July 15, 2009
Using LinkedIn to research a career change
Though LinkedIn has taken the professional world by storm, many of its users still have no clue what to do with it beyond setting up their profile. I'm a firm believer that LinkedIn can be a wildly helpful tool for those researching a career change. For tips, I consulted Jason Alba, author of the book "I'm On LinkedIn -- Now What?"
Q. What are some of your favorite ways to use LinkedIn to connect with people who have the career you wish you had?
A. The first step is to invite them to connect with a reason. After that, I think you need to find the line between "I want to add value to your network and career efforts" and "Really, I'm not stalking you." You don't want to just connect and then never communicate. These people have the potential to be mentors or influencers as you reach into their networks.
Q. Is asking to connect with them and inviting them to coffee the best way?
A. If it's a local connection, I definitely recommend trying to figure out how to meet face-to-face. If you do, however, make sure you have a purpose so you aren't just sitting around making small talk and have them leave thinking, "That was a waste of time."
Q. How about joining the LinkedIn groups they've joined, studying their profile for their career trajectory, and poking around their contributions to the Answers section?
A. Nothing wrong with any of that. I favor personal relationships, but doing this type of research won't hurt. If anything, might prepare you for a conversation with the person.
Q. When is it appropriate to ask a LinkedIn contact for an introduction to someone you want to approach for an informational interview or brain-picking session?
A. I think it's appropriate anytime. The key is to have a strong introduction request. I have one sitting in my inbox right now that basically says, "Hi, how are you?" No way am I passing that on. I am using my own relationship capital, since when I pass an introduction request there is some form of endorsement from me. I want to see you say who you are and why you want an introduction request: What do you have in common? Why do you want to talk? Where do you see synergies?
Q. If you have a day job in one field but moonlight in another, how should you reflect this on LinkedIn?
A. It is against the terms of service to have multiple LinkedIn profiles. Figure out how to have both personas on the same profile. It can be as subtle as using the Websites area to include a link to your secondary business or passion, or putting a short paragraph in the summary.
Q. If someone who doesn't impress you asks for a recommendation, what should you do?
A. I encourage you to only write recommendations when you can professionally endorse the person. I have written back and said, "We haven't worked together, so I really don't have anything I can recommend you on. Perhaps after we work together on a project I can recommend you."
Q. Any other LinkedIn suggestions?
A. The Advanced People Search is a critical tool that I think too many people overlook. Spend a few minutes in there poking around. I think you'll be amazed at what kinds of connections you come across.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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