LinkedIn is a networker’s dream: an easy way to learn about, and reach out to, millions of businesspeople and thousands of employers. Yet many LinkedIn users don’t take advantage of the site’s features even though the vast majority are free.
Here are my top 25 recommendations for getting past “Well, I’ve got a login” and making the site really work for you, whether you’re job hunting, hiring, growing your entrepreneurial business, or just seeing and being seen in the online branding arena.
You’ll start by creating your LinkedIn profile and adding connections. Then you’ll use LinkedIn’s fancier features to do such things as reach out to friends of friends, join a Group or a LinkedIn Answers conversation, or enhance your profile with apps.
Our first 13 LinkedIn tips focus on your profile:
Name: Use your “business” name. My given name is Elizabeth but no one calls me that, so I use Liz in my profile and on my business card. Don’t add extraneous information in the Name field (like “5,000+ connections”) unless you want to brand the size of your Rolodex rather than yourself.
Headline: Your LinkedIn headline, just below your name, is a huge branding opportunity. When another user searches the LinkedIn user database, your name and headline are the only things they’ll see before deciding whether to click on your full profile. Make your headline count. “Marketing Manager” isn’t much of a branding statement, but “Marketer Specializing in Social/Content Marketing for Hospitals” separates you from the pack.
Photo: Don’t leave your LinkedIn profile photoless. Upload any decent-looking, digital head-and-shoulders photo. You don’t need business attire for this shot. Just use a photo that sends the message, “This is a business or professional person,” meaning (as you may have guessed) last year’s beach vacation shots might not be your best pick. (Then again, it all depends on your brand.)
URL: Make sure your LinkedIn profile bears your own stamp in the form of a personalized URL, like http://www.linkedin.com/in/lizryan. Once you’ve got that customized URL, you can use it on your résumé, in your e-mail signature, and on your business card.
Summary: Here’s where you can tell your story. “Results-oriented Finance professional” makes you sound like a robot or a zombie. “I started out in Accounting before morphing into a Sales Operations guy” gives us a feel for your path and your personality. Have fun with your LinkedIn summary—it’s the one free-form (and long!) field on LinkedIn where you can speak to the reader (the person viewing your profile) in a human voice.
Specialties: The Specialties section of your LinkedIn profile is another great field. You can use terms like “Supply Chain Management” and “Safety Training,” but you can also talk about your Irish wolfhounds and salsa dancing in this field. Prospective clients and employers want real, live, entangled, interesting people on their teams. Business is personal these days, and your outside-of-work interests (the ones you care to share, anyway) are part of your professional persona.
Add Sections: A powerful new LinkedIn feature is Add Sections, which lets you amplify your profile with additional information about past jobs, projects, organization memberships, and more. Click on the Add Sections link to preview the various enhancements you can make to your profile just by providing a bit more background.
Work History: It takes only a few seconds to upload your text résumé to LinkedIn, and it will save you time creating the Work History section of your profile. You can amplify this field with your proudest accomplishments or particular responsibilities you want readers to know about. It’s important to include the dates (and employer names) for each past assignment so LinkedIn can match you up with colleagues who have worked alongside you.
Additional Information: Your profile’s Additional Information field lets you round out the “Story of You” with the URL for your website and/or blog, your Twitter account, honors and awards you’ve won, and your interests (the books you read, the sports you play or follow, or anything else you want to share).
Personal Information: You can list as little or as much personal information as you want on your profile. It’s your choice.
Education: Including accurate dates in the Education section of your profile will make it easy for the LinkedIn database elves to match you up with classmates who may be on LinkedIn now, waiting for you to reach out and refresh the connection.
Contact: The “Contact [Person X] for:” section toward the bottom of your profile is another great field because it forces you to think about what you want from LinkedIn and from your networking in general. This is where you get to decide which types of contacts you want and don’t want. Which conversations are you willing to have, and which ones are a waste of your time?
Applications: You can attach Box.net files to your profile in order to showcase events you’ve produced, articles you’ve written, or photos you’ve taken, or to append a full-text résumé to your profile (for instance, if you’re a graphic designer and want to show off what you can do). I could write multiple articles about LinkedIn Applications, but for now I’ll just say check them out.
BUILD YOUR NETWORK
Your LinkedIn profile is in great shape. Now all you need is a network. Here are four tips for bringing your crew back into reach or converting 3D friends and contacts into LinkedIn connections.
Connections: Look for the green Add Connections bar on nearly every page of LinkedIn. Use this link to invite folks to join your first-degree network. In most cases you’ll need their e-mail addresses. If LinkedIn gives you the opportunity (some invitation channels do, and some inexplicably don’t), change the standard boilerplate invitation language to sound more like your own voice. Be wary of sending invitations to people who aren’t expecting them—you could lose your invitation privileges that way.
Colleagues: The Colleagues feature lets you quickly see which LinkedIn members have worked with you during your career. That’s incredibly handy because we can easily forget people, and we often don’t have current e-mail addresses for our long-ago workmates.
Address Book: If you have an address book on Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, or another popular e-mail application, you can download your entire contact list into LinkedIn. Don’t panic—LinkedIn won’t send spam; it will just tell you which of these contacts are already using LinkedIn.
Classmates: Just as the Colleagues feature does, Classmates lets you reconnect with people from your past. Invite people to join your network via the Classmates channel with caution, because this is where LinkedIn invitation spam tends to congregate. A helpful reminder in the body of your invitation (“I remember how much fun it was traveling to Tel Aviv with you in 1993.”) can help refresh the memory of classmates you haven’t been in touch with for a while.
NOW FOR THE GOOD STUFF
My last eight LinkedIn tips will get you using the site actively rather than sitting around waiting for people to reach out to you. Try one a day and build up your LinkedIn chops from “novice” to “cocky” status by next weekend.
People Search: Use the People Search link in the upper righthand corner of nearly every LinkedIn page. (I’ve had no luck whatsoever with the quick-search feature; I use Advanced People Search, however, several times a day.) You can search the LinkedIn database on every imaginable field, from a person’s name or industry to his or her virtual proximity to you. Searching LinkedIn is a free and easy way to build up your business-intelligence acumen and data warehouse. Try it!
Companies: LinkedIn’s Companies database is another treasure trove of useful information for job seekers, business developers, headhunters, and everyone else. When you find a company that interests you, click once to “Follow” that company and receive updates on its hires and other news.
Connections: When you’re ready to use LinkedIn as a networking tool, browse your first-degree connections’ connections to find someone you’d like to talk to. Make sure you appeal to the recipient and aren’t just asking a favor. You can make contact with the one-hop-away networker using the Get Introduced Through function.
Answers: LinkedIn Answers is a feature that lets you ask and answer questions among the massive LinkedIn user community. I use Answers about once a month to inquire about research studies or to get opinions on issues I’m thinking or writing about. And I respond to queries posted by others on topics ranging from HR policies to breast-feeding at work. Answering and posting your own LinkedIn questions adds to your understanding of business topics and increases your networking visibility and credibility.
Groups: LinkedIn Groups are magnificent idea-sharing and networking tools because they bring together subsets of the overall LinkedIn population, making it easy to converse and view one another’s profiles. Some Groups require approval from the moderator to join.
Jobs: LinkedIn includes job openings, but most of the time when I ask job seekers, “Where are you focusing your search?” they mention Monster, Craigslist, and jobs aggregators Simply Hired and Indeed. Those are all great sites, but let’s not overlook LinkedIn, which is unique because it links job openings to actual LinkedIn profiles. In an era when Black Hole recruiting abounds, it’s nice to be able to view a job listing AND the profile of the person who posted it.
Updates: Just like Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn updates keep your network current on what’s new in your life and work. You can update your status on the LinkedIn site or with a multiple-updates application like Hellotxt (which will update your Twitter feed, Facebook status, and LinkedIn status all at once).
Endorsements: LinkedIn endorsements, also called Recommendations, are an essential piece of the online networking-and-branding puzzle, but we’ve saved them for last because they require a bit more thought and care. It’s possible to ask people to endorse you on LinkedIn, but I recommend endorsing others first and letting them return the favor for you (LinkedIn prompts them to endorse you once you’ve completed a Recommendation for them).
You must have a first-degree connection with someone in order to endorse them. Make sure your endorsements are pithy and specific. The presence of Recommendations on your LinkedIn profile improves your results in database searches … and LinkedIn endorsements have their own power, especially if they’re well-written.
To give you an idea of how robust LinkedIn’s features are, we’ve barely scratched the surface here. Try some of our 25 tips this week and grow your online networking mojo in the process.