first called Canfield. That haphazard list of people included my friend's 23-year-old computer scientist son, a smattering of college acquaintances and only a few honcho journalists who might be in a position to hire or refer me for a real job. This was the time-consuming part, because Canfield suggested, reasonably, that I should write a personal note with each invitation to link. I related to what she said, because I bristle every time a friend or colleague sends me a canned e-mail that says, "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." But writing personal notes, even short ones, takes time and emotional energy that can wear you out after the first dozen or so. Lots of people responded to my queries, but some wanted to chat or to get together. I've upped my contacts to 87 and gotten two lunch appointments and a drinks date in the process.
One tip Canfield gave me about finding connections: In the upper right hand corner of the screen, there's a search field and the word "Advanced." Click on "Advanced" and put in your job title on the upper right corner of the screen. On the left, there's a "Location" field, with which you can, say, search within 25 or 50 miles of your postcode. That will bring you to your competition in your area. Canfield says you should link with as many of those people as possible.
While working on my connections, I fleshed out my "Experience" section, adding a job and including descriptions of every job I'd held. I wound up pulling out a resume I drafted 15 years ago and using many of the finely honed descriptions I'd written back then.
I'm getting ready to ask a couple of bosses to write me recommendations now. After that, I'll keep working on expanding my network and gearing up for my next session with Canfield. That will lead to a next installment in what I hope will become a miniseries on perfecting your use of LinkedIn as a career tool.