Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Career Management with LinkedIn

When I use the term career management, I use it in the sense of taking some control over your career instead of careering from job to job, allowing your job to control you. There will always be situations you can't control but your response to something like a layoff helps shape the kind of future that results.

If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there. ~ Lewis Carroll

Even though I intend for this to be about using LinkedIn to manage your career, there are other tools out there too, no tool in the world will be of much service to you if you don't know what it is that you're trying to accomplish.

Here's one important key you'll get from me over and over again - just like you have to want to know what you want from your career in order to not waste your time on a job that doesn't suit you, you also have to know what you want from LinkedIn (or any other social media tool, or any other tool for that matter) so that you don't waste your time in the great black hole of the internet.

Personally, that not wasting time on the internet is a regular battle for me and one I don't always win, but that's how I know how important it is. The only way I know how to win that battle is to determine ahead of time which tasks will support reaching your goal and how much time to set aside for each task - "however long it takes" is usually not the best answer. Face it, there is always too much to do. Make the time allocation a matter of priorities and degree of confidence that time spent on the task will yield the results you're after and you'll probably be on target.

What is it, in general terms, that you want from LinkedIn? I happen to think that in addition to building your network,, it's good for increasing visibility within that network and also beyond it. Used properly, LinkedIn can be even better at establishing and improving credibility. You can also use LinkedIn as a great research tool when you've identified a certain kind of role and/or a have targeted a specific company. Use it for finding out more about companies and hiring managers, determining what skills are needed for certain roles, and figuring out what options are available out there.

So - you've identified your over-arching goal (and it's one you can control, right? If not, we need to talk coming up with a better goal) and determined that a certain amount of time on LinkedIn is likely to help you reach that goal. Here are some of my thoughts about how you can make the most of LinkedIn:

  • First the obvious - scour LinkedIn for people you know and respect and who respect you back and get connected with them. I happen to be in the quality over quantity camp (ask yourself if a LinkedIn connection could be mutually beneficial), but you decide what works best for you. If you're just starting out, expect a certain addiction to the excitement that comes with finding new people to add to your network. If you've been on LinkedIn for a while, don't forget to incorporate finding new people who may have joined and inviting people you want to be in your network as part of your ongoing maintenance program.

  • If you're still employed, build your network now, before you need it. If you're recently unemployed, start adding people while your skills are fresh on their minds. If you've been unemployed for a while, this is a great time to build up your network by letting people know what you've been up to. Just remember that even if you have lots of extra time on your hands, they still have a lot to do, so keep your requests short, simple, and to the point.

  • Don't overlook the usefulness of becoming connected with friends and family, even if they don't work in the same industry as you. Frankly, you never know what they know. Similarly, don't limit yourself to regional contacts, even if your work is primarily regional. If someone from out of the area (so is knowledgeable and highly respected without being a direct competitor) can say good things about you, sometimes that is the very best recommendation available.

  • Speaking of recommendations, make recommendations for people in your network and be sure to show your thoughtful and analytical side when you do. Not only are they more likely to say something nice about you in return, know that the recommendations that you make tend to say as much about you and your thought processes as they say about the person you're recommending.

  • If you haven't started an ongoing maintenance program yet, do so now. Identify tasks (from this list of tips, if that helps) that you'll do on a regular basis - once a week, once a month, once a year, whatever makes sense - and then stick to that schedule as much as possible. If you fall off, just start back up again wherever you left off.

  • Part of your maintenance program should include periodically re-vamping your Summary and/or your employment history. You can refine what you've written and make it better, or just change it out a bit to keep it fresh. Either way, your network is notified that you've made changes, so it puts your name out there in front of them again.

  • If someone who is in a position to write favorably about your work hasn't made a recommendation yet, don't be shy about asking. The thought simply may not have occurred to them. Let them use their own words, but feel free to share what specific aspects of your work you'd like for them to comment on.

  • You can share up to three URL's - choose wisely which ones to use to represent you. You can label each of them with more user- (and SEO-) friendly names by choosing 'Other' for the type of website.

  • Consider using your LinkedIn status update and TinyURL or or some similar URL-shortening service to share out useful information that is distributed to your network. This way you're being helpful and they're seeing your name again.

  • Link your blog to LinkedIn and members of your network will be able to see your latest post(s) if they have that service turned on. If you have that service enabled yourself, it gives you something to use as a prompt to reach out and connect with the people in your network.

  • Status updates are great for maintaining a passive connection with people but make sure you also use LinkedIn in an active way too. I find it easy to reach out and say hi to past co-workers via LinkedIn messaging on a regular basis or simply watching everyone else's status updates and blog posts for interesting news items on which I can comment.

  • You can also become more actively engaged with your network by finding and joining alumni groups (both schools and workplaces) and other groups created around topic areas relevant to your job search and participating in discussions so that you get to know the other people in the group better and they get to know you. Be yourself, just remember to be your best self and you're likely to do well. Pay special attention to discussion topics where you can be of service to others. I nearly suggested 'where you can show off what you know' but frankly, that's just more likely to make you look like a blowhard. Stick with being in service to others and you'll be much better off.

  • Use the Q&A function in LinkedIn to find additional ways you can be of service to others and look for opportunities to provide even more information (so long as it's relevant) than what was actually requested. The person needing help can rate your answer so it's worthwhile to be as helpful as possible.

  • In all cases (Q&A, discussion groups, status updates, etc) remember to mind your manners. Treat it like a lunch meeting and ask yourself if you'd conduct yourself that way during either the formal or the informal portion of an in-person interview.

  • Use LinkedIn to research skills needed to be successful in a role and/or to ask questions of people who can help educate you further in that respect. This is a great way to identify where you might need to update skills and/or education.

  • Search on specialized terms to find out more about a particular kind of position or to find relevant job postings

  • Use LinkedIn to find out more about a company (indirectly from the information available on LinkedIn or more directly from people you can contact that way) and/or a potential boss. Remember that network you've been growing? This is a great time to tap into it for information and (when the timing is right) for introductions.

  • When researching companies, check to see which companies are related via common career paths. This can tell you a lot about the company, suggest additional opportunities and help you find more networking footholds. Compare job titles, check out top schools, and take note of the demographics information for more clues. If it's a company you'd like to consider approaching for work, check out the variety of job openings they have posted as well as the recent changes, new hires, and newsworthy updates that show up. Any of these can help you figure out a way in.

  • Prepare for interviews by ensuring you're up-to-date on terminology and buzzwords, current thinking and concepts, and personnel movement within your industry. Use the discussion topics and Q&A section to keep your own knowledge and thinking fresh, regardless of whether you participate yourself. If you need some remedial help, you can keep it confidential by asking questions privately. You can search for people using a variety of parameters, including title, current and historic company associations, keywords for skills or experience, promotion time-frames, location, etc.

  • Use your imagination to think of other ways of conducting research or engaging with people that might be beneficial to you. The sky is pretty well the limit.
No matter how you're using LinkedIn, it's a good idea to actively manage the process and take the position that you get what you give. You can show yourself to be helpful here too by sharing any of your own favorite LinkedIn tips and tricks. I'm also happy to answer questions that show up in the comments in the event I've left out any important suggestions or you need help creating the results you want.

What connection or disconnect do you see between how you show up and what results you see?