I started writing this as a note for a friend who was new to using LinkedIn, but was told it was useful for job hunting so wanted to give it a try. He is an enthusiastic user of Facebook and Twitter, and thought that LinkedIn was both less friendly and less secure(!) than Facebook. He was particularly concerned that it was not possible to block certain people from some updates, in the way that you could with Facebook.
The emphasis of this blog is therefore on how to promote yourself through LinkedIn. Whether that is for a new job or for creating new business opportunities, the principals of how you use it are the same.
What do you put in each section?
The most important sections are the ‘experience’ and ‘summary’ sections, but don’t forget to fill in your web site and twitter details too, so that people can find out more about you. On the whole, I think the experience section should be used pretty much as a conventional cv/resume. You can (and should) also write a summary as this is what most people will read first. You should use the summary for the information that you consider to be the most important facts that people should know about you. It doesn’t have to be an ‘executive summary’ of your resume, and people use this section for all sorts of things that they want to highlight. I’d put the things you are most proud of in there, as well as information that makes you stand out from everyone else.
Who should you connect with on LinkedIn?
You should develop your own policy about who you connect with on LinkedIn, and try to be consistent about applying it. I only connect with people I have met and liked in person (with very rare exceptions when I know that someone I trust rates the person). I think it’s wise to have a similar policy. It takes longer to build connections, but they will have more meaning to you. I really do know a lot of people (I have over 500 contacts on LinkedIn) but I’ve got a long and varied career behind me!
I have to admit that I sometimes need to remind myself of when I met some of my connections, but there is a little notes section that you can use, that only you can see, when you are looking at your own connections. You can also create your own tags to group people into categories that are meaningful to you.
So how should LinkedIn be used?
Its good to use LinkedIn to keep in touch with people you know through work. You can see what they are up to from their status updates, and respond in a friendly, but professional way. That way, they are reminded of your existence. You can send them private messages if you see anything interesting, e.g. you have noticed that their company might be expanding or they are involved in a new project. You can also browse their contacts to see if they can introduce you to anyone that might be able to help you.
It can be helpful to join a few relevant groups and join in the conversations. In LinkedIn, its best to stick to helpful comments that show off your knowledge. Save the fun stuff for Facebook & Twitter, LinkedIn is very different!
Remember to be subtle; it’s all about raising your profile and building your network. Don’t post that you are looking for a job, and don’t use obvious sales messages in your posts. If your boss notices that you are becoming more active in LinkedIn, just tell him its good for your company to have a strong presence there.
Public or Private?
A public profile in LinkedIn is very useful if you want people to find you, as these pages tend to come up very high in search engine searches for individuals. You don’t have to have a public profile on LinkedIn; you can set it up so that only your LinkedIn contacts see the details. So if you don’t connect with your boss or your competitor, they won’t see what you are saying in your profile. If you comment on discussions in a group, however, everyone in that group will see what you are saying, and it’s likely that your boss or competitor will be in the same groups as you, as they share common business interests. In addition, although many groups are private, some groups are public, or have been changed from private to public (you do get a warning about the change, and previous discussions remain private), so you should bear that in mind when you post comments. You can also set up your profile so that your contacts can’t see any of your other contacts. However as people use it to network for business, that level of privacy is generally frowned upon.
LinkedIn is definitely not Facebook, you have to keep a very careful business head on when you use it. Remember that not everything needs to be public on LinkedIn; you can use it to send private messages too, even to people outside your own contacts, eg. to interesting people in groups.
LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter?
Use them all! Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn are all very useful tools for building relationships, but you need to be smart about how you use them, and you should use them in different ways. LinkedIn is always about business; Facebook is great for chatting with friends, and comments there can be kept relatively private (as long as you keep up with the constant changes in settings); and Twitter is always public but not always serious.
P.S. I wrote a beginners’ guide to LinkedIn a while ago, which you might find interesting. It uses life sciences examples, but is relevant to any industry.