(The first paragraph has been revised to correct the number of LinkedIn users.)
If you're a business or professional person and not using LinkedIn, you're behind the curve. Seventy million business networkers must be on to something. LinkedIn is the 800-pound gorilla of business networking sites and an essential tool for job seekers in particular. According to the LinkedIn website, a new user joins the site every second, and it's easy to see why. LinkedIn is a free billboard for businesspeople. It showcases not only your name, photo, and professional credentials but also your colleagues' recommendations, your brilliant thinking (by way of a Powerpoint (MSFT) presentation or white paper attached to your profile), and your excellent roster of connections.
The way to begin your career on LinkedIn is to build a sharp profile. Jump over to LinkedIn.com to create a login and password and begin to fill out your profile.LinkedIn helps you in your profile-building project by providing a handy thermometer-type tool that tells you how complete your profile is.(Until your profile looks fairly complete, resist the temptation to start inviting your friends to join you on LinkedIn.) Push on until you've reached at least the 70-percent mark.If you have a little more energy, use the Applications at the bottom of the profile-editing page to add a Powerpoint deck, your full-text résumé in Word format, an article you wrote, your own blog, or other content to your profile. Last, create a personalized LinkedIn URL for yourself, like this: http://www.LinkedIn.com/in/yourname, and use that URL on your résumé, job-search business cards, and job-search-related correspondence. Now rest and give yourself a pat on the back. You've arrived on the business-networking scene.
Of course, launching a LinkedIn profile is only the first step. LinkedIn offers tons more in the way of friendly functionality for your job search. Not sure how to leverage LinkedIn in your job search? Read on.
1. Write a Compelling Profile
Your LinkedIn profile can read just like your résumé, but it doesn't have to. You can stretch the envelope a bit and use a more human voice to showcase your professional passions and drivers. In particular, make sure that your "headline" field (the one just under your name on your LinkedIn profile) lets the world know your purpose. If you're unemployed, by all means use your "headline" to showcase your availability for work, for example:
Startup Veteran/Online Marketing Manager ISO Next Challenge
Sportswriter/Editor with Print and Broadcast Chops Seeking New Opportunity
You get 120 characters in the LinkedIn "headline" field, so use them wisely.
2. Tell Us Your Story
The large LinkedIn Summary field is much like a résumé summary, but longer. There's plenty of room to share your career history with readers in a compelling way. You can tell us your professional story in this space. As you can imagine, stories are easier on the reader than deadly dull résumè-type paragraphs. You might begin your Summary this way, for instance:
"Ever since I began covering business events for my college newspaper, I've been fascinated by business story-telling and its power to shape audience behavior. As a PR manager for B2B and B2C companies for the past 10 years, I've gotten my employers covered by Businessweek and USA Today (GCI) by crafting stories that connect readers with our brands."
There will be other places in your LinkedIn profile (the Specialties field, in particular) to regale us with your certifications and technical qualifications.
Use your Summary to let the person viewing your Profile know exactly what you're about and what you drives you in your career.
3. Mind Your Settings
You can set up your LinkedIn account (using the Settings link at the top right of each LinkedIn page) to keep all but your close friends (known on LinkedIn as "first-degree connections") from viewing your profile, but what's the point of that? If you're job-hunting, it's better to let hiring managers and recruiters find you easily by opening up your profile to public view. That means you need to click on the link that enables your Public Profile on LinkedIn. Other settings will allow you to dictate how LinkedIn communicates with you and about which issues (new invitations, e.g.), whether your contact list should be visible to your connections (I recommend that you let your friends see who your other friends are—that's the point of LinkedIn), and more.
4. Show Us Your Mug
LinkedIn began allowing users to upload a photo to their profiles a couple of years ago, and these days we can't imagine LinkedIn without user photos. A good photo adds life to your profile, and the absence of a photo raises questions (why doesn't this person want us to see what she or he looks like?) and just looks strange. Get a decent digital photo that shows you looking halfway professional (on-the-slopes and other leisure-time shots are fine as long as you look like a person who might function in the business world, vs. someone we couldn't remotely picture in a professional setting). Upload the photo to your profile, and you're all set.
5. Get Connected
Once your LinkedIn profile hits the 70-percent mark, it's time to start adding connections. LinkedIn won't be nearly as useful to you if you're sitting on your own private networking island. The point of LinkedIn is to allow your connections to make introductions for you, and vice versa, so you'll want to start adding first-degree connections ASAP. First, download the address book you use the most (Outlook or Gmail, e.g.) and let LinkedIn's downloading tool tell you which of these folks already use LinkedIn. Don't worry—LinkedIn won't start e-mailing everyone you know. You get to pick which people to invite to your network. When you do, be sure to personalize your LinkedIn connection invitation. "Hi Stan, I hope you and Jane are doing well. Shall we connect on LinkedIn?" is worlds better than "Since you are a person I trust, I'd like to add you to my network." Customization is key,
Once a person accepts your invitation to join his network, or vice versa, the two of you become first-degree connections. It's a two-way link. If you've accepted Jack's connection, you don't need to invite him to join your crew.
6. Add More Contacts
After you've downloaded your address book and invited as many folks as you'd like from it to join your network, it's time to look further afield for LinkedIn connections. Use the Colleagues and Classmates features (tabs at the top of the LinkedIn pages in the Add Connections area) to locate people you went to school with or worked with at previous jobs. Don't forget to personalize these connection invitations, too. Make sure to invite Colleagues and Classmates to your network with care. If someone from your alma mater or your old job doesn't remember you when your invitation arrives, he or she could click on the "I don't know Bob" link, and that's not good. Earn too many "IDKs" on LinkedIn, and your invitation privileges could be suspended. So only invite former colleagues and classmates you truly know.
7. Join Groups
LinkedIn has some 500,000 Groups, all of which can be found in the Groups section of the site, and you can join one or several to network with folks who share your professional interests.
8. Now Start Searching
LinkedIn includes an incredible people-search engine that serves as a boon to job seekers. Start at the upper left area of the site by clicking on the People tab—that's the search area. Fill in as many fields as you like and hit Search at the bottom of the page to start a search of the vast LinkedIn database. Remember that the more first-degree connections you have, the better for your overall (out to the third-degree) reachable network and searches. A great LinkedIn search is a simple search containing just your zip code (in the Location field) and a keyword or two (in the Keyword field). This search will let you know about employers you may never have heard of, great fodder for further research in your job search. Another great search is to type your own desired title into the Title field and include your zip code. Now you'll see which local employers have people doing the job you want to do—more possible targets for your job search.
9. Organize Your Contacts
LinkedIn's new Profile Manager tool lets you organize your connections by folder and even tag and organize the profiles of people outside your network.
Use the Profile Manager to keep track of people you've spotted in your LinkedIn searching and browsing, much the same way you use bookmarking tools to keep track of interesting content you find online. The Profile Manager is your own personal filing-and-annotation system for use while you're surfing LinkedIn. It's a great way to recall what you know about people, e.g., "This is the guy Sally mentioned at the Chamber luncheon. She's going to introduce me to him."
10. Get Introduced
Use the "Get Introduced Through a Connection" link at the upper right area of any LinkedIn profile to obtain introductions to job-search decision-makers and influencers through your first- and second-degree networks. When you click on the link, two envelopes will open. One of them will let you ask your first-degree friend for an introduction down his or her chain of contacts. The other envelope allows you to compose a message to the person you're trying to reach at the end of the line.
LinkedIn is a job seeker's secret weapon. If you're not in the LinkedIn network, there's no time to waste.