On social networks we commonly present ourselves to the world with our best faces forward, whether it’s through photos of ourselves smiling atop Machu Pichu on Facebook or being endlessly clever on Twitter. And since we all know we’re guilty ourselves, we commonly cut each other some slack when someone’s vocabulary, say, isn’t as extensive in real life as it is online.
But all social networks are not created equal. There is one where misrepresentation is a far greater sin, where the smallest fib might cost you your career. Yep. LinkedIn. With over 150 million people leveraging the site for job hunting, networking and business connections, it’s the one place online where honesty really is the best policy, from your photo to your college to your sorority affiliation.
With that in mind I set out to look for the biggest mistakes job-seekers are making on the world’s most successful social business network. I tapped Krista Canfield for the inside scoop; corporate communications manager at LinkedIn, she spends hours finding tips and tricks to share with the media, and has found some big mistakes along the way. NextI got Joshua Waldman on the phone. While researching his book Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies, the social media expert spent five years toying with the site, experimenting with his own profile and those of his clients in an attempt to game the system. Last up, Nicole Williams, author ofGirl on Top and, more recently, the Connection Director for LinkedIn. Together, they schooled me on the 10 biggest LinkedIn mistakes, and how they just might cost you your (next) job.
1. No photo
LinkedIn profiles with photos are viewed seven times more often than profiles with a blank box, meaning the decision to add a photo should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, many people still chose to keep their faces off the social graph. This, agree all three experts, is a really bad call. “When there isn’t a picture, there’s an immediate element of mistrust,” says Waldman, and Williams agrees. “It’s a lot like when you’re selling a house,” she says. “If there’s no photo, it’s like ‘there must be something wrong with this property.’” Even though recruiters would never admit to hiring based on looks, she says that when they see nothing at all, they fear the worst.
2. An old photo or a glamour shot
While having a photo is important, having the wrong photo is a much more common mistake. “I see it especially in women,” says Williams. “It’s easy to choose a photo of ourselves at our best so it makes sense that a woman might use a photo of herself ten years younger.” You look great, and it might get you an interview, but when you walk in the door it can appear to employers like a deceptive bait-and-switch. Even if you’re not looking for a new job, Waldman says, it’s disconcerting to meet someone in real life that looks vastly different from their online gravatar—think of a Match.com blind date gone way wrong. Bottom line: if you’re bald in real life, you should also be bald in LinkedIn.
This isn’t a common one, the experts agree, but it can definitely be problematic. If you bluff on your education information on LinkedIn, be prepared to be outed. You have no way of knowing whether your interviewer’s little sister just to happened to graduate Gettysburg in 2004. If you lied, he will ask and she will know about it. Rule of thumb in professional social networking: it may seem like a vast network of strangers, but the world is truly much smaller than you think.