Doing LinkedIn Right: Getting the Most From Your Professional Social Network

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Creative Commons-licensed image via Mariosundar on Flickr.

LinkedIn (LI) can be a powerful tool for connecting with others and building your reputation and brand as an information professional. For job hunters it is a way of communicating your strengths and experience to a hiring manager or recruiter, and you can be sure that employers will examine your profile if they are thinking of hiring you. As with other networking and career-building tools and activities, there are effective tactics that are recommended, and others that may do more harm than good:

DO: Avoid confusion. The name you use on LI should match what is on your resume. Alternate or abbreviated first names or maiden names can be included in parentheses  The rest of the information on your resume and LI page should also be in harmony. You don’t  want anything to be unclear if someone (a recruiter or potential employer, for example) is looking for your profile.

DON’T: Use just your current title as your headline. Have your headline convey how you want to be known. This can be a real challenge, as there are only 120 characters in the headline - less than a tweet! Remember that this is the first thing readers of your profile will see, and your full titles will appear below it with the information for each position you have held.

DO: Make your summary compelling. Your summary here is analogous to your “elevator speech”; it should convey your experience and what you have to offer, as well as your enthusiasm for your profession and niche. Use keywords in your summary and elsewhere on your page, to increase the chances that your profile will be found by those you would want to find it.

DON’T: Send the generic (default) invitations to connect. It only takes a few moments to personalize the invitation, and makes a much better impression.

DO: Provide information beyond what is on your resume. This can include links to writing samples or articles, or a blog or personal page or portfolio. Your resume should be focused on skills and experience relevant to a job you are applying for, but your LI profile can and should offer more information and details about you, your work history, activities and accomplishments.

DON’T: Pester or stalk. Repeatedly contacting someone in your network, or with whom you want to connect, is not an effective tactic. It is unprofessional and disrespectful, and will lead others to question your judgment and possibly disconnect from you. Good manners and etiquette count on LI too.

DO: Be choosy. Don't connect with just anyone who requests it, or request connections from others indiscriminately, just to raise your number of connections. These strangers or near-strangers are not going to be as beneficial to have in your network as those who know you and your work and your character well.

DON'T: Pursue it if someone does not respond to a request to connect. If someone is not interested, let it be.  Don't dwell on it or take it personally.

DO: Join appropriate LI groups and participate in discussions to contribute to the information professional community in a public way, to start to get to know others in the groups, and to get your name out there. This is also a way to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge in your niche and brand yourself. Your library school’s student or alumni group is a good place to start.  As with your connections, quality is preferable to quantity here. Avoid arguments, negativity or attacks on others in the group discussions; that will only make you look bad.

DON’T: Post frequent status updates, as you might on Twitter or Facebook.  Keep your profile current and accurate, and use LI updates for occasional, significant things that are happening in your professional life. In the past you could have your tweets post automatically to your LI page but that is no longer an option, which is just as well. If your updates are constant and trivial, others will tune them out as meaningless noise, and will find it difficult to take you seriously.

DO: Customize your LinkedIn page URL to include your name. This is easy to do and looks much better than the default. The URL can then be added to your e-mail signature and/or the contact information on your resume.

DON’T: Focus only on what you can get rather than what you have to offer. As with other kinds of networking, if you are requesting before contributing, or instead of contributing, you may be alienating the very people you want to have as allies. Give first: information, advice, praise, congratulations, encouragement, etc. and ask for what you want later. Remember that others should benefit from having you in their network as much as you benefit from having them in your network.

DO: Recommend others, and occasionally ask for recommendations from others. Remember you are putting your own reputation on the line when you write a recommendation; write one only if you really believe the person is deserving of it and not because you are hoping for or expecting a recommendation in return. Choose those you ask for recommendations with care. If you ask anyone and everyone, you may come across as desperate or pushy.

DON'T: Try to friend all your LinkedIn contacts. Think carefully before sending a Facebook friend request to a LI contact. For many people, there is overlap between professional and personal contacts, but in some cases a friend request is inappropriate and may make the other person uncomfortable or wary of trusting your judgment.

DO: Be patient. Understand that it takes time to create a strong professional network and reap the benefits of the connections you make.  Use LinkedIn in addition to face-to-face networking to establish gradually the trust necessary to build and sustain a successful career.

Ellen Mehling received her MSLIS from Long Island University and works as a librarian, instructor and writer in and around NYC.  Her professional experience includes work in special, public, and academic libraries, as well as archives.  She is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program and Director of Internships for L.I.U.’s Palmer School and since 2009 has been METRO’s Job Bank Manager / Career Development Consultant.  She teaches classes and workshops on job hunting, information literacy, researching, and other subjects at METRO’s Training Center and other venues within and outside NYC.