How LinkedIn will fire up your career

By Jessi Hempel

If you need a job, or just want a better one, here’s a number that will give you hope: 50,000. That’s how many people the giant consulting firm Accenture plans to hire this year. Yes, actual jobs, with pay. It’s looking for telecom consultants, finance experts, software specialists, and many more. You could be one of them — but will Accenture find you?

To pick these hires the old-fashioned way, the firm would rely on headhunters, employee referrals, and job boards. But the game has changed. To get the attention of John Campagnino, Accenture’s head of global recruiting, you’d better be on the web.

To put a sharper point on it: If you don’t have a profile on LinkedIn, you’re nowhere. Partly motivated by the cheaper, faster recruiting he can do online, Campagnino plans to make as many as 40% of his hires in the next few years through social media. Says he: “This is the future of recruiting for our company.”

Facebook is for fun. Tweets have a short shelf life. If you’re serious about managing your career, the only social site that really matters is LinkedIn. In today’s job market an invitation to “join my professional network” has become more obligatory — and more useful — than swapping business cards and churning out résumés.

More than 60 million members have logged on to create profiles, upload their employment histories, and build connections with people they know. Visitors to the site have jumped 31% from last year to 17.6 million in February. They include your customers. Your colleagues. Your competitors. Your boss. And being on LinkedIn puts you in the company of people with impressive credentials: The average member is a college-educated 43-year-old making $107,000. More than a quarter are senior executives. Every Fortune 500 company is represented. That’s why recruiters rely on the site to find even the highest-caliber executives: Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) found CFO Jeff Epstein via LinkedIn in 2008.

The reason LinkedIn works so well for professional matchmaking is that most of its members already have jobs. A cadre of happily employed people use it to research clients before sales calls, ask their connections for advice, and read up on where former colleagues are landing gigs.

In this environment, job seekers can do their networking without looking as if they’re shopping themselves around. This population is more valuable to recruiters as well. While online job boards like Monster.com focus on showcasing active job hunters, very often the most talented and sought-after recruits are those currently employed. Headhunters have a name for people like these: passive candidates. The $8 billion recruiting industry is built on the fact that they are hard to find. LinkedIn changes that. It’s the equivalent of a little black book — highly detailed and exposed for everyone to see.

For a generation of professionals trained to cloak their contacts at all costs, this transparency is counterintuitive. So far most conversations about how to use social networks professionally have focused on what not to do: Don’t share drunken photos on Facebook. Don’t use Twitter to brag about playing hooky from the office.

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Top 10 tips for grads starting their career search

A. Here are my top 10 tips for grads starting their career search:

1. Be yourself … polished up!

2. Learn to tell “your story” well. Share why you are the best candidate. What value will you bring to the organization? Think from the recruiter’s/hiring manager’s perspective.

3. Have your “elevator or marketing pitch” ready for the “Tell me about yourself” question, which is used for informational interviews as well. Be prepared to identify what sets you apart from the rest. Share what you are looking for (be focused and have specific areas).

4. A résumé is a “living document” in a constant state of revision. Be prepared to give examples from your résumé that can address your ability to deliver on expectations/projects.

5. Get business cards. Put your name, e-mail and cellular phone number and a title or category if you have identified one. You can print them off the computer until you decide who you want to be, then order them online or from the office supplies/printing stores.

6. First impressions: Make sure your cell phone message sounds professional. Remember this is one way to begin “branding” yourself.

7. Organize your networking plans:

  • Make a list of who you know, who they know and who else you would like to know.
  • Join social networking groups and list 3-5 associations to join. Joining associations (preferably in your desired profession) and becoming active in them can produce outstanding results and in a shorter timeframe.
  • Create a LinkedIn account. This allows you to build an image, or brand.
  • Connect with your college or university alumni, companies you interned for, mentors and others in “groups” with common interests.
  • Identify 3-5 of your mentors — individuals you respect and admire — and arrange informational interviews. You must prepare for these the same way you would prepare for an interview. Come prepared with targeted questions.

8. Get your references ready. Contact former employers, internships, professors and ask for written or electronic references. Ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.

9. Prepare to make and track phone calls. Sell yourself, not the résumé. Set hourly, daily, weekly plans with goals. Also, get your space organized, have a system to track activity and follow-up.

10. Get mentally prepared for the “process.” Finding the job you want and getting offers is a numbers game. The sooner you realize this, the less likely you are to become dejected. You will fail more than you succeed, but you only need to succeed once (getting and accepting an offer).

Consider joining a job search circle led by a certified career coach to learn job search methodology, expand your network and gain maximum value from the group experience.

Lisa Chenofsky Singer, of Chenofsky Singer & Associates, offers executive and career management coaching and human resources consulting. Lisa writes and speaks on job search and career-related topics. Her website is ChenofskySinger.com.