How to Avoid Misusing LinkedIn

More than 225 million people use LinkedIn, but not everyone knows how to use it effectively.

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“It’s not Facebook. It’s a professional, business-oriented site packed full of contacts and resources that can assist you in landing your next job.”
–Tara Goodfellow, managing director, Athena Educational Consultants

While more than 225 million people use LinkedIn, not everyone knows how to use it most effectively. According to career experts, job searchers particularly put themselves behind the eight ball when they under use or misuse the tool.

In terms of under use, Jackie Ducci, president of recruitment firm Ducci & Associates, says she believes it's not essential to be on LinkedIn to find your next career opportunity, but candidates who fail to take advantage are doing themselves a huge disservice.

“Many recruiters and hiring managers are now using LinkedIn as their No. 1 method of sourcing talent, so job seekers who have a presence on the site are far more likely to be noticed (and contacted) by HR professionals,” Ducci says.

Using LinkedIn wrong can be equally risky to your career. Social media expert Carlota Zimmerman says writing things like “Looking for my next opportunity” is an immediate red flag to most employers that you are a “train wreck waiting to happen.”

“It’s essential to use LinkedIn correctly – so if you don’t know what you’re doing with your career/life and you have a disorganized, irrelevant profile, you should understand that you’re broadcasting to everyone that you don’t know what you want, or what you’re doing,” Zimmerman says. “Considering that corporate America, like sharks, smell fear, that’s a very bad idea.”

Here are five tips from Goodfellow, Ducci and Zimmerman about how to use LinkedIn to help your career, not hurt it:

Expand your profile. Many people treat their LinkedIn profile as simply a place to post their résumé online. Yet your profile offers the opportunity to provide recruiters and prospective employers with a much more comprehensive impression of your experience – as well as more flexibility – than a standard résumé does, according to Goodfellow. “It shouldn’t just be a cut and paste of your résumé, but it should be accurate and consistent,” she says. “For example, you might be seeking an industry change. In the summary section, consider putting the emphasis on transferable skills and drawing attention to your areas of expertise. You can also post projects, samples of work, testimonials, etc.”

Use keywords. Not everyone knows it, but most recruiters and hiring managers who search for candidates on LinkedIn do so largely through a keyword search. That means you should pay special attention to words and titles when writing your profile, Ducci says.  “If you are an outside sales professional and your profile uses that exact terminology, you may also want to use terms like 'business development' or 'relationship building' somewhere in your text, because it’s possible that a recruiter would use those keywords in their search instead of outside sales,” she explains. “In other words, give some real thought to synonymous titles and terms, and utilize them in your profile. The more effectively you can do this, the more likely you will be to appear in someone’s search results.”

Help people to “get you.” 
One of the main purposes for using LinkedIn is to introduce yourself to professional contacts and potential employers before they meet you in person. That means one of your goals in creating an effective LinkedIn presence should be to “channel” yourself, so to speak, onto your profile page – particularly in your summary section.

“A stranger should be able to read your concise summary and get you, and be able to imagine how you could benefit his or her team,” Zimmerman says. “If you have received awards in school or at work, speak foreign languages, worked on big name projects: all of that should be covered in your summary in an organized, narrative flow. Some people think that they’ll save that for the Experience section, but if you don’t give people a reason to read your experience, they won’t.”

Link widely. Without a goal in mind for the number and types of contacts you should target, it’s difficult to take steps to make it happen. Goodfellow advises LinkedIn users to aim for more than 250 contacts. “It's not as daunting as it sounds, and I suggest 20 minutes of LinkedIn attention a day,” she says. “That’s it. Join groups to grow your connections quickly, as doing so gives you that first level of access in each group.”

Ducci says anyone you know is fair game to connect with on the site. “Remember that the more you build your network, the more accessible you will be to others, and vice-versa,” she says. “So, think about professional connections (co-workers, former co-workers, etc.) as well as personal friends, former classmates and so on. You never know where a good lead will come from, so don’t be shy about reaching out.”

Seek expert help. Not everyone enjoys marketing themselves, either in person or online. Goodfellow notes that many women in particular find it difficult to sell themselves on LinkedIn, perhaps because they feel judged or inferior. If this is the case for you, it can pay dividends to overcome this challenge. “LinkedIn only works if you have the confidence in yourself to sell,” she says.

There’s also wisdom in outsourcing tasks that aren’t your forte or that you dislike. Goodfellow suggests hiring a social media expert if you need help articulating your brand and gearing it toward future goals versus previous responsibilities. A pro can also help you conduct a LinkedIn audit to ensure you’re presenting a clear and cohesive message.

Regardless of whether you do it yourself or call in reinforcements, it’s smart to take steps to improve your approach. “Unless you just love the added challenge of not being on LinkedIn,” Goodfellow says. “Dedicate time to update your profile.”

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careers
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  • Robin Madell

    Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter, and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Robin has interviewed over 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in both New York and San Francisco, and contributed to the book Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success, published by Random House. Robin is also the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success. You can reach her at robin.madell@gmail.com.

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