Your guide to making the most of the social network
by Joseph D. Conklin
In my January 2014 Career Corner column, I mentioned my challenges in keeping up with digital matters.1 I started noticing email messages from LinkedIn about requests to connect and endorse. After setting up a basic profile and scanning the LinkedIn website, I discovered a digital wilderness that is easy to get lost in. It was time to find an experienced tour guide.
Fortunately, I had worked with career coach Marie McIntyre to update my résumé and career goals. She worked in management and HR for two decades before starting her coaching business. Along the way, she wrote Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.2
With those qualifications, it seemed reasonable that her knowledge of LinkedIn was much deeper than mine. I decided to try her out as a tour guide. Talking to her unearthed several useful nuggets worth sharing.
JC: How should newcomers to LinkedIn think about it?
MM: Working knowledge of LinkedIn is a must for professional job seekers nowadays. It is the primary means of reaching out and connecting with other professionals in whatever field you’re in. The service is constantly changing, so even experienced LinkedIn users must keep up with the latest features.
JC: How do newcomers learn to use LinkedIn?
MM: LinkedIn provides specific information about how to use the site in the Help section. After you’ve reviewed those tips, take the plunge and create your profile. It’s an easy process.
JC: What are the major uses of LinkedIn besides looking for jobs?
MM: You can connect with professional peers, check out other organizations to see what they are doing, learn about colleagues in your own organization if they are connected through LinkedIn, and encourage recruiters to contact you even if you’re not actively looking for a new job.
LinkedIn is a great way to network. It is more convenient than rubbing elbows at business or association meetings, and with all the information available, you can target your contacts much more precisely. LinkedIn also is a great way to let others know more about your qualifications and accomplishments.
JC: What tips do you have for new college graduates?
MM: LinkedIn can be useful for high school and college students, as well as for new graduates. High school students can connect with colleges that interest them, and college students near graduation can connect to potential employers for internships or first jobs.
New graduates should set up a LinkedIn profile as soon as possible. Remember, LinkedIn is all about business: Keep your profile professional, and add a professional-quality photo to round out the content. Selectively reaching out to alumni in your field of interest is a great way to start building a network. Consider adding references and recommendations from professors or internships.
JC: What tips do you have for more experienced professionals?
MM: Set up a LinkedIn profile or update your existing one to be a natural companion to your résumé. Have a professional, updated photo, and summarize your background at the top of your profile. List specific jobs and accomplishments you wish to highlight. As a general rule, the most recent 10 to 15 years are what you should emphasize—no need to go back to the very beginning.
JC: How do recommendations and endorsements work?
MM: The goal with both is to get other people to vouch for your strengths, accomplishments and qualifications. Recommendations are written comments from people who have worked with you. Endorsement requests are automatically sent by LinkedIn to your contacts based on key words in your profile. Those that are approved will show up in the "Skills & Endorsements" section of your profile page.
Accumulating a reasonable number of recommendations and endorsements increases the appeal of your profile. When asking for recommendations, select supervisors and colleagues whose title, function and experience make them suitable references.
JC: Should my LinkedIn profile make it appear I’m looking for a job?
MM: That’s absolutely OK if you’re unemployed or about to be. When you don’t have a job, use your professional identity instead of a job title at the top of your profile. For example, one HR director who had been laid off put "Senior Human Resources Professional" under his name. This made it clear that he was available without specifically saying so. If you already have a job, just strive to make your profile appealing to future employers or recruiters. Remember, your current supervisor and coworkers can check your profile. And your possible next employer can, too.
JC: Can you give some examples of people who found a new job through LinkedIn?
MM: Finding a job involves a combination of a professional résumé, effective networking and good interviewing skills, but LinkedIn can certainly provide an edge. One computer programmer I know used LinkedIn to locate potential employers after his job was eliminated in a merger. In another case, an HR manager used contacts through the LinkedIn HR special interest group to turn up some new opportunities.
JC: Can I assume you’re a strong supporter of joining special interest groups on LinkedIn?
MM: You bet! Joining special interest groups is the most convenient way to network. There are special interest groups for occupations, college alumni and employees of various large corporations.
JC: Last words of advice?
MM: Be sure to use the available options to control what LinkedIn can do with your account. This is especially important if you are concerned about privacy. For example, LinkedIn offers the option of seeing who has visited your profile—but only if you allow others to see you have visited theirs. Also, if you don’t pay attention to your settings, the mobile application may put all of your LinkedIn connections into your phone, which not everyone wants.
- Joseph D. Conklin, "Putting Pen to Paper," Quality Progress, January 2014, pp. 58-59.
- Marie G. McIntyre, Secrets to Winning at Office Politics, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005.
Joseph D. Conklin is a mathematical statistician in Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in statistics from Virginia Tech and is a senior member of ASQ. Conklin is also an ASQ-certified quality manager, quality engineer, quality auditor, reliability engineer, and Six Sigma Black Belt.