Friday, March 27, 2015

Job Search Lessons - Take Advantage of LinkedIn

I have just wrapped up a successful job search and embarked on a great new opportunity.  I feel like this is the first "real" job search I have ever performed, because my prior jobs had been a long string of being recruited into the next job.  I learned a lot about the process and a little about myself along the way.

One thing I came to learn is that LinkedIn was far more useful and powerful than I appreciated.

LinkedIn Allows You To Be Comprehensive And Concise

That may sound like a contradiction, so let me explain.

The typical format for conveying your experience and your value as a resource is the resume or curriculum vitae (CV).  In academic circles, there is a tolerance for longer page lengths, but in general you will hear a pretty consistent message of "OMG!  Keep it short!", or some variation of that.

And that makes sense.  People have things to do and your resume is not exactly a best-selling novel.  So, you need to keep in mind that people that are key to creating opportunities for you may only spend a few seconds looking at your resume/CV.

On the other hand, the person whose job it is to insure you are a good resource will want more information.  They need to know that it is worth their time to hire you.  They need to know you can do X, Y, and Z.  And it's highly likely that they need A, B, and C, too, but that was not in the job description.

These audience have competing needs; this leaves you with contradictory goals.  There is an art to being concise and it's worth mastering, but LinkedIn profiles let you cheat a bit with the various categorizations they provide.  It's a bit like a buffet of information.

Use Your Profile Wisely

I will not pretend that my profile is perfect, so I will not hold it up as an example and you should really find a style that matches you and your goals.  But there are some basic ideas you can apply.

Your Summary should really be a summary.  You should not try to cram your entire resume into this box.  Your reader will grow weary and move on.  One or two paragraphs and a bullet list would be fine.  

The Summary is also a chance to speak in a broader sense with unifying concepts about your capabilities than you might in your experience.  For example, as a consultant, I have performed Program Management activities, but not held that title (yet); so, I call out that capability in  my summary because my Experience shows it in bits and pieces and will not explicitly convey it.

Experience is where you would place your typical resume content and the usual advice applies there. An entry should start with a simple descriptive sentence or two about the position, followed by three to five bullet points with specific accomplishments.  Your bullet points should take the form of "Did this thing which <solved this problem, made this much money, generated this may sales, cured this disease, etc.>".  The more you can quantify this, the better.

If you have been around the block, like me, you have too much to put in your Experience section on a resume.  For the jobs that did not have direct links to my current opportunity, I did not provide a description or bullet list of accomplishments.  This generally meant that over half of my Experience was abbreviated, but I did list those out on LinkedIn, which gave me a venue to include those things without overwhelming the reader.

LinkedIn provides a host of other categories, such as:
  • Publications
  • Patents
  • Volunteer Work
  • Languages
  • Honors and Awards
  • Skills and Endorsements
  • Courses
  • Languages
  • Projects
And more.

For a resume, this would be absurd.  Even for a CV, this would be absurd, and CVs get pretty long.  But we live in an age of information and sophisticated search technologies and this content feeds the powerful search and filter capabilities that LinkedIn provides, making it that much easier for a colleague, future colleague, friend, or recruiter to find you.

Don't forget, you choose how to sort your profile.  So, put the usual stuff (Summary, Experience, Education) up top and flesh out the rest as you see fit.

Applied correctly, this results in:
  • A very concise document for the initial contact
  • A more comprehensive profile on LinkedIn for those that need it
  • Showing more reliably in searches

Your Profile As Archive

So, this was a weird benefit I did not expect.  By using LinkedIn as my comprehensive profile, I ended up with an archive of sorts.  As I tuned and trimmed resumes for specific opportunities, I could always look back at LinkedIn for the complete list.  More importantly, by being comprehensive, it kept the net wide while I was off making more targeted attempts.

Keep Your Profile Fresh

As you crank out resumes or discuss your work with folks, you will come up with better descriptions of your experience.  Be sure and make those changes in your LinkedIn profile.  You will have lots of great ideas for improvements, don't let your profile become an outdated collection of misinformation.  That does not help anyone, especially you.

Side note: I leave it up to your tastes to choose if you should update your connections when you make changes.

Posts and Updates Can Be Beneficial

One of the challenges with LinkedIn is the noisy stream of updates.  There are many people investing a lot into creating or managing a brand on LinkedIn, so you get a lot of recycled stuff spit out from various sources that you never wanted to see.  You can configure your browser to hide it, but most people don't.  LinkedIn does not want to do it because it is part of the product they sell to those folks.

In spite of this you can still get some visibility.  Updates are quick and easy, just like a Tweet or Facebook discussion.  They are also easy to miss.  Posts seem to be more visible.

It also has a side benefit of being another source of inspiration to keep up with your professional reading, which is a good thing.  For me, personally, I try to create content to help people, so I get extra satisfaction from it.

Pictures Really Help Visibility

Whether it is a post or an update, pictures dramatically help your visibility.  We are human.  When we scan a stream, the one with a picture is going to be larger and more eye-catching.  Period.  So let's embrace that.

Usually, if you put a link in your post, it will automatically pull an image from that site.  If that is not the case, you might want to pull one yourself and throw it in there.

When you need to find an image, understand that is your friend.

But I Already Have A Blog...

I have no interest in replacing my blog with LinkedIn posts.  So I don't.  I integrate it.

I tried a lot of approaches and finally settled on this:
  1. Craft a blog post here
  2. Create a post on LinkedIn with the same lead image and "before the jump" text
  3. Add "Read more..." and link that to my blog post
  4. Win!
This helps increase the visibility to all of my audiences, professional and otherwise.

Timing Helps, But Who Has Time For That?

There is no doubt that if you want to reach Joe and you know Joe likes to check LinkedIn at 2:30 when he gets some afternoon coffee, then that is a great time to post.  And many marketers have published a variety of articles in which they passionately convey their observations on the best or worst times.

In my experience, I take a simpler approach.  Try to post during or within one hour of the "business day" of your audience; e.g., if you are trying to engage the typical work day in Texas, then post between 8:00 AM CST and 6:00 PM CST to increase the chances your audience sees it.  There may be a perfect time, but people are not exactly checking LinkedIn like a favorite TV show.

They will come and go.  

You will probably only reach a fraction of your audience.

It's OK.

And, hey, if you have a full-fledged blog, they they have a way to follow you more reliably.

Just Do It

So, go ahead and flesh out that profile and make it work for you.

In the next post, I'll address a problem with LinkedIn search, and how I solved it...

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