It happened again (actually, it’s been happening a lot lately): I got an email from someone a solid three weeks after I’d reached out to her on LinkedIn. The story is always the same: “Oh, you should really use my office email. Ever since I got a job, I stopped checking my LinkedIn profile.”
Unfortunately, it seems that many professionals have forgotten the number one rule of networking—and for that matter, one of the most important guidelines for your entire career: The best time to build a network is before you need one.
You see, the stronger your career support system, the more prepared you’ll be to transition when the right opportunity comes along—and you’ll be ready to roll if you receive unfortunate news (like layoffs or closure) from the organization you’re in.
So, even if you have a job that you don’t see yourself leaving anytime soon, I beg you to make this one commitment to your career in 2014: Stay engaged in networking. And since LinkedIn is one of the easiest ways to do that, here are five easy ways to keep that online presence vibrant, vocal, and visible.
1. Punch Up Your Headline
Most people use their LinkedIn headline to display the title of their job. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But why not really maximize the 120 characters in that field, describing in a little more detail what you do really well and making a memorable first impression?
For example, instead of “Procurement Manager at ACME Inc.,” you might write:
Creating Margin Through Outstanding Procurement Practices! Supply Chain Management | Negotiation | Contracts | SLAs
These phrases describe your role much more clearly than your job title, and recruiters are likely to use those keywords when looking for someone with your skills—meaning your profile will come up a lot more often in search results.
Most importantly, this will get you thinking about what you do—not just as a label on your business card, but as a fully fleshed out set of skills that you’ve mastered.
2. Request One LinkedIn Recommendation a Month
Often, people wait until they’re actively looking for a job to ask for LinkedIn recommendations. But even then, they worry it will signal to their current bosses or co-workers that they’re on the job hunt.
By making this part of your ongoing career maintenance plan, though, that won’t be an issue. Think of it as Instagramming your work: When someone says, “You did a great job on that project!” ask him or her to take a snapshot of that success by writing a recommendation on LinkedIn.
When you make the request, don’t be afraid to specify what you’d like the recommender to focus on so it can make the biggest impact (e.g., “If you could recommend me, I’d greatly appreciate it. I would most value your comments that speak to my work ethic, my attention to detail, and my contribution to the research project that enabled it to win more grant funding”). Getting generic recommendations that say, “Lea was great to work with” aren’t very helpful in creating value on your profile—but something specific, like “Lea’s contributions on the project enabled us to increase forecasted savings by 5% over our original plan” will really showcase your strengths.
3. Join a LinkedIn Group and Engage
If you’re only signing in to your profile once every couple weeks, you’re probably not truly engaged in the LinkedIn community—and you’re missing out big time.
To get more involved, find a LinkedIn group specific to your career or industry. Join up and, at least once a week, pop into the group to see what’s happening. Ask a question of your own, or make a comment on an existing thread. If you’re grappling with a challenge at work, this is a great forum to get others’ perspectives on how they deal with similar situations.
For example, I belong to a group of resume writers and career coaches that offers great perspective from its members. I once had a prospective client tell me that she’d been advised to only include five years of experience on a resume. That sounded off to me, so I went to the LinkedIn group, asked if others had heard the same advice, and got lots of great feedback that invalidated the five-year comment. Being able to collaborate with other professionals has been great for me and my clients.
4. Post One News Update on Your Feed Each Week
As a busy professional, you may not have loads of time to spend on LinkedIn. So if you’re short on time, one quick way to stay active is to simply share an article, blog post, or piece of your own original content once a week.
That way, when people look at your profile, you’ll come across as an active participant and help build your reputation as an expert in your field. And if people like and share your content, you may also gain additional connections.
5. Direct LinkedIn Email to Your Inbox
Lastly—and in my book, most importantly—in the privacy and settings area, go to the communications setting, and direct any incoming messages and invitations to go to your personal (or most often checked) email address.
This way, even if you forget to check your LinkedIn profile for a few days, you’ll still be able to immediately see and respond to messages from others—which will ensure you don’t miss out on anything.
Managing your reputation online is no longer just a job search activity; it’s a career maintenance necessity. Don’t forsake your career because you’re busy in your job—both need your attention and care, and these five practices will help keep you in the game.