August 28, 2012
Your LinkedIn profile says more about you than you think
I had the privilege of speaking to about 900 folks at the University of Washington last week as part of a panel discussion on "personal branding" and the strategies professionals can follow to set themselves apart from the crowd. All in all, it was a great event. While each speaker brought their own insights to the table, we generally agreed that one's personal brand centers around figuring out what you want people to think and feel about you, and then taking the steps necessary to communicate these impressions -- and make them stick.
I was asked to discuss the LinkedIn networking site and explain how this popular online tool can help people promote their "brand" more effectively. After pondering the topic leading up to the event, it struck me that a person's LinkedIn presence tends to be almost a perfect microcosm of his or her self-promotional skills. To put it another way, if I were to spend 30 seconds glancing at your profile and your usage patterns on the system, I could probably tell a lot more about you -- and your level of career-management savvy -- than you realize.
Although I admit they might sound generalized and audacious, here are some examples:
Not on LinkedIn? Then my guess is that you're either a hermit, independently wealthy or (most commonly) a professional who is likely a little behind the times in many other modern business tools and technologies.
LinkedIn is not a fringe phenomenon. It's mainstream. It's universally regarded as an essential tool for career success, for both technical and non-technical professionals. And those who aren't yet on the site either don't care much about their career prospects or are growing out of step with the times.
Do you have a photo on your profile? If not, you need to add one -- and the photo you choose will tell me a lot about you. Are you dressed professionally? Are you smiling and approachable? Is the photo a high-quality one that portrays you in a confident light and reflects your personality, as you'll find in my favorite new example?
If so, you're in great shape. If not, and you upload a fuzzy, boring or unflattering shot of yourself, I'm going to worry about your level of common sense and how seriously you take your work.
What does your headline and summary say about you? If your profile doesn't clearly explain what you do, and what makes you great at it, I suspect that you're either a slacker too lazy to be bothered with these sections or that you're simply not aware of modern job-hunting conventions or how important it is to set yourself apart in today's marketplace.
If you just haven't gotten around to polishing up your profile, especially the summary section, there's no better time than now to add some language around your passions, work values and key differentiators.
How many connections do you have? If you've been on LinkedIn for a while and have a relatively small number of connections (say, less than 25), that probably means you're a pretty guarded person. You might need to cultivate some additional relationships to improve your career prospects.
On the other hand, if you have thousands of relationships, I know you're either a terrific "connector" of people (good) or somebody who is adding random connections on the system (bad) just for the sake of it, with no regard for the quality of the company you keep.
What kind of notes do you write? If you reach out to connect with people using the awful default "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" script, or fail to customize other messages within the system, that tells me you either are new to the site or simply don't understand how to win friends and influence people.
Social media is about relationships, not technology. You'll almost always get a better response, and build more meaningful relationships, when you write a few personalized, thoughtful words every time you interact with somebody on LinkedIn. So kill those default scripts, add some customized language and show people that you care -- and that you have a sincere interest in interacting with them in a win/win professional capacity.
I'm sure I could come up with a dozen more examples that would correlate between a person's LinkedIn usage and level of self-promotional savvy. The bottom line, however, is to focus on how you can use this popular networking tool (and ones like it) to help people think the right things about you -- and engender a highly positive feeling about your shared relationship. That's what these sites are all about.
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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