Non-users of LinkedIn may wonder, why bother? Posting a profile, keeping it updated, building and maintaining your network of connections, and responding to messages takes time.
Of course, LinkedIn can help you find a job and research prospective employers by contacting current and former employees. Recruiters use it heavily to find what they call “passive candidates” who are open to new opportunities but not actively looking.
But even if you aren’t looking for a job, LinkedIn is a tool for displaying your work and credentials to colleagues and potential clients, gathering intelligence about trends and competitors from others in your industry or profession, and keeping in touch with alumni and other groups that matter to you. Also, if you lose your job unexpectedly, having your LinkedIn network up-and-running is a big asset.
The first step is to sign up and create a profile. The profile should be briefer than your resume, but it should include current and past employers, education, a professional-looking head shot (no party or beach candids, recruiters say), and any relevant affiliations appropriate for listing on a resume. Try to include details that will set you apart. “We are searching through tens of millions of people on LinkedIn, so include the thing that makes you different and unique,” says Steven Raz, managing partner of Cornerstone Search Group, a search firm.
It is also OK to include a little personal information that would be suitable for your resume, such as being an avid runner, says J. P. Sniffen, a regional recruiting manager for the recruiting firm Orion International.
Keep your profile up-to-date, and don’t make the common mistake of failing to delete outdated versions. Recruiters sometimes call these up by mistake, thinking they are current. Another common error is failing to respond to messages, which can create a negative impression, says Corey Ackerman, a senior partner at Cornerstone.
Strengthening your LinkedIn network is worthwhile. The more contacts you have, the more likely you are to get job interviews. Also, employers are likely to review your contact list to see who you know at what levels and in what industries, a measure of your networking skills, says Don Kjelleren, director of career services at Middlebury College. Many LinkedIn users maintain dozens to hundreds of contacts.
LinkedIn poses a risk that your boss will notice your profile or activities, assume you are jobhunting and hold it against you. A vigilant boss may wonder why you are connecting with a human-resource manager at a competitor, for example. Or “a significant change in activity level, such as new recommendations or changes to your profile, it could look suspicious” to your boss, says Laura Poisson, a vice president at ClearRock, an executive coaching and outplacement firm.
Mr. Sniffen says “it happens all the time:” An unemployed jobseeker calls to say he is out of work because the boss discovered via LinkedIn that he was looking around.
Recruiters offer tips on reducing the risk. Consider making a pre-emptive strike: Tell your boss that you are active on LinkedIn for networking purposes, to share ideas and information, to get help solving work-related problems, or to stay in touch with alumni or professional groups, Mr. Sniffen says. Be consistent in updating your profile and contacts, so a sudden flurry of contacts from recruiters or prospective employers won’t be so conspicuous. And if you receive a LinkedIn job query, consider responding via your personal e-mail or phone. Some users post their personal e-mail addresses on their profiles, enabling prospective employers to contact them that way.
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