Nine Ways to use LinkedIn to Advance your Career

Image representing LinkedIn as depicted in Cru...A new member joins LinkedIn every second. Since I first started writing about how to use LinkedIn as a job search tool, the professional social networking site has grown in reach and strength. According to spokeswoman Krista Canfield, LinkedIn now has more than 100 million users, with a new member joining every second. Its job postings have bulged to more than 62,000. When the company went public May 19, its shares surged above $100 before sliding below $70, but just today, a story in The New York Times reports that its lead underwriter, Morgan Stanley raised its price target to $88, saying LinkedIn could become a “standard utility for HR recruiters.” I’m now convinced that an active LinkedIn profile is essential for almost anyone who wants to cultivate a career. Even if you are satisfied in your job, LinkedIn can bring you unexpected opportunities. Canfield herself says she was sending a LinkedIn message to an old public relations client, asking for advice about travel to London and Paris, when the contact responded with the tip that LinkedIn was hiring. Canfield wound up getting the job. That’s the way traditional networking operates, but since it’s digital and nearly instantaneous, LinkedIn can be startlingly efficient.

1. Include more than your current job

If you are setting up your profile quickly and only want to include the bare bones, be sure to list as many of your past positions as possible. If you’ve been in your job only a few months, and that’s all you include, you will look like you are just starting your career. Canfield says that recruiters routinely search according to years of experience.

2. Add a photo
Canfield says LinkedIn has found that profiles with photos are seven times more likely to be viewed. Also, if you’re reaching out to old contacts, they may be more likely to remember your face than your name. If you’ve married and changed your name, a photo can clear up the confusion.

3. Connect to at least 50 people
LinkedIn has settled on 50 as the “magic number” that will increase your networking chances. Career coach Hellmann recommends 70 connections.

4. Connect with people you know.
Career coach Hellmann advises a do-unto-others rule when deciding whether to connect with other LinkedIn users. “If they’re total strangers, they’re not going to help you and you’re not going to help them,” he observes. Would you be willing to correspond with this person, and/or send an email on the contact’s behalf? Then you should connect. One caveat: Some people use LinkedIn to promote products, in which case they want a sprawling network, including strangers. But if you’re using LinkedIn as a job search tool, make sure you know your contacts well enough to want to network with them.

5. Personalize your communications
This is a pet peeve of mine. When you send a request to connect with someone, always take a moment to alter the default message, even if just to say something like, “Hey Jack, Let’s connect.” Think of how you feel when you receive a form letter. I feel alienated, and less inclined to respond.

6. Use the job postings
I frequently caution that job seekers should limit their time perusing online ads, but LinkedIn’s listings are worth reviewing. Click on a job and you will instantly see the contacts in your network who are connected to the company. In addition, coach Hellmann says he’s found that far fewer of them are false leads or listings by recruiters for positions that have already been filled. LinkedIn charges $295 for a 30-day posting.

7. Use the site’s “skills” link to help you find key words to include in your profile.
This is a new feature. Go to this link and brainstorm about your skills, typing them into the search box. On the left hand side of the page, you will get a list of related skills, each highlighted in blue. For those of us stumped about how to describe our talents in the form of crisp, web-search-friendly terms, this can help. Take the relevant phrases and words and plug them into the “Skills” section of your profile. Both Hellmann and Canfield say that hiring managers and recruiters frequently search for key words. Example: I plugged in “headline writing,” and I got “line editing and “news judgment,” both terms that hadn’t crossed my mind. The page also shows a bar graph that indicates how much a particular skill is growing. (Sadly, both headline writing and news judgment show only 1% hiring growth.) Hellmann also recommends scanning job ads in your field and noting the key words used.

8. For students: new jobs portal
Another new LinkedIn feature: a job portal designed for students and recent graduates. Companies do not pay to list these entry level jobs. Since it’s new, the listings are limited, but given how easy it is to use, it’s worth taking a look here for entry level jobs.

9. Try LinkedIn Today
LinkedIn is beefing up its editorial feature, which includes stories shared by contacts in your network. It now appears near the top of the “home” tab when you sign into LinkedIn. I’m agnostic about its utility, given all the other ways to search for industry news, but would say it’s worth a glance once a day.

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