Making the Most of LinkedIn

When the topic of presenting yourself online in the best possible light and your digital footprint arises, it’s difficult not to mention LinkedIn at some point.  However, invariably the most common response from academics tends to be: “LinkedIn? Meh!”  It’s as if there’s an almost universal acknowledgement that in today’s competitive job market there’s definitely a need to give yourself every edge, but when it comes to actually doing something about it an overwhelming sense of apathy descends.

Image taken from http://linkedintobusiness.com/linkedin-help-forum-giving-us-new-answers/ [accessed 5 Feb 2014].

(Image taken from LinkedIn to Business, accessed 5th February 2014).

Why?

According to a survey carried out by Lab 42 there are plenty of encouraging statistics about LinkedIn usage, but to be perfectly honest these findings don’t tally with my anecdotal experiences of LinkedIn use in the academic arena. Perhaps the sample 500 LinkedIn users in this survey didn’t come from the academic community? Maybe they were all high-flying business people? And that’s partly the problem with social media and take up generally – all sorts of statistics are bandied around purporting the alleged benefits, but the real benefits that come from social media use are very serendipitous and often quite personal to the individual.  Perhaps the intangible nature of these benefits goes some way into explaining why people, especially in academic circles, don’t make the most out of sites like LinkedIn – even when they know they should…

So how do you make the most out of LinkedIn? There are some really great blogs and presentations out there providing invaluable guidance and advice. What follows is a review of the sites I’ve found useful that will help you to overcome the social media apathy and see some positive returns for your efforts.

Let’s assume you’re still starting out with LinkedIn – you’ve created a profile, but it’s skeletal at best and you’re not really sure what to do with it.  LinkedIn is awash with profiles of this type – sound familiar? These kinds of profile say very little about you and if anything only succeed in announcing to potential employers and contacts: “I’m not very good at this online networking thing and I really can’t be bothered to invest much effort into it either.”

Wrong message, I’m sure you’ll agree.

How comprehensive you want your profile to be is largely down to you and how comfortable you feel with sharing information about yourself, but it’s worth considering what the implications for not sharing are. With recent estimates of over 242 million business professionals on LinkedIn looking to network, most people will be looking to LinkedIn as a channel to improve their chances of getting a job, so what message are you sending out about your ability to network by not having many connections? Or your expertise in your chosen field by not having any Skill Endorsements or Recommendations? Also, consider how dehumanising a profile can be, that doesn’t even have the basic things, like a profile photo or bio?

According to a survey carried out by the social media monitoring service Reppler as many as 68% of employers had hired a candidate on the basis of what they had seen about them on a social networking site, so this is clearly an area that is increasingly coming under the microscope for employers. To get you started, there’s a very quick test (it takes about three minutes to do) on the LinkedIn Man’s site posing ten questions that you might like to consider about your profile to get you thinking about how it can be improved. Of course, it doesn’t cover absolutely everything, but it’s a good starting point to get you thinking about the kinds of content, such as presentations, video, images, blogs, groups, files and more that can be included, all for free.

Alison Doyle provides pointers on choosing an appropriate profile photo and as we all tend to suffer from information fatigue in the digital age a fairly succinct bio is recommended. There is some introductory guidance on the LinkedIn site itself and as with the Skills section, keep in mind your potential audience and job market by including keywords that are relevant. There’s an interesting article on Kim Garst’s site about writing “sticky” profile summaries that capture the imagination of the reader more than the uninspiring summaries ubiquitous to LinkedIn that’s also worth a read.

Further guidance in targeting specific companies/employers by tailoring your profile to match keywords and prerequisite job skills for specific roles is also available in Sue Beckingham’s presentation Developing a professional online presence as a graduate, which is well worth taking a look for some pointers. This brings us conveniently on to the subject of discoverability and the steps you can take to ensure that your profile is likely to be found by the right people. Customising your LinkedIn profile URL is also worth considering here, in order to improve not only your personal brand but also your visibility and the Help Center section of the LinkedIn site talks you through how to do this.

We’ve already mentioned receiving recommendations and endorsements – there are two schools of thought on this: Some people, such as the LinkedIn Personal Trainer, are nonplussed by the mutual ego-massaging nature of this feature (“Joe Bloggs endorsed you for the following Skills. Would you like to endorse Joe Bloggs?”) and others, like the Social Media Examiner, like the simplified nature of getting your Skills endorsed. Personally, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, as long as you treat it with a healthy dose of scepticism, like with anything else you see on social media. Also, if a large part of your current job is meant to involve networking and/or marketing, what does it say about you to potential contacts if you’ve not demonstrated you can market yourself effectively?

On one final note, like with any social media site, it’s worth revisiting your profile regularly to ensure that the content is current and up to date. Keeping an active profile not only says you are accessible through the site, but it also keeps you in touch with your contacts and what’s going on. There’s no golden rule here and you have to find the right balance for you, but if your profile looks like it hasn’t been touched since you first created it (and there’s a lot that do) then I think it’s safe to say you’re not doing the necessary legwork.

Without doubt, LinkedIn is business-oriented and mainly for professional networking and an inherent part of professionalism for me is being dedicated in what you do – so why not treat your LinkedIn profile with that same dedication as you would anything else?

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Anselm Strauss“Mirrors and Masks: the search for identity.” (1969) Continue reading

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