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Advice / Job Search / Networking

Start Your Love Affair with LinkedIn

If I were 13, I’m quite certain I would carve “JF + LI” into my locker door when no one was looking. I’d probably put a heart around it, too. That’s how much I love LinkedIn.

And if you’re looking for a job, you should love it that much, too. For starters, as of March 2011, LinkedIn had more than 120 million members—most of whom are professional, employed adults. Pretty good networking opportunity, wouldn’t you say?

LinkedIn provides you access to hundreds of relevant job postings that you aren’t seeing on the well-known (and overused) job boards. And even better, recruiters and HR people can search for—and find—you based on the experience and skills that you showcase. Plus, it’s a great research tool that allows you to study industries and companies—and people within those industries and companies—before you approach them.

So if you’re feeling lonely in your job search, consider having a love affair with LinkedIn. Here’s how to get started:

1. Create a Profile Pronto

If you don’t yet have a LinkedIn profile, go create one right now. Make it as complete as possible. Your profile gives you much more room to tell your story than the 8.5 x 11” confines of your resume, so take advantage of that space. As you summarize your experience and accomplishments, use keywords that are common to your industry—that’s what recruiters will use when they’re searching for candidates, and the better your profile fits what they’re looking for, the higher you’ll show up in their results.

Also add links to projects, articles you’ve written, your portfolio, or your professional video. And definitely include a clear, professional-looking photo (not the one your friend snapped of you last spring break with some guy’s head sort-of-but-not-really cropped out)—having your picture up there makes you much more relatable to the people you’re networking with.

2. Connect with (Lots of) People

The more connections you have, the bigger and broader your extended network will be, and the higher you’ll appear in recruiter search results. So don’t be shy!

First, let LinkedIn pull your contacts from your email address book, and the system will instantly tell you who among your network is on LinkedIn. Then invite them—but make it personal. LinkedIn will give you the option of sending a default “connect with me, please” message, but don’t use it—sending a personal note will set you apart right from the start.

Next, use LinkedIn’s “People You Might Know” feature to invite co-workers, former colleagues, classmates, and friends to connect with you. Cast your net wide—it’ll only help you.

3. Be a Groupie

LinkedIn Groups are an incredible resource—and they can do wonders for your job search. By joining groups relevant to your profession or industry, you’ll instantly be connected to people and part of relevant discussions in your field—kind of like an ongoing, online networking event. Many groups also publish exclusive job postings for members to review.

Best of all, when you’re part of a group, you have the immediate ability to contact any other group member directly (otherwise, LinkedIn only lets you contact people with whom you already have a personal connection). Whether the group has 10 members or 10,000, you can hit any one of them up with a “Hey, we’re in this group together. May I ask you a question?” note.

There are literally thousands of groups within LinkedIn, most of which are free to join and have few or no membership prerequisites. So dive in and join some.

4. Get Engaged

Sometimes people tell me that they’re on LinkedIn and it’s just not working. Here’s why: Like any relationship, you’ve can’t expect magic to happen without putting in some effort. So, throwing up a profile is not the same as using LinkedIn as a vital job search tool. You’ll need to build time into your schedule to continually engage with your online network.

Once you’ve joined some groups, start participating in the Q&As, forums, and discussions. Ask questions, offer your expertise, and get to know some of the other regulars. Also reach out directly to your connections. Rather than just sending out a blast email to your entire network sharing that you’re looking for a job, connect with people one-on-one to see if they have any leads or opportunities. Remind them how likable you are so that, even if they don’t have a job in mind right now, they’ll think of you if one comes up.

5. Ask for Some Recommendations

Recommendations are one of the single greatest things LinkedIn offers to job seekers. Yes, you usually have to solicit them yourself, but a few glowing reviews from respected customers, former colleagues, or supervisors can make you seriously stand out among other job seekers.

Now, there’s a tiny catch: If you ask 15 people for recommendations all at once, and they all post them within a couple of days of one another, it looks a little suspect. Space out your requests so they appear to have come in organically.

6. Update Your Status

Just like on Facebook, you can update your LinkedIn status as often as you wish. So use it to your advantage. Update it professionally and strategically (share the article you just wrote, not what you ate for lunch today), ideally once a week. Your entire network will see your updates, both in their news feed and in the weekly LinkedIn network updates email they receive.

Once you’ve got these basics down, you can use the site to browse for jobs, research companies you’re interested in, and get updates on the breaking news in your industry. And more. Ready to dive in? I’m pretty sure you’ll not only fall in love, but have a long, happy relationship with LinkedIn, too.

Photo courtesy of Nan Palmero.