When I first encountered LinkedIn approximately one while ago, I glanced at it and thought to myself “That’s a lot of work.” As a result, I didn’t linger and moved on. When I was let go from my company, the transition team and a whole lot of people writing advice articles on the internet told me I should sign up and fill out my profile. I saw one article that quoted a hiring manager saying he looks for a ZoomInfo page and a LinkedIn profile. So I took their advice and got to work.
So what did I learn?
Well, for a start, LinkedIn works if you have a fleshed out profile, but it works best if all your contacts, connections and coworkers are on there too. But many people do not want the extra hassle of filling out a profile (and making all those connections) if they do not see a benefit in it. So they either don’t do it or stop after filling in their name and current position. In fact, LinkedIn was not doing so well until the recent downward spiral of the economy, when suddenly a lot of professional people for whom their network was their lifeline to get to their next job suddenly found themselves out of a job and looking for ways to connect. Suddenly a bunch of people, a critical mass, put their info on there and started to use it to find their colleagues and contacts. So it begins to spread and become more acceptable and expected even.
There are several articles out there telling you about different ways to make use of LinkedIn. One of the more comprehensive is this 10 part series that lays out a whole lot of ways you can use it. For me, there were stages.
Stage 1: Building up the history. In filling in my profile, it got me thinking about all my past positions, accomplishments, the whens and wheres and occasionally whys of our career. Other sites do this too, of course. A word of warning: this will not be the last time you have to fill in one of these as a job seekers.
Stage 2: Connecting with friends. You can use your address book to get you started. It will look for all the emails in your address book and see if they are on LinkedIn. And before you know it, you have sent a whole lot of highly impersonal messages to all your friends and colleagues, inviting them to your network. I later learned (and I agree) that just sending the default message is considered discourteous, that if you are sending a message to someone, at least take the trouble to use your own words to do it. But your friends will probably forgive you.
Stage 3: Connecting to lost friends and colleagues. Sadly, we do sometimes lose touch with people we knew who moved or when we moved. It is hard to make the time just to say hi and even harder when enough time has gone by that you no longer have an up-to-date address or way to contact them. You can look for people by name. You can also look up people who have worked at the same places as you. Or the same schools for that matter. I have reconnected with several of my old colleagues from Minnesota and also to my old comrade from Georgia Tech through this feature. And if they aren’t on there when you sign up but join later, you will see notifications that new colleagues from this place and that place have joined and you can see if it is anyone you know.
In the middle of this you begin to use the other features: there are groups to join based on whatever way to group people you can imagine. There is a job search feature (using SimplyHired). There is a way to research companies, at least getting some information. There are other little toys you can use to display a resume (box.net) or even the feed from your blog. But then you realize that, with all the data here there is something powerful you can do.
Stage 4: Powerful networking. So you have your list of contacts, which is all well and good. But if your contacts have been doing the same thing, you can see who they know. If you look up a company you are interested in, you may have someone you know who knows someone who works there already. If you can get a warm introduction to that person, it is definitely a step up from an email into the void of firstname.lastname@example.org
LinkedIn is not the be all and end all. You still need to meet people, make that personal connection. You still need to get through an interview and all that good stuff. It ends up being a lot of work to establish and maintain a network. You also need your employed colleagues to do their part, in a number of ways. I do encourage folks to make a start on that profile sooner rather than later. It is definitely better to have a network already in place should the worst happen than to be dropped into it unprepared. Plus, you should not just regard LinkedIn as a tool to aid the job seeker. It is great just to maintain contact with professional colleagues (I leave Facebook to my wife). You can also use it to make connections with business colleagues that you deal with, strengthen your relationship with them. For entrepreneurs, the contacts are vital, but even something like the client project manager is useful. And like many things in life, you get out of it what you are prepared to put into it.