By Felicia Cravens, USDR Contributor
Times are tough. Unemployment is stuck at over 9%, and shows no sign of improvement any time soon. It’s a terrible time to be looking for a job. Why, then, pay attention to a social media series, when those skills aren’t going to help you find work, or find a better job?
LinkedIn is the answer, a social media tool to help with job searches, networking, and professional development.
LinkedIn is nearly all business. It was designed to be an online environment for professionals to connect and network. Like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, LinkedIn helps you connect with people you may already know, or people who have similar backgrounds. However, LinkedIn bases those suggestions primarily on your work life, rather than proximity or interests.
The attention you give to filling out your profile on LinkedIn directly affects your ability to make connections. When you sign up with LinkedIn, you can fill out a work history; this helps connect you to former co-workers and employers, as well as others in the same industry that you may not know yet. As you request connections with these people, more become available to you. It’s helpful to think about LinkedIn as a business convention. Instead of circulating and gathering business cards in person, you’re able to examine profiles of other users and determine whether you want to connect with them.
The website claims to help you “get the most from your professional network” in three ways: Reconnecting, Power Your Career, and Get Answers.
Reconnecting – Filling out a detailed profile helps LinkedIn make suggestions based on companies you’ve worked for, schools you’ve attended, and societies you belong to. The more information you include, the more places LinkedIn can search for people to recommend to you. Have you edited a school publication or written for a professional journal? It’s easy to include that, and it multiplies your reach. Volunteered for a particular charity or served as an officer in a professional society? Add it in. Additionally, when you request a connection with someone, LinkedIn asks how you know them: Colleague, Classmate, Business Connection, Friend, Other. All these details help drive the suggestions you receive for more connections to build your network.
Power Your Career – LinkedIn lists thousands of jobs available, and it’s definitely a recruiting ground for staffing agencies and headhunters. Clicking on the “Jobs” tab will bring up a list of open positions based on the profile information you provided. For instance, since I’m loosely in education, positions in education sales and management will show in my search. And since I also hold an accounting degree, the search will return jobs in the accounting field as well. When you find a position that you’d like to apply for, that can be done through LinkedIn as well. Click a few buttons, attach a resume, and it’s done.
Get Answers – LinkedIn has formed a sort of Professional Help Desk in its Answers section. If you have questions on business topics, you can post them to as broad or narrow an audience as you like. At the same time, as a professional with experience, you can peruse questions that have been asked, and provide answers in your fields of expertise. This kind of specific question and answer community becomes an ever-expanding FAQ section, building a knowledge store on a variety of topics from people working in various professions. It can also get you recognized and promoted as an expert in your field; LinkedIn posts profiles of experts weekly on its home page.
Some other features that distinguish LinkedIn:
Groups – You can join groups that are ideological, political, professional, educational or geographical in makeup. This is yet another way you can connect to people who share things in common with you – people you’re more likely to do business with, people who enjoy your hobbies, people who live around the corner from you.
News – LinkedIn has a news aggregator that pulls stories from different publications. It provides a headline-view of major news stories in internet news, marketing, nonprofit news and other categories.
Companies – If a company has a serious web presence, chances are LinkedIn has listed it. You can find employees who work for the company, details about it, and interesting statistics compiled from the connections linked to the business.
LinkedIn has many ways to help develop and improve your visibility professionally, and may be able to help your employment prospects in a very practical way. Still unsure? These resources may help:
Next Week: Social Media – Frequently Asked Questions
Felicia Cravens walked away from her accounting degree over a decade ago to become a stay-at-home mom. Since then, she has filled her “spare time” teaching drama in an after-school program and working in conservative politics. She founded the Houston Tea Party Society in 2009, serves as a frequent media contact, and trains and equips people new to the political process. She can be found on Facebook and Google+, and on Twitter as @somethingfishie. She can also be found at Linked in at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/felicia-cravens/11/11a/25b