Using LinkedIn? Okay, But Are You Using It Correctly?

If you’re looking for your next job opportunity, LinkedIn is a great resource. Searches for job openings have increased dramatically on the site within the past few years, as it has become a standard practice for recruiters and HR managers to use the tool to find great talent. But are you ready to be “found?” Simply having a profile isn’t enough. To put it bluntly, an incomplete profile can hurt you. So let’s make sure your profile doesn’t fall into that “incomplete” category!

You might be wondering what, if any, impact your LinkedIn profile can have on your job prospects and career. I can confidently state that it can have a large impact! Recently, I met with a young IT professional who had very little on-the-job experience, but was still a good match for the client. I submitted him for a position where he was competing with 30 other candidates (many of whom had more experience) for consideration.

I sent his LinkedIn profile to the employer with a note about his highly recommended status. This young professional had a great, professional photo, several recommendations and a well thought out and put together profile. He was chosen for the job, and I have no doubt that his LinkedIn profile helped him stand out from the other 30 candidates. His profile magnified his skills and accomplishments, presenting him to the employer in the best possible light.

With LinkedIn, it’s really important to get the basics right before you begin digging deeper into the site. I personally use LinkedIn regularly—for networking with colleagues and clients, as well as connecting with former classmates and peers. It’s a great tool that adds significant value to my career, but before I got serious about using LinkedIn, I ironed out the basics. Here’s a rundown to get your LinkedIn profile going:

  1. Complete your profile entirely. Have you ever logged into LinkedIn only to see that little bar telling you that your profile is “[Insert number] complete?” It can be kind of tedious to add a ton of information, but it’s really important, so take the time to do it right. Plus, when you log in and finally see that “100% Complete” bar, you’ll feel a nice sense of accomplishment.
  2. Look good, in your profile picture. You do have a profile picture, right? To make a “connection” with people on LinkedIn, a professional photograph is important. Avoid family pictures or posting a fun picture of your latest vacation—that’s for Facebook, not LinkedIn. Instead, choose one that’s cropped well and portrays you in a personable, professional manner. Having the right LinkedIn profile photo will help recruiters get a feeling for you as a person—and hopefully as an employee.
  3. Optimize your profile. It’ll help recruiters and HR managers find you, and it’ll also be more pleasant for people who are checking out your profile (that’s your goal, isn’t it?). Use bullet points in your job descriptions to organize your accomplishments and format the information so it’s easy to read. Be sure to use a vanity profile URL instead of the generic numbers-based that LinkedIn assigns you, and share relevant content with your connections regularly. More tips for optimizing your profile can be found here.
  4. Keywords are your friend. Your LinkedIn profile is more than a resume you submit to potential employers. It’s a tool recruiters will use to find you. So, make it easy for them to find you! Complete the skills and specialties areas on your profile with industry-relevant keywords. Be sure all your job titles and education are filled in appropriately. At a bare minimum, add several keywords to each section. You’ll be competing against people with multiple bullet points, skills and connections. Don’t start out at a disadvantage by not fully utilizing what your profile has to offer. In particular, pay attention to the “summary” and “specialties” sections, which have ample opportunity for keyword optimization. This resource will also provide you with more LinkedIn keyword tips.
  5. Start “connecting.” Without connections, your LinkedIn profile won’t be working nearly as hard as it should be. Reach out to school alumni, coworkers and former coworkers, clients and other educational and professional contacts. Most importantly, be sure to connect with recruiters. Remember, when you connect with someone on LinkedIn, you’re also connecting with their entire network. When someone searches for specific keywords (your profile should now be keyword-optimized), people in their network will show up first. So, start “connecting,” and start getting yourself to the top of those search results. Use connections wisely when preparing for interviews as well. Research companies and their employees before an interview to see if you have any connections in the hiring manager’s network. If you do, use that connection (that’s what LinkedIn is all about!). As this article from Forbes shares, avoid bombarding a connection with your resume, but instead compliment her and her company, and ask if she’d be willing to answer some questions about her job and company. Building some rapport with connections will help them become your ally when applying for jobs.

Now that your LinkedIn profile is setup and optimized, you can take your presence on the site to the next level. Here are some tips for using LinkedIn more effectively:

  • Get active in groups. LinkedIn groups can be pretty intimidating, right? You’re in a virtual room of strangers, trying to stand out and make an impression. Joining and being active in groups that are relevant to your area of specialty (as well as any alumni or area-specific groups) can be a significant boost to your online presence and reputation. I know it can be intimidating to jump in and start posting in a group, but it’s critical to promoting yourself. Put in your two cents—don’t be nervous! Whether you start out with a short comment on someone else’s post, or you start your own discussion, you’ll be building relationships and making meaningful contributions. Also, be on the lookout: in specialty-specific groups, members may post job openings before they’re open to the general public!
  • Find opportunities for recommendations. LinkedIn recommendations are a virtual stamp of approval from former bosses, clients or coworkers. Plus, many recruiters will use these as a written reference. They can even be used in lieu of a reference check. Many recruiters will forward your LinkedIn recommendations (or a link to your profile) directly to a prospective employer as a way of showing off your great skills! A quick note to a former boss or coworker is a great way to get the ball rolling on recommendations. Don’t be shy, get out there and ask. These tips can help you ask for recommendations in an appropriate manner.

Finally, focus on the interview. Setting up a professional, complete LinkedIn profile is critical to your job search success. But, once it has been set up, be sure to focus on your interviews. Don’t be distracted by trying to connect with people at your prospective employers. If you receive a request to connect with hiring managers, you can certainly accept. But don’t bombard prospective employers with requests when you should be focusing on the interview process. Then after you get and complete your interview, make sure you follow up the right way.

So there you have it, steps you can use to get started on LinkedIn, plus some tips to help you get the most out of the site. Are you ready to get started?

Do you have a LinkedIn success story? Share it with us in the comments below—we’d love to hear them!