How to Use LinkedIn – the Right Way

I am an organization development (OD) consultant who specializes in helping IT organizations.  Why IT organizations?  Because my undergrad degree is in Computer Science and I spent 15 years at IBM as a systems engineer – gathering requirements, implementing systems, designing networks, managing projects and doing the things IT people do.  I understand IT people because I am one.

I went back to school for a Masters in Organizational Psychology once I figured out that I knew a lot about computers, but practically nothing about people – and that people-skills and human behavior figured prominently in the success of my IT projects.

But why blog about LinkedIn?  Because in 2009 I suddenly started getting requests for advice and training on LinkedIn.  Collaborative work supported by technology has been my primary interest for 20 years – starting with Groupware in the 80’s and culminating in today’s Social Media.  As a result I have run classes for IT professionals “In-Transition” (the current euphemism for suddenly unemployed) and have sat next to clients, friends and family members to help them understand and leverage LinkedIn.  I want to share with you some of the same things I have been sharing with my other friends and colleagues.

I have been promoting LinkedIn for 5 years – asking my clients, “Are you on LinkedIn?  If you are, connect to me.  If you’re not, you should be.”  I usually get one of two answers:

  • Yeah, I have a profile there, but I haven’t visited LinkedIn in a
    couple of years.
  • No, I don’t need to be on LinkedIn; I’m not looking for a job.

So let me explain what is wrong with both of these answers.  For the “I have a profile there” guy or gal, the problem is one of two things.  Either they have what I call a “place holder” LinkedIn profile (you know it, the one with no picture, only their current job listed and maybe where they went to school) or they have a decent profile, but they don’t actively participate in Groups, answer questions, update their status or interact with other people on LinkedIn.

What I want to know is whether anyone would hand out a resume that had only  their name, current position and where they went to school.  Because that is exactly what you are doing with a “place holder” LinkedIn profile.  People who are recruiting, people who might want to join your organization and vendors or clients  who might want to do business with you will judge you based on what they see on your LinkedIn profile, just as they would if they were reading your resume.  Treat your LinkedIn profile with the same respect you give your resume – and include the same kinds of information about your previous jobs, accomplishments and affiliations.

I have heard some people fret that they don’t want to put a picture on their profile because they don’t want anyone to “know how old” they are.  However, without a picture it’s difficult for people to remember if you are the Bob Jones they met at a conference or not.  The other implications of no picture are that you:

  1. are not technical enough to upload a picture (a very bad thing for an IT exec)
  2. are 90 years old (I’m not talking about 60 – remember 60 is the new 40!)
  3. have something to hide – such as matching a Most Wanted poster

So find a recent, flattering business-appropriate picture and put it out there.

As for the folks who think they don’t need to be on LinkedIn until they are job-hunting, guess what?  The best time to “network” is when you are NOT looking for a job.  That allows you to participate in discussions (which lets you demonstrate how knowledgeable you are.) It allows you to be generous with your time and attention, to mentor others, to point them to jobs you know about – basically it lets you build your “LinkedIn karma” (metaphorically) so when you need it, a broad, geographically-distributed network of people who want to help you are ready and waiting.  The two to three years PRIOR to looking for your next position is when you need to be actively participating on LinkedIn.

Of course LinkedIn is only beneficial if you actually participate in the online community.  That means join Groups – not just your college and previous workplace alum groups, but groups centered around topics that interest you – whether that means specific technologies (e.g., Oracle apps) or leadership skills (CIO Forum) or hiking, you will find people in these groups who, one way or another, can help you find whatever information, advice or position you are seeking.

Of course I am not the only, or even the best, source of advice on using LinkedIn.  A friend of mine, Laurel Bailey, took a buy-out package from her VP job to “retire” and start a consulting firm.  Her blog, http://habaconsulting.blogspot.com/, has at least three entries from 2009 that are very relevant to this discussion:  June 8 “LinkedIn: A Networking Must,” June 15 “10 Ways to Screw-Up Your LinkedIn Presence” and July 20 “Weak Ties – Strong Benefits.”  The first two are self-explanatory.  The July 20th entry follows an interesting thought that came out of a social networking study in the 70’s (yes, there were social networks before there was technology to support them; remember, people wrote letters even before there were typewriters, computers and email.)  The theory is that the connections on the “edge” of your network – those people who are friends of friends – are the ones most likely to produce results if you are looking for information, a job etc.  The reason is that you and your immediate friends (at work, in your neighborhood) have all the same information and connections.  The people at the “edge” of your network have a very different view and can help you more than those in your immediate circle.

What actions should you take after reading this?  Spruce up (or create) your LinkedIn profile.  Join a few groups. You can join up to 50, so err on the side of over-joining; you can always drop out later if the group is not interesting or helpful.  Answer some questions.  Look up people in your city who have similar backgrounds (using the People Search box at the top right of the Home screen) and either connect with them or join the same groups they are in.   Go look for companies in your area (using the Companies menu item under “More..” at the far right of the Home menu bar) that are either potential clients, potential vendors or possibly future employers for you. LinkedIn conveniently tells you where people worked before joining, and after leaving, a company so you can see where your colleagues go when they leave your company.

Besides why wouldn’t we, as technology professionals, be the best at online networking?   Go conquer LinkedIn.  You will be glad that you did.

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