10 Tips for Succeeding with LinkedIn

If you're just getting started with LinkedIn or if you've had a profile for ages, here are some tips to help you optimize your LinkedIn effort.

In summary, here are the tips in no particular order:

  1. Flesh out your profile
  2. Request recommendations from old colleagues
  3. Congratulate people on job changes
  4. Support people who are unemployed
  5. Reach out to old contacts every once in a while
  6. Pay attention to who views your profile
  7. Answer questions, Join groups, Run a poll
  8. Update your status with professional achievements
  9. Properly structure your employment history descriptions
  10. Do good work

1.) Flesh out your profile

LinkedIn - Profile completeness

LinkedIn has a "profile-completeness" helper that will guide you on the general things you should do. At the very least make sure you've got these covered.

  • Upload a well focused, professional (not holding a beer bottle) photo of your face and make sure you're smiling. Nobody wants to work with a smug, cynical, emo, asshole so look friendly.
  • Complete your employment history with title, date range, and description (more on description later).
  • Fill out your skills & expertise. This will prompt LinkedIn to ask your contacts to endorse you for those skillsets.

After you've spent the time bringing your profile up to speed, make sure you keep it updated.

2.) Request recommendations from old colleagues

To get to the recommendations section, click
Profile > Recommendations > Ask to be recommended

LinkedIn - recommendations

Here are a few guidelines on how to appropriately make requests.

  • Don't ask for recommendations from people you are currently working with. If the person doesn't want to leave one or just doesn't get around to it soon it may make for an uncomfortable workplace. First and foremost you should focus on maintaining high quality professional relationships at any position you hold. Putting unnecessary pressure on your colleagues may leave them with a bad impression of you.
  • Once you're no longer colleagues, all bets are off... If you had a good working relationship with someone then there is no excuse NOT to ask for a recommendation. Feel free to use the default recommendation message unless you feel like being especially personal about it. I don't recommend personal messages for one reason. If you send the request again (see next bullet point), the message you used before will be copied and if it is no longer relevant, you'll have to spend time typing out a new one.
  • Re-send requests every three months. I find three months to be an appropriate amount of time to pass without coming across as pushy. That said, there are some people who have been on my "three month list" for years. I'm confident they'll eventually come around :)
  • Leave recommendations for the people you are requesting recommendations from FIRST. This is much more polite and clears you of any guilt associated with re-sending requests to them every three months.

3.) Congratulate people on job changes

One of the main points of a social network like LinkedIn is the "social" component. LinkedIn enables you to stay loosely connected to a larger network, so why not take advantage of it. If you see a colleague who has just changed positions, sent them a congratulatory message via LinkedIn. Remember to make it genuine. Disingenuous actions are IMO a misuse of the service and

4.) Support people who are unemployed

To be clear, I mean to say don't make mention of people being unemployed.

A lot of time I see people who I know are unemployed leave their previous employer listed as current. It may be disingenuous on their part or at least they can argue they didn't have the time to update it yet. But in the case that they just don't want to publicly announce their unemployment, it's probably best not to make public mention of it. Since there is no concept of a public wall (like Facebook) the only way to do this would be to post an update on your own profile which doesn't really make sense anyways. Otherwise you may be thinking about sending them a private message however, this may just come across as patronizing unless you can offer them something of value like a job referral.

TLDR; tread lightly on this topic. Unemployment is serious and people can be sensitive about it.

5.) Reach out to old contacts every once in a while

This is a better way to resolve the previous bullet point issue. It only takes a little thought and effort to ask how someone is doing. Again, you want to take advantage of the social benefits the network provides you thus enriching your network. You may find out someone is unemployed this way. Then by chance if you're approached about a position, then you'll have someone to refer. This cycle is cumulative — the more people you have to refer, the more you will be asked for referrals — and the more people will think to ask you to refer them.

This is the foundation of the professional network effect. Malcolm Gladwell calls these types of people "Connectors" in his book The Tipping Point.

6.) Pay attention to who views your profile

This is sort of tied to the previous bullet point. If you see someone checking out your profile who you haven't spoken to in a while, it may be a good time to reach out to them. They may subconsciously feel like it's less of an out of the blue message (they might also feel like you're spying on them though so be especially careful to make sure your message couldn't be construed as spam).

7.) Answer questions, Join groups, Run a poll

LinkedIn has done a great job to really leverage the network it has by providing mutually beneficial features for professionals. The person asking a question can expect to get a great response because the person asking has a great chance to wave their banner in public. For you who are looking to bolster the strength of your profile, answering questions positions you as an expert and draws more people to your profile. The same goes for participating in groups, and requesting user feedback via a poll.

To get to the Answers section click
More > Answers

Running a poll shows that you know have relevant and interesting questions to ask. If you get a big response, then everyone who responds will see the level of your influence. Polls can have the opposite effect though if you don't have a network, then everyone will see that you don't have a network and be less likely to respond or think of you as a less influential person. There's a bit of chicken and egg going on here so the best chance you have with polls is to make sure you have a strong network, and make sure you're not asking a dumbass question like "Which is better iPhone or Android?"

8.) Update your status with professional achievements

One thing I constantly see is good qualified people who are either afraid or embarrassed to talk about themselves. In fact a lot of people were brought up to think it's rude. I'm here to say the opposite — if you're proud of something, say something.

Tactful self promotion is a key to growing your network.

9.) Properly structure your employment history descriptions

Just like a resume, you don't want to make yours difficult to read. Avoid lengthy descriptions that include every buzzword in the book. If you want to use buzzwords, put them in a buzzwords specific section titled "technologies used" or something relevant to your industry. When it comes to descriptions, keep them as short as possible (especially if you have many positions in your history), and focus on the highlights. Don't bother with listing trivial responsibilities that would at any position take zero time to learn.

Companies want to be able to gauge what value they would get by hiring you so explain your responsibilities in that context.

Here are some tips on structuring your descriptions:

  • Add a link to something external. Don't waste the potential traffic by not linking to your blog. I have added my about.me profile and my blog is linked from there.
  • Your Summary description should start with a concise, one line intro. "I'm a _______ who likes ________." I have two additional small paragraphs focusing on Specialties and Fluencies. Fluencies may include software you have experience with, spoken languages, or programming languages.

10.) Do good work

Above all else you need to do good work first. Doing good work and working hard will give you all the ammunition to execute all the strategies I've outlined.

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