LinkedIn wants to help you get a new job – it really, really does. But you’ve got to help it help you. It is a Microsoft subsidiary, and a very effective one. Even though LinkedIn has over 700 million users, only a tiny fraction of those people are relevant for your job-hunting purposes, so you need to find—and get found by—the right ones. Here are four ways to make that happen.
1. Make Your Profile Work Harder
Your first step to increasing your visibility is fairly easy: Add or change your photo to a better quality, more professional one. Research shows that adding a photo will increase your profile’s traffic by a factor of 11. Find or create an in-focus headshot of yourself dressed appropriately for what you do, smiling and making eye contact with the camera.
As far as what your profile should actually say, think of it as a reverse “Help Wanted” ad. As you scan job listings, note keywords you see repeatedly, things like “customer-centric” and “relationship building.” Headhunters search candidates’ LinkedIn profiles the same way, so you want to make sure your language reflects theirs.
Your first opportunity to work in important keywords is with the 120-character job title that appears under your name, aka, the headline. Don’t feel obligated to use your literal title, especially if your title doesn’t adequately describe what you do (e.g., not “community manager,” but “commercial real-estate management professional”). Most especially, don’t use “former” or any other word that indicates you aren’t currently employed.
The next opportunity to grab a potential employer’s attention is the “Summary” section—this is the make-or-break spot to sell yourself. Highlight your skills and be specific about accomplishments, awards and other recognition. Use employers’ hot-button terms (e.g., “fast-paced environment”), but don’t just stuff the summary full of keywords. Write in the first person—here’s one spot where you can let your personality shine through and add to your memorability (in a professional way, of course). Be strict about length: If you use the entire space allowed, you run the risk of appearing both boring and old, neither of which is going to win you a job.
Tip: It’s important to remember that LinkedIn will notify your contacts when you make changes to your profile, so while you are under construction, make sure you turn off the “Notify my network” function (found in the right-hand column on your Profile page). Otherwise, you run the risk of annoying your contacts with a continuous stream of insignificant updates. When you are happy with your new profile, though, turn it back on and let everyone know!
2. Stay Active (But Not Too Active)
To stay top of mind with your contacts, you want to maintain a visible presence on LinkedIn. It’s important, however, to be judicious about how active you are, especially if you are unemployed. You know that Facebook friend who seemingly posts every 15 minutes? Well, you don’t want to be that guy on LinkedIn, especially if you haven’t used it at all in a while.
First, download the LinkedIn app to your phone; this will encourage you to check out the site whenever you have downtime. (Think: less Facebook, more LinkedIn, until you have a new job.) Then, visit LinkedIn’s home page at least once a day and see what others are posting. Like and comment on those posts. After you have a feel for what’s appropriate, begin adding items yourself every day or so. The easiest way to do this is to find interesting, provocative stories, photos and videos that involve your profession and make intelligent comments as you share them, rather than trying to blog with high frequency yourself. If you are a blogger, however, be sure to include LinkedIn in your social media outreach.
LinkedIn has made sharing photos directly from your phone easier, so if you find yourself at a professional seminar, conference or networking event, remember to post a photo and positive comment. Or post your work itself, especially if you are a visual or performing artist, culinary pro, or contractor. (Be mindful of client confidentiality and copyrights, of course.) Won an award or doing some volunteer work? Snap a photo and share that.
Don’t Add New Contacts in Big Batches
It makes you look indiscriminate and possibly desperate. But keep an eye on LinkedIn’s suggestions for additions to your network and invite people you know to link every few days or so. If the person accepts the link, send a friendly note updating them on what you’re up to. (You can also customize the copy that goes out with the invitation.)
Don’t be reluctant to ask for help in your job search if you think they can be of assistance—that’s what LinkedIn is for. Stay on top of your contacts’ new positions, birthdays, job anniversaries and other accomplishments via the Keep in Touch section in the Connections channel, and send congratulations. It’s important to reinforce your connections with LinkedIn contacts; a network of people you barely know is unlikely to do you much good.
3. Research, Research, Research
Even if there’s no job that matches the exact criteria you’ve entered in the Jobs channel, LinkedIn is good at suggesting companies that might have a suitable opening. Spend some time looking through the Discover Jobs in Your Network area. (This is another reason to build a large network of contacts.) And look at the site’s list of “People Also Viewed” jobs on job listing pages. It can lead you to some interesting postings you might not otherwise find.
Beyond the extensive job listings, LinkedIn has enormous amounts of background information available on companies. While this may not directly help you find a job, being well informed once you have the interview will help you get the job.
4. Consider Joining LinkedIn Premium
Starting at $29.99 a month, LinkedIn’s paid service is a little pricey, but a short-term subscription may be worth it. One of the Premium services takes a page from Google’s paid search: It moves your correspondence to the top of the mailbox of whoever posted the job you’re applying for. Sure, the potential employer knows that the reason you’re the “featured applicant” is because you paid to be, but that doesn’t necessarily negate your advantage of being first.
Via Premium, you can also see complete information about who viewed your profile. It can be a bit of a red herring to know that someone has looked at your profile since you still don’t know why they looked—it could simply be that you share a name with the person they were really seeking.
Probably the most valuable element of the paid service is InMail, which allows you to contact anyone on LinkedIn directly, even if they are not a current contact. However, you are only allowed three InMails a year (pricier plans allow more), so you have to be extremely prudent about how you use them—they are not a cold-calling tool. Reserve the privilege of making contact with a key decision-maker for your dream job or other critical communication.
The Bottom Line
LinkedIn is a valuable job search tool if you do it right. Fill out your complete profile, with a good professional photo, a headline and a compelling summary. Remember that LinkedIn is a search engine: Pay attention to the keywords that will get your profile noticed by the right people.
To stay visible, share links to interesting, provocative stories, photos and videos relevant to your profession, adding an intelligent comment. But don’t post so often you become annoying. And don’t forget that LinkedIn is a great place to research companies so that when you do get that callback, you’ll be ready to rock the interview.