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How LinkedIn Can Help Your Career Stand Out

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Social media is more than just a tool for socialization. Used wisely, social media can help you stand out from your colleagues and get recognized by your bosses, which can lead to raises and promotions. 

You may think that your bosses already know what you do, but with so many workers to manage and so many projects to oversee, it’s unrealistic to think that they can remember the specifics regarding every employee. As a result, you need a way to stand out without actually saying, “Hey, over here! Look at me!”

Social media can also bring you the attention of recruiters for other companies, leading to a lucrative career with another organization, at a company that you never even thought you could work for. While companies in search of new employees may post recruiting notices, this method yields a lot of applicants who do not meet the company’s competency standards. So, a number of companies are using their own recruiters to hunt for qualified candidates. You want to show up on their search.

However, just any social media avenue won’t garner these types of results. The higher-ups are unlikely to search for—or be impressed with—Facebook photos of you grilling in the backyard or smearing ice cream on your spouse’s face. If you want to reach the professionals, you need to go where they hang out. And currently, LinkedIn is the top online destination for people who are serious about their careers.

The beauty of LinkedIn is that it provides a central location to post your profile, showcase your skills, display your accomplishments, gather recommendations, and network with other professionals. By implementing six key steps, you can use LinkedIn to your advantage and catapult your career much further—and much faster—than you think.  

Step 1: Create a Professional Profile 

Creating your profile is the first and most important step in the process of making sure that your career stands out from the crowd. It will require an initial investment of time, but the rewards are well worth it. And if you have an updated and thorough resume, you can upload it to your profile page, which will significantly reduce the amount of work you will need to do. 

You also need to upload a quality photo of yourself. Since the goal is to present yourself as a professional, this photo should be a headshot of you alone, as opposed to a photo of you with your family or favorite pet. Don’t even think about not uploading a photo. LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams, in an interview with The Washington Post, underscores the importance of a photo: “It’s like shopping for a house online,” she says. And how likely are you to seriously consider a house if it does not include a photo?

Your “headline” which is directly under your name, should immediately tell viewers your employment status and also highlight your strengths. An article by Liz Ryan in Business Week provides samples:

Anne Smith
Startup Veteran/Online Marketing Manager ISO Next Challenge
Mark Rogers
Sportswriter/Editor with Print and Broadcast Chops Seeking New Opportunity

In the summary section, you can share information about your career history or objectives. Ryan provides the following example:

"Ever since I began covering business events for my college newspaper, I've been fascinated by business story-telling and its power to shape audience behavior. As a PR manager for B2B and B2C companies for the past 10 years, I've gotten my employers covered by Businessweek and USA Today by crafting stories that connect readers with our brands." 

Since your profile is similar to your resume, it includes sections for your chronological work history and education. However, as opposed to just listing this information, spice it up by listing your major accomplishments at each stage of your life. 

There are also areas in your profile to upload documents or videos. If you have relevant material, such as slideshows or published articles, adding it will help you to stand out. 

In addition, LinkedIn provides places for you to add your interests and causes. While it won’t hurt to add your love of softball or race cars, you may really gain points by listing your volunteer work. 

In fact, Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s director of global acquisition tells the Washington Post that he knew a hiring manager who was trying to decide between two equally qualified candidates for a particular job. From reading the candidates’ LinkedIn profiles, she discovered that one candidate volunteered at an animal rescue shelter. And since she was an animal lover, she hired that candidate.

However, you should avoid listing polarizing information, such as membership in political affiliations, since this may produce the opposite effect.  

Step 2: Use Industry Specific Keywords 

This is especially important if you want to be found by recruiters. And, since you never know when your company may downsize—and you will need another job, or when another organization may approach you with a better job offer, it’s a good idea to use keywords in your profile. 

Recruiters often narrow LinkedIn search results through the use of keywords. So if you are an information security analyst, there are certain industry-specific words that you should include, such as “cyberattacks,” “cybersecurity,” protecting data,” “database administrator,” and “penetration testing.” If your profile uses generic phrases such as, “keep files safe,” you can see that your profile will not be picked up by someone searching for industry specific keywords.

On the other hand, if you’re a video editor/animator, your profile should include such terms as “Final Cut Pro,” which is the industry-standard editing software. There are a lot of smaller editing programs, but major film and TV studios use Final Cut Pro, and they don’t want to hire anyone who doesn’t know this program. 

If you know Final Cut, but don’t list it on your profile, you may miss the opportunity to be courted by a company searching for this particular term. And some employers prefer candidates who can also edit audio, so “audio editing,” or “post-audio,” would be crucial keywords to include.

Think through the keywords employers in your field are likely to be searching for and include them in your profile.

Step 3: Connect Liberally  

LinkedIn has over 50 million members, so take advantage of the opportunity to connect with friends from college, former colleagues, and clients broadly. Other sources for connections include people that you meet at conferences, in addition to members of local organizations you're active in and neighbors. 

Having a large network makes you appear to be a friendly, well-rounded person who gets along well with others. And your varied connections make you appear to be more interesting. Companies want employees who have good interpersonal skills, and work well with others, and developing your network is one way to demonstrate your social and interpersonal skills. Also, your contacts may include people who can help you in your job search.

For example, you may be on the neighborhood softball team, but you were not aware that your pitcher’s wife is a senior vice president at that marketing company you would like to work for. Or your college roommate may live next door to the hiring manager of an IT firm that’s recruiting for a position that you’re more than qualified to fill. 

However, avoid trying to connect with people that you don’t know and don’t have anything in common with. For one reason, if your invitations are frequently rejected, LinkedIn will note this and start viewing you suspiciously. They may also revoke your account. 

Also, having a lot of connections that you do not know can backfire. For example, imagine that a recruiter notes that Bob Smith in Marketing and Jane Dane in Accounting are both listed as contacts. The recruiter calls Bob and Jane to inquire about you, and discovers that neither one of them knows you, or knows anyone else who knows you. The recruiter may question if the rest of your contacts are also people that you don’t know—and that is not the type of impression that you want to leave.

While you may not know all of your connections personally, you should have something in common with the person, such as mutual acquaintances, the same alma mater, or membership in the same groups. 

Step 4: Join Groups Within Your Industry

This will help you grow your network, provide you with professional resources, and give you an opportunity to share your expertise. Tufts University states that LinkedIn has over 300,000 groups. For recent Tufts graduates, the University provides examples of potential groups to join:

  • Tufts University Professional Network
  • Tufts University Alumni Association
  • Women for Hire
  • Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

If you’re a career coach, LinkedIn has groups for career coaches and resume writers. There are also groups for construction workers, marketing managers, event planners, and just about every industry you can think of. 

However, it’s important to not just join, but to take an active role in some of these groups. For example, if you’re an event planner and someone in your group states that they’re just starting out and having trouble juggling all of their projects, you could volunteer to share your wisdom, tips and tricks regarding how to plan and multitask as an event planner.   

By answering questions and offering helpful advice to others who are not as far along in their career, you stand out as someone who is concerned with helping others. 

Step 5: Ask for Recommendations  

It’s one thing for you to toot your own horn, but it’s another matter entirely when other people sing your praises. And LinkedIn provides a section on your profile page for other people to upload letters of recommendation.  

You should aim for a variety of recommendation letters. If you’re a recent college graduate, ask your college professors, your advisor, your dorm manager, and the manager who oversaw your internship for recommendations. 

Testimonials from current and former colleagues, former bosses, clients and customers, and people with whom you serve in a volunteer basis are also critical for adding validity to your profile. Obviously, these testimonials are impressive to recruiters, but they also show your bosses that other people consider you a valuable member of the organization. And in turn, your bosses may view you more valuably as well. 

Recommendation letters can only be written by other LinkedIn members. And while this may seem like an unnecessary requirement, it actually adds credibility to the recommendations. For one reason, the authenticity of a LinkedIn member can be easily established. For example, if someone wrote a recommendation letter for you, how would anyone know if that is a real person or if you wrote the letter yourself under an assumed name? However, if they have a LinkedIn profile, a photo and connections, it’s a safe bet that this person is real. (And that’s another reason why you need a profile photo. It makes you appear as a “real” person.)

Also, members are more likely to be honest when writing a LinkedIn recommendation since everyone can read it. As a result, even if one of your former coworkers was also your best friend, they’re less likely to embellish your accomplishments because other people who worked with you can read the letter, and would know if the comments were exaggerated. 

LinkedIn recommendations also work in your favor because you have the option of accepting and posting the recommendations you receive, or rejecting them. As a result, if someone writes a letter that you don’t find flattering, you can simply decline it.

Step 6: Follow Thought Leaders and Leading Companies

One of the best ways to show your bosses, and recruiters that you are serious about your career is to follow thought and industry leaders. And fortunately, you can follow them without asking to be connected. You can also follow companies. For example, if you’re in information technology, you may want to follow Bill Gates, Microsoft, Google, Sun Microsystems, and Apple. Organizations frequently post articles, updates and notices through LinkedIn, so you will be abreast of the latest trends and news by following leading companies.

And this is also a great way for you to know when there is an opening in your favorite company so you can apply for it. Plus, if you’re applying for a position, it puts you in a better position to be able to reference company news in your cover letter.

You can also share these articles within your LinkedIn network. Your activity may capture the attention of your bosses and cause them to look at you in a new light. Your professional online presence and online activity makes you stand out to your busy manager.

Continue What You’ve Started

Consistency is important when trying to make your career stand out. According to Williams, in the Washington Post article, sharing or commenting just once a week makes it 10 times more likely that your profile will be viewed by a hiring manager. And it certainly makes you more noticeable at your own company. 

Keep your profile updated, continue to develop your list of connections, and maintain an active presence. While this may seem like a lot of work, if you just spend 10 to 15 minutes a week maintaining what you’ve created, you will continue to grow your network, increase your realm of influence, and stand out from your peers. 


Graphic Credit: Profile designed by Shai Rilov from the Noun Project.

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