LinkedIn and Professional Networking
Your job search is a significant effort built on your defined strategy. Networking is a key to continued career success for everyone from entry-level applicants to senior executives. LinkedIn is a networking tool in the digital age that can add tremendous value to this process if used correctly.
The objective of this article is for you to create or update your professional profile and networking strategy. I’m not going to detail LinkedIn optimization. Google it, there are many sites and suggestions, THIS LINK is the first Google result and a comprehensive list of tasks that I agree with to boost your profile.
My Top 3 LinkedIn Profile Items
As I’ve mentioned before, the first is to have a “professional” picture taken. This does not mean an expensive studio session. I’m just saying the image should represent you within the job market you are targeting. If you are a tattoo artist, by all means, go shirtless and flex your muscles. We are talking about Information Technology careers here, so for us, business casual is your best bet. Don’t forget to iron your shirt! Get a friend or family member to help and use a nice, clean background. One of my biggest pet-peeves is the cropped photo from a picture taken with other people in a busy environment that distracts me from the subject… which is YOU!
I advised one of my George Mason students to change his profile picture. He was confused, saying that he was trying to convey confidence in his image. He had a funny smirk-and-wink photo that would be more appropriate on his Fantasy Football League site. The point you want to express is that you are enthusiastic and professional. Don’t allow a recruiter or hiring company to disqualify you because of an unintentional message you are sending with your photo. Keep it simple.
Copy Your Resume
The second item is to, at the very least, copy your resume, nearly verbatim into your LinkedIn profile. When I reduce my potential recruits to a handful, I always cross-check them on LinkedIn. I am specifically looking for items that don’t line up like gaps in employment or other massive mistakes. I’m also looking for additional positive information and if someone stands out. To take it a step further, spend a little bit of time editing your LinkedIn resume section to speak to the audience more than you would on your resume. The resume is rather matter-of-fact and straight-forward. Take this opportunity to use the first-person and make the sections more conversational instead of bland resume-speak.
I am a huge proponent of the Summary section on a resume. I always advise that this two or three sentence section is your only opportunity to be personal on an otherwise bland sheet of paper. My third item is to start by copying your resume Summary then expand it to a full paragraph or two. Because LinkedIn is so prevalent, and everyone checks it against your resume, the Summary section is the best place to tell the audience exactly who you are, why you are looking, your significant accomplishments and where you are heading with your career. I advise that you spend lots of time getting the Summary right. Make many updates and edits over at least several days. Finally, have at least two proof-readers check your writing before publishing. Your proofreaders do not have to be technical.
Finally, as a bonus tip, I recommend plugging all of your resume and LinkedIn writing into the Grammarly tool. It will significantly reduce the amount of grammar and punctuation mistakes and also suggest edits to make your writing better. On a recommendation, I use Grammarly to edit all of my blog articles and have found it to be invaluable.
LinkedIn is a Tool, not a Method
So now that we have our new or updated, clean LinkedIn profile, let’s get to Professional Networking. There is a tremendous focus on technology in our lives today. When I researched LinkedIn and professional networking on Reddit, and when I spend time answering questions, I notice that the majority of responses focused on the technology or the tools.
Professional Networking is NOT about technology!
Hiding behind LinkedIn and text messages and YouTube videos are all TOOLS in your networking arsenal, but only YOU speaking directly, in-person with other human beings will get results. The method I’m describing in this article is “professional networking” not “manage your LinkedIn profile” or “how to SPAM recruiters.” Having a great LinkedIn page will enhance your networking, but LinkedIn itself is not “networking.”
Meet People – In Person
After you have established your new, professional LinkedIn profile, start having conversations with everyone around you. Everyone. Coworkers. Family, aunts, uncles, cousins. Then start hitting up your neighbors; the ones that drive the Mercedes as well as the one in the 2001 beater Honda. Connect to all of them on LinkedIn, and get their email addresses. You’ll be surprised how everyone starts to connect. You’ll find a neighbor has worked with a family member, or a co-worker, or even someone that works at your company or a company where you’d love to get a job!
As the final, initial step to creating your network, join some MeetUp groups in your area. There are many, and they are diverse. Choose some different groups, not just IT groups. Think ahead to the types of jobs you might want, and the industries and your hobbies. Look into groups like health care and financial industry professionals and entrepreneurs. Maybe you want to work for a large business, the healthcare and financial groups will have folks that can help. Perhaps you like smaller companies… so focus on the entrepreneur groups… you get the point. Go. Meet. Connect on LinkedIn.
Build Another Skill
Once you start reaching out and having conversations to grow your LinkedIn network, you’ll also find you’ll be refining your communication skills. Even if you’re not looking for a job, take some interviews and work on those skills. There’s nothing illegal or unethical about interviewing while you are employed! Sometimes when you interview for a job, you are not a fit, but the recruiter will “save your info in case anything else matches.”
Breaking Into the Health IT Market
I traveled home to my parent’s 40th anniversary. My dad’s best friend was there. He’s a master electrician/program manager for GE who works around the globe on large infrastructure installs. When I told him what I do, he said, “well my son-in-law is in Health IT.” My response was… holy cow, my company is trying to break into Health IT, and I would love to talk to an expert in the field. We ended up having a two-year relationship as my company spun up a Health IT unit all because of my dad’s old electrician friend. Now he is a reliable contact in another state should I ever have business in his area or choose to relocate there.
Even the old, crazy cat-lady across the street can be a professional contact. She buys her cat food somewhere (and a lot of it.) She probably knows the owner of several stores since she shops there so often. She might remember that the owner is hiring. She might be the owner.
The point of talking to everyone around you is that you will find even the most un-obvious person can have connections relevant to your career. My son wanted to play with the kid down the street, so I walked him down. His dad is an auto mechanic, so I started talking with him. Then a neighbor dropped by to have him work on his car. So we all got to talking. I found out this neighbor was in Healthcare sales. Healthcare depends on… Health IT! He also told me the guy across the street is a Sr. Director for Microsoft (mental note). He then told me two other folks in the neighborhood who were in Health IT. As soon as I got home, I logged into LinkedIn and connected to all of them with a PERSONAL note about the other neighbor and how I just moved to Georgia. They were all more than happy to connect. Now I have a foot into my Health IT network in a new state, all because I talked to my neighbor the auto mechanic. I was on my neighbor’s driveway for almost two hours talking to these guys, and it opened up my network significantly.
THAT is how networking works…
You can’t just blindly ping a bunch of people on LinkedIn. This is the same as resume spam. You can’t expect results by blindly submitting resumes through Indeed or Monster. You have to put a significant face-to-face effort into your efforts to professionally network which will lead to new, great job opportunities. Yes, you may be putting yourself in awkward situations, making some mistakes along the way. That is how we grow!