Everyone knows that social media is becoming more important in the job search process. But it can also be overwhelming with new sites and options springing up every day. That's why when I'm asked about using social media in the job search, I tell people to keep it simple: start with a LinkedIn profile. (Quick disclaimer: I have no relationship or business interest in LinkedIn- I simply use their site.)

LinkedIn is quickly becoming the most valuable job search tool for virtually all professionals. Initially it seemed to appeal primarily to people in tech fields, marketing/sales, and public relations, but with over 80 million users now, it has become my first recommendation for job seekers, career changers, or anyone looking to enhance their public and professional reputation. And with upwards of 80% of employers researching candidates online, a LinkedIn account is imperative.

LinkedIn is first and foremost a networking site, but it can help you find new job or internship leads, employees at the organization where you'd like to work, people who can help you with your career-- or even hire you, organizations/groups you can join online, inside information about companies, learn about new trends in your field, keep up with connections or customers, identify potential customers or clients; and discover connections you didn't even know you had, etc. 

Many people just create a profile and then hope someone will find them. That's not how it works. You have to work your network-- even on LinkedIn.

So let's get to work.

1. If you don't have an account, set one up today. It's free, quick, and easy. Here's the link to get started.  You can even do a quick job search before you join.  LinkedIn provides a variety of training tools here.  Also, here are starter guides specifically for college students and job seekers who want to establish an account.

2. Take a few minutes to establish your reason for being on LinkedIn.   Are you looking for a job, want to connect with a broader network, or seeking potential clients or customers? Develop your profile with your goal in mind. Use the "share an update" section to post something related to your goal. For instance, if you're job-seeking, you might post, "Attending Excel spreadsheet training. Really great info." If you're a student you might post, "At internship applying my economics education to healthcare field."

3. Keep the cardinal rule of networking in mind: build relationships by helping others first. In many ways, LinkedIn was designed with a "pay it forward" mentality: the idea that you will help someone through your knowledge or contacts (without expecting anything in return) and then someone else will help you. Approach networking with a mindset balanced between "How can I help?" and "What's in it for me?" Share your knowledge and information and then seek out the answers to your questions. 

  • Start by offering help, advice, answering questions, joining groups, etc. 
  • Post presentations, link to blogs, help people find information and learn from your site. 
  • Write unsolicited recommendations for colleagues and contacts you know personally.

4. Make your profile as complete as possible.

  • Use a professional photo.
  • Include all previous employers so that former colleagues and co-workers can find you. 
  • Make your profile public and set it to full view so you will appear in online search engines. 
  • Use your primary email address (as opposed to a secondary one that you only check occasionally) so you will be reminded to check your profile often. 
  • Ask colleagues to write recommendations for you-- but try to avoid the "I'll write you a great recommendation if you write one for me" syndrome. While some of that is expected, try to get some independent recommendations. 
  • Use keywords related to your profession in your descriptions so that employers are more likely to get your profile when they search for potential hires.

5. Use the "introductions" feature strategically to connect with people. Identify individuals working where you'd like to work or pursuing your career of interest. But be careful-- if you're reaching out to someone you don't know, be sure to send a personal note along with the request. Many people turn down generic "I'd like to add you to my network" requests from strangers. Write a note which explains why you want to connect with them. And if you're just connecting because you want something from them-- they may not be interested. You need to be more strategic. Try joining groups and connecting with people that way.

6. Use the "applications" feature to highlight your skills and knowledge. You can connect to your blog, take polls, post reading lists, share presentations you've created, etc. These features can greatly enhance your professional image and illustrate your talents.

7. Join groups related to your profession (or desired profession) and take an active role. Post questions, offer advice, share tips, etc. Active group members have more chances of "being seen." Seek out alumni groups for any schools you've attended, groups related to an organization you'd like to work for, etc. You can even create your own group and start gathering members.

8. This is just a start.  Learn more-- check out these helpful resources: 

YouTube Video on Using LinkedIn to Find a Job

Linked Intelligence: 100+ Smart Ways to Use LinkedIn

About.com: Linked in and Your Job Search

How To Really Use LinkedIn by Jan Vermeiren

Ten Rules of LinkedIn Etiquette

The Social Media Marketing Book by Dan Zarrella

LinkedIn for Dummies

If it's been awhile since you set up your LinkedIn account, why not look at it today and see if you can use any of these tips. And please share your tips with other readers by posting comments.

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Copyright 2010 Katharine Brooks 

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