Using LinkedIn to get a job: Lessons from the KCITP Career Fair

LinkedIn MerlinWizard

Recently, Alaina Alisha and myself represented Social Media Club of Kansas City and Lawrence at the Kansas City IT Professionals Career Fair and I learned quite a bit how people are NOT using LinkedIn properly to help their career. Here’s a synopsis of the advice we gave and how it can best serve you in your career (as well as some career advice along the way). When people came to our table we asked the same question to pretty much everyone “How are you using Social Media to get a job?” 100 people surveyed, number one answer on the board please…

–“Well I’m on LinkedIn, but don’t know how to use it”

That was obvious since to go to this Job Fair you had to be a member of KCITP group on LinkedIn. However, it doesn’t answer the question “how you are using it”, and you have to actively use it. Signing up and accepting connection requests is not using it. That’s like me asking “How are you looking for a job?” and your answer being “I have a resume.” No matter how awesome the economy is, most of us don’t have jobs landing on our doorstep or our inbox (though I get several Nigerian widows offering me millions). So here’s some of the advice we dispensed

1) Stop looking for a job on LinkedIn.

Don’t be the stereotypical person walking into a bar just to find a companion for the evening (PG-13 blog here). You are sending the wrong message if you are looking to find a soulmate. That’s the same with LinkedIn. Don’t join expecting a job, and then either giving up when you find one or you don’t. It is a way of advancing your career and finding a job, but it doesn’t exist for that. It exist to “connect” and “network”, and along those lines…

2) Connect and network with others, but not too much

Ideally, you should connect with anyone you could carry on a conversation with for an extended period of time. This may be at a dinner or even over just a cup of coffee or during your carpool. You shouldn’t be complete strangers “hoping” to get to know each other. Granted you don’t have to have them over for a nitecap nor invite them to meet your parents (again, PG-13), but don’t connect just to connect. Don’t be that person that collects connections like one would collect bottle caps or matchbooks

Let search be your friend (pun intended). Look for former classmates and coworkers and don’t focus on how “important” they are or how they can help you. That was a common response we got at the table: why connect with someone who isn’t a hiring manager or in HR? See Rule #1 above. This is about simply keeping in touch. In your invitation to connect, don’t use the standard boilerplate greeting. Personalize it for two reasons. First, you want to make sure they don’t blow you off. If they don’t remember you, they may ignore you. Similarly, if you can’t personalize your greeting based on a shared experience or background, then you really shouldn’t connect because you won’t have much to talk about and you’ll be perceived as only someone wanting to increase their LinkedIn numbers. Merely recognizing their name isn’t enough.

3) Fill in your profile and make it search friendly and accurate

Put in as much data as possible in your profile. This isn’t a resume and you don’t need to keep it short. This is your chance to talk about yourself and let people find you. Speaking of finding, be sure to use industry abbreviations as well as spell them out. For example, don’t just say you know SBS2011 say Microsoft Small Business Sever 2011 (SBS2011) – that way you’ll show up on both. Human Resource people may not know to search for both, but a hiring manager might, so cover your business.

Make sure your picture look professional and appropriate for the type of job you want. This isn’t Facebook, so the ideal picture describes and communicates something about you, not a shot of you at the last family reunion. If it looks amateurish, then you are communicating you are an amateur. Of course, make sure it’s a reasonably current picture. If and when I meet you in person I don’t want to be thrown by the incongruency of your online and in-person appearance

Finally, please be sure it’s accurate and completely in sync with your resume. When I’ve done hiring, more than once I’ve found discrepancies between what someone says on your resume and in their profile and I’m going to ask you about that. Your LinkedIn profile is seen by others, so sometimes people are more accurate on LinkedIn because their former coworkers and managers are on there and will point out their “embellishments”. Honesty and authencity rule the day and if you are dishonest, social media reveals it quite easily.

4) Find groups to join and make intelligent comments in those groups

How do you find the groups? Well you are in KCITP so that’s a start. Read through the groups for people discussing subjects relevant to the field you want to be in. If a discussion about java is listed and someone is responding with intelligent comments, click on their profile and see what groups they belong to. More likely than not, the commenter is in groups that would be relevant to your field. Click on those groups and see if they are active and if so, join! Repeat as necessary. Find another commenter in the next group you join, see what groups they belong to and join. You get the idea

5) Make intelligent comments

As an employer, I am constantly looking for intelligent commenters in discussions. I click on their profile and see if they are within the field I’m in. If they are, even if they are already employed, I will discuss opportunities with them at some point. Sometimes if I share similar opinions or backgrounds I’ll invite them to connect (see Connect above)

Incidentally, I *am* looking for desktop support technicians so, shameful plug, please spread the word and check out this link

6) Use your LinkedIn profile as your virtual business card

Put it on your resume, put it on your business card, put it on your Facebook and Twitter profile as well as the signature line at the bottom of your email. This makes it easy to refer you to potential opportunities.

Although I met many people at the Social Media table, only one person had a business card. Many took my business card, but only one person thanked me for my time and asked me to look out for opportunities. However she didn’t put her LinkedIn profile in the thank you email nor offered to connect with me. I would have…if I remembered her. #socialmediafail.

7) Be in the know when applying

As you apply for jobs either responding to an ad or proactively contacting someone, it’s a good idea to know as much as possible. While company directories and positions are sometimes difficult to find, seeking this data on LinkedIn is fairly easy. You can find someone in the position you are hiring for as well as their coworkers, managers, and department heads. Heck, you might even find out who had the job before you. Contact them and ask them questions about the environment or what their employer might be looking for. Most people love talking about themselves and sharing knowledge, so go for it. The worst they can say is no.

Once you know whom you are interviewing with, research them on LinkedIn and look for shared backgrounds or simply what the interviewer’s focus is. Read through the groups and see what comments they make. During the interview, play to their interests. Don’t be fake, but do compliment them on things that impressed you. Members often link their Twitter and blogs to their LinkedIn profile. Use this info as an additional opportunity to find out more about them. The more you know about the person you are interviewing with, even if you never mention it, will certainly make you a bit more at ease with the process. Interviewing can be scary, so even the odds a bit by knowing everything you can about the person you are interviewing with.

So there you have it, how to actually use LinkedIn to find your next job. It’s not about finding your next job. It’s about networking and networking is something that happens whether you are in the job market or happily employed.

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