LinkedIn is increasingly the place to network digitally. It's a place to see who works in places you want to work, and to be seen by people who may want to hire you or work with you. Here are some ways to maximize your impact on LinkedIn.
Be honest. Your LinkedIn profile is essentially your on-line resume. Everything you say on LinkedIn can and may be checked against a written resume. Make sure they are alike in all essentials: employer names, position titles, dates worked.
Spend time on your Summary and Strengths sections. These sections will be viewed first, because of how LinkedIn is set up. Put your best foot forward.
* Use the Summary to highlight your "unique value proposition" - what makes you stand out from the crowd, what you do really, really well, and what you want to do again. Remember, you will always be asked to do things outside your comfort zone or skill level so don't volunteer to do those things. Zero in on what you love and do best. This section should be written in paragraph form. You can have more than one paragraph. I recommend using two short paragraphs (3 to 4 lines each) instead of one long one. From my long experience writing successful direct mail letters (they made money!), I know that people skim paragraphs and tend to ignore long ones as too complex and "busy." Grab your reader's attention by using short, direct sentences and paragraphs.
In the Strengths section, list first the talents and skills you most want to use. People read the first 2 or 3 items and perhaps the last one. You can have 7 to 10 things listed. Use bullets to list them.
Create a key word-rich title. There's a place to describe yourself immediately under your name on your LinkedIn profile. Most people put their current job title down. In some cases, that's fine because those people may not be looking for a job. Sometimes your current title adequately describes what you want, as in "Major Gifts Officer,[name of organization]." People looking for a major gifts officer will search and may find you.
However, if you are not working now or you decide you want to change fields, this line is a great place to target the position and responsibilities you want. For example, if you want to work in technology in the financial services field in a senior position, you can say "Senior Technology Executive, Financial Services." That major gifts officer may want to say "Major Gifts Specialist, International and Sustainability Non-Profits" to attract recruiters who are looking for someone who can handle international fundraising.
Use the "JOBS" tab. LinkedIn has job postings, from the web at large and now from companies that post on LinkedIn exclusively. The great thing is that you can see if someone in your network works at a posting employer, from 1st to 3rd degree of connection. If the person is in your network, you can either contact them directly or get an introduction to them from your own connections. It's digital networking. I helped someone get introduced to Feeding America, whose husband was connected to someone who was connected to a friend of mine.
Get Recommendations! Some of the jobs posted exclusively on LinkedIn say they prefer candidates with recommendations. It is essential that you get as many positive recommendations as possible posted to your profile. LinkedIn makes it pretty easy, for they have a function through which you can request recommendations from people inside your network as well as those outside LinkedIn. For the people who are not on LinkedIn, you will want to send a separate e-mail explaining that you want a recommendation on LinkedIn, asking that they join LinkedIn for that purpose, and thanking them for their support in helping you. If you ask people who don't know you're looking for a job, expect to give them a reason for wanting the recommendation.
A very nice feature of LinkedIn's Recommendations is that you get to approve the recommendations before they are posted to your profile. If you don't like what people say, you can ask them to change it or ignore the recommendation completely. If you want them to change it, it's best to suggest to them how they might change it to better meet your needs. Most people are willing to do that. I did it for a friend, because she explained more fully why she wanted it and what she wanted me to stress.
Add a picture of yourself. Photographs help people feel they know you a little bit. In any job search, it helps to become familiar TO the people in your extended network. Your photo needs to be professional-looking. Wear clothing that you wear or want to wear to your workplace. Project the image you want a potential employer to see. Act as if the photo is going on an interview - because essentially, it is.
Remember this is a professional social networking site. This is a place to have only professional material. If you have a professional blog, put a link to it. Don't link to your Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or personal blog accounts. Don't include frivolous information. Include only positive and serious recommendations.
Use Applications as appropriate. LinkedIn has added many new applications that allow us to create on-line portfolios. For example, through the SlideShare application, you can add Power Point and slide presentations about your past work, how your skills match to a potential employer's needs, and perhaps additions to your resume that otherwise would make it too long.
By using LinkedIn, you can really increase your chances of getting a job you want. One of my friends reconnected with a past colleague and landed a job through him; she's been there a year already. While the economy is different now (worse...), it's even more important to use every tool you have to differentiate yourself.
Once you have a great LinkedIn profile, put a link to that profile on your resume under your contact information. This send several messages to the potential employer: you are a networker, you are digitally adept and confident, you are up-to-date with technology regardless of your length of experience and "seasoning," and you are transparent - no secrets. Those are powerful subliminal messages that will make you stand out from the herd - a herd that has not yet understood the value of LinkedIn.