Quick: When looking for a job, what is most likely to pique a potential employer's curiosity? Go to the head of the class if you answered, My LinkedIn profile.
Yes, today's hiring managers pore over your digital footprint to gather as much information about you as they can. Call it due diligence.
And for most of them, LinkedIn is the place to go. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. Among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they use LinkedIn.
"There's no easier way to demonstrate your expertise to a broad audience of potential colleagues, networking contacts and hiring managers," says Miriam Salpeter, owner and founder of Keppie Careers, a coaching and consulting firm.
So don't take a bare-bones approach to your profile. When a hiring manager looks at it, you want him or her to see a clear portrait of your background, skills and experience and to learn a bit about how you spend your time outside the office.
Equally important, a comprehensive online profile subliminally helps ease concerns about your age: It sends the message that you are not out of step with social media and technology.
Here are some smart ways to make the most of your LinkedIn profile.
1. Pick the right headshotThis sounds obvious, but lots of people don't add one to their profile. It might be for privacy reasons, or they don't have a photo of themselves they like. Sometimes they have do have one on their page, but it's a small, blurry image.
That's a turnoff for a recruiter. It implies that you aren't comfortable with social media, or are a neophyte. "Your LinkedIn profile photo is critically important for 50-plussers," says Donna Svei, an executive search consultant and executive résumé writer who writes the AvidCareerist blog. "It's often the first impression you make on a recruiter."
Choose a current one. Sure you might think you looked better a decade ago, but that photo doesn't show you right now. If you get in the door for an interview, the employer may feel cheated when she sees you face-to-face.
Svei recommends a photo of you behind a podium, clearly involved in a public speaking engagement. "This confers automatic authority and shows that your opinion is respected by others." Otherwise opt for "a naturally lit photo where you look happy, have white teeth and well-styled hair," she says. Plus, pay attention to your jawline — no double chins. Push that forehead out and down a bit when you pose.
2. Customize your LinkedIn addressClick on "edit profile" and change the URL to: www.LinkedIn.com/in/yourname. Then include that address on your résumé, cover letter and the bottom signature line of your outgoing email, too.
Consider creating a QR code that links directly to your profile. You can use free tools like QReateBUZZ or Kaywa to generate your QR code. Make sure to add your LinkedIn QR code to your business cards and résumé. Android phones come with QR code readers and there are free reader apps for iPhones, so it's simple for someone to scan your QR code and be sent straight to your LinkedIn profile.
3. Create a bold headlineYour professional headline runs directly below your name on your profile. By default, your current job title will fill that space. Don't let a run-of-the mill title command that key space.
When employers run a LinkedIn search, the results that appear display names, photos and headlines. You want to have something that captures people's attention, so make the most of those 120 characters. Tailor it to say exactly what you do, or the kinds of jobs you're seeking. For instance, mine reads, Expert/Author/Speaker. If you aren't sure what to type in there, LinkedIn has a prompt for you to click and see what others in your industry are using.
4. Join groupsGet involved in LinkedIn groups that relate to your current work, alma mater, past employers or other interests. Comment on posts from others and add your own. It displays your expertise to prospective employers. Plus, it's astonishing how many new "connections" you can make, when you interact.
5. Create regular updates
If you've read a terrific article — share it with your connections as an update. It illustrates that you're continually learning new things. "Statistically speaking, we know that if you share once a week you increase your chances of having your profile viewed by a recruiter tenfold," says LinkedIn's career expert, Nicole Williams.
Ways 6-15 and the complete AARP article