How to Maximise Your Use of LinkedIn – A Complete Guide
LinkedIn is the professional social network. With over 200 million members worldwide and expanding at the dizzying rate of two new members per second, it’s quickly becoming an essential part of how people do business in the 21st century. It’s reaching the point where it could be considered unprofessional to not use LinkedIn, so establishing a presence is absolutely vital. You can read more about finding contracting work in general here, but it's crucial to understand LinkedIn or you could deprive yourself of a significant number of opportunities.
The modern world has introduced a lot of additional elements to our lives – whether it’s checking in with friends on Facebook, posting to Twitter or staying in touch with colleagues over Skype, and there is a lot to keep up with. Adding a new social media site to your already crowded collection might not seem like a good idea, but if you’re looking for new clients or a different position, LinkedIn can be an essential component of your strategy. Plus, it really is quite intuitive to use, so you won’t have to get to grips with loads of complicated terminology or complex processes – it’s pretty easy!
This guide takes you from first establishing your profile through to networking, using LinkedIn as a job searching tool and getting involved with discussions going on through the groups feature. It’s a definitive look at how to get the most out of the medium, whether it’s a higher-level position, collaboration with one of the key figures in your industry or the opportunity to communicate with like-minded professionals.
So let’s get started!
Setting up your profile is your first step towards maximizing your use of LinkedIn, for the simple reason that it’s how important contacts, new clients and potential employers will find out who you are and what you do. With the number of social media outlets there are online, it’s easy to switch off when you’re creating a profile and just enter bland, basic information. This can cost you new positions and contacts, so it’s important to take your time with it and really make your profile shine.
- Fill in your details on the homepage. You’ll be asked for your name and email address, as well as to create a password. Use the email address most closely associated with your business or professional life if you have more than one. When you’ve finished, click on the “Join Now” link to fill in the remainder of your basic information, which includes your current employment status and position. Click “Create my profile” to establish your LinkedIn presence.
- Check your email. LinkedIn will send you a confirmation mail to ensure that the email address you’ve entered is correct. Click on the link in the mail to confirm the address and be taken back to LinkedIn.
- Searching contact lists. One of the most effective ways to find people you know on LinkedIn is to allow the website to search your email contact list and find anyone who has a profile. You’ll be offered the option to do this here, but you can click “Skip this step” and do it at a later stage. There is no real harm in doing it before your profile is complete, but why send professional contacts to look at a work in progress? The best advice is to wait and come back to this later. The same goes for sending invitations, “Skip” this for now.
- Go for the basic account. Like the previous point, it’s better to get to grips with LinkedIn before you commit to a Premium subscription. It’s never too late to upgrade, so click “Choose Basic” for now. You’ll be taken to your current profile page. It will look a little bare, but don’t worry; it’s about to be fleshed out!
Before you go any further with your profile, it’s important to understand the importance of the words you use. Employers use LinkedIn to search for new talent, and the results are filtered according to which profiles contain those vital search terms. This means that to use LinkedIn successfully you need to know the words people will use to search for professionals like you. Most people are pretty familiar with search terms, so your instincts will usually be right. For example, if you’re involved in digital marketing, the words “digital marketing” or “digital marketer” will be the best approach, and similarly an IT project manager should use that phrase or “IT project management” as keywords.
You can use the search bar on LinkedIn (found under your name in the top right of the screen) to check if your keywords match the suggested searches or whether they need to be adjusted. Keep keywords in mind, and remember that LinkedIn is one of the few sites that ranks higher based on the density of the keyword in the text. So if there are two project managers with the same profile length, the one with the particular keyword – “project management” – contained within the text five times will rank higher than the one who only mentions it twice. It’s not great for readability, but if you can fit the keyword in more without sounding like an automated spam-merchant, you should do it. So, with that in mind, let’s get back to your profile:
- Fleshing out your profile. To continue editing your profile, you can hover your mouse over the “Profile” tab at the top of the screen and click “Edit Profile,” but when you’re first getting started LinkedIn will display boxes at the top of the screen which ask you for information. You can use either method, but clicking the “Edit Profile” link makes things easier because you can make edits in any order and view the entire package as you go along.
- Upload a profile picture. The image you choose for your profile is integral to your personal “brand” image on LinkedIn. Ideally, you should use the picture from your other social media sites to create a cohesive online presence, but LinkedIn is a professional social media site, so your Facebook image may not be suitable. Professionalism trumps cohesion here, so use a standard, smiling headshot if your other social media images are more whimsical. Click the camera icon in the top-right of the current image (a generic bust if you haven’t uploaded one) to upload an image. You can zoom and centre it before applying it to your profile, if needed.
- Fill in your history. Your educational and employment history gives potential employers vital information about your experience and expertise, so fill them in and include a description of what you did, in the same way you would on your CV or in a conversation with a potential client. This is a great place to stick in some keywords if you can! Be concise, though – you aren’t writing a dissertation!
- Link it up! One of the most useful elements of social media is integration. Your Facebook page, Twitter feed, company website and LinkedIn profile don’t have to exist as separate entities – you can link them all together. Click on the “Edit Contact Info” link underneath the top section of your profile. This opens up a drop-down list where you can add contact information and link to your Twitter feed, blog or website. Just click on the pencil icon and fill in the details.
- Customize your URL. Most people are used to receiving links with random strings of numbers and letters in them, but LinkedIn offers you the option of customising your URL, which helps maintain a sleek, professional image. Click on the “Edit” link beside the URL and then choose “Customize your public profile URL” from the page you’re taken to (in the top right of the screen). Ideally, you should include your name in the custom URL. Use dashes for separating names, and add a company acronym or name if your name is taken.
- Complete your summary. The “Summary” section of your profile is like a compressed, sharper version of your CV. It gives an overview of your experience, education, and your company. You only get 2,000 characters, so get to the point. The start of your summary will be shown alongside a link to “View more,” so make sure you get any important points into the first paragraph. You can ordinarily stick keywords in naturally here, but focus on readability first and foremost.
- Write your professional headline. This is the short section of text directly underneath your name, and is the place where you have to make yourself look good in the shortest word-count. Write something that explains who you are, what you do and what makes you stand out from others in your industry. You have to show potential employees and contacts what you have to offer them, so go with your biggest selling points. Focus on the job you’re positioning yourself for rather than the one you’re in if you’re looking to move forwards in your career. You can normally add a keyword or two in here without affecting the text, so include some if you can. You can come back and edit your profile whenever, so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect straight away!
- Fill out your “Skills and Expertise.” This is a great place to list the various things you do and your areas of expertise. When you start typing, LinkedIn will suggest entries for you. You can add up to 50, so treat it as a keyword dumping ground. If you offer a specific service, have experience in a specific industry or are an expert in a specific platform (such as Wordpress), list it here.
- Don’t forget the “Additional Info.” This isn’t a throwaway, irrelevant section; it’s a great place to reassure everybody that you’re a real person with a vibrant personality that is a pleasure to work with. Give a more personal view of who you are by adding your “interests,” if you’re learning to play the guitar or love travelling, it lets people know more about you than just your job history.
- Add Connections. Now your profile is looking more complete, you can start adding your connections. As we covered earlier, LinkedIn can browse your email contact list to find people you already know. Click on the “Add Connections” link (in the top right of the screen) and you’ll be taken to the page to add your email contacts. Simply click “Continue” underneath your email address and sign in as you ordinarily would. LinkedIn will display the profiles of the people you know on LinkedIn and you can select anybody you want to add. After this, you’ll be able to invite anybody you know who doesn’t use LinkedIn yet.
- Get Recommended. Recommendations add authority to your profile, which helps you find work and build your own personal brand on LinkedIn. You can ask for recommendations (the “Recommendations” link under the “Profile” drop-down menu), but ideally you should give recommendations or ask in a personal email. Most people won’t mind giving you a recommendation, but it’s more polite to ask in your own words. If you do it through LinkedIn, you should always personalise your request.
A Word of Warning on Linking: You can integrate LinkedIn with Twitter easily, but be careful not to do so with a personal Twitter account where your tweets aren’t always professional. If you have a professional Twitter account, however, you can easily post LinkedIn updates to Twitter and vice-versa. This same advice goes for personal websites or links to Facebook pages.
Your profile should now be looking more like a unified, professional page and less like something that was cobbled together in five minutes, and you’ve already drastically increased your chances of finding a position. However, there is much more to maximising your use of LinkedIn than simply listing your employment history and personal information. Next, we’ll look at networking on the site, which leads nicely to finding work.
One of the major benefits of using LinkedIn is that it’s a great way of building your professional network. Like all social networks, it’s a hub of activity – like a perpetual cocktail reception with new people flitting in and out and conversations going on everywhere. Although you may have an ulterior motive, whether it’s to find a new business associate or secure a new job, it’s important to treat everything you do on LinkedIn as a two-way street. If you follow this basic rule, you’ll have much more success, but there are many different steps you can take to forge new bonds and build your network on LinkedIn.
- Focus on people you know. With so many potential contacts at your fingertips, you may find yourself tempted to try connecting with a big influencer in your industry (or a potentially valuable contact for any other reason) even if you’ve never met them. Think of it the other way around and you’ll see the issue. Imagine somebody you don’t know coming to you and asking for a favour – you’d ignore it and pretend it never happened given half the chance. However, if you’ve met them at a conference or event (for example), you have a legitimate link and you’re more likely to get a positive response.
- Use groups. LinkedIn groups are a great place to connect with new contacts you would have been unable to meet otherwise. Join a group in your niche or industry and get involved with the discussions going on there. If you can add something to a discussion, you may be noticed by somebody influential and gain an important connection. We’ll return to groups later on, but you can find potential groups under “Groups” and “Groups you may like” from the top navigation.
- Link to your Twitter. This was covered in the previous section, but it’s also a valuable tool for building your network on LinkedIn. Applications like Tweets make it easier to create Twitter lists for your LinkedIn contacts, and also let you know which of your LinkedIn contacts also use Twitter. By linking the two networks, you can build your Twitter followers and your LinkedIn connections simultaneously.
When you find someone who you know and want to connect with, you do it through an invitation. LinkedIn automatically populates the field for you with a bland “I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network,” but you shouldn’t settle for this. This tells the person absolutely nothing about who you are, whether you’ve met before and what you have to offer them. Remember, LinkedIn isn’t a place for handouts, if you’re going to build your networks it always has to be a two way street.
- Start with how you met or found them. The first piece of information anybody who you’re trying to connect with is going to want to know is where they may remember you from. If you spoke to them at a conference and suggested connecting with them (or want to follow-up after a good conversation), mention the name of the conference and remind them of what you were discussing. This should jog their memory and put your smiling profile picture into context. If you just read an article they wrote or attended a talk they gave, it’s only best to connect with them if they gave their LinkedIn details or if you have something specific to offer them, because they’re unlikely to remember you specifically. In these cases, it’s a good idea to mention a specific point they made which interested you because it helps to give them an idea of your personality and approach.
- Why connect? After you’ve jogged their memory, you should tell them why you were looking to connect with them, remembering to propose a mutually beneficial relationship rather than asking for a handout. You might go with something simple, like offering a connection to build your respective personal networks or to further explore a topic or area of interest. If you’re networking for a particular reason, such as seeking a new position, you can mention it here too, but be sure to include the next point.
- Offer your help. This cements the mutually beneficial element of your offer. Ideally, you can mention a specific area in which you might be of assistance to them, but you can always offer them introductions to your contacts. One of the best things to do is offer general help, saying something like “Of course, if there’s anything I can do to help you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.” This keeps avenues open and still shows them that they can get something out of the connection.
- End politely. Finally, finish your invitation appropriately and politely. If you’re hoping to arrange a meeting you can suggest potential times, or if you’ve read an article or attended a talk, thank them for sharing their points. You can also thank them in advance for accepting the invitation, if you like!
Before you send, give the grammar and spelling a final check. It’s hard to look more unprofessional than you do when asking a high-ranking executive for a “recomendation” or thanking them for accepting your “invatation.” Also, be as concise and short as you can – there’s no need to write a novel!
As you can see, networking isn’t actually difficult, you just have to avoid some common pitfalls and make sure you try to connect with the right people. Don’t worry if your number of connections isn’t high at first – new relationships develop over time, and existing connections often lead to more. Keep at it and your network will balloon in no time.
This is one of the most common reasons for starting to use LinkedIn, and if you’ve followed the advice you’ve received so far you’ll already be well on your way to maximising your chances. Joining relevant groups, posting up interesting points in discussions, getting recommendations and networking are all ways of increasing your visibility to hiring managers and other relevant figures in your industry. These are more passive ways of finding a position, which could result in you being approached if done correctly, but there are also some more direct steps you can take.
- Use the job search function. LinkedIn has a dedicated board for searching for a new position, which can be found under the “Jobs” link on the upper navigation under “Find Jobs.” This works in the same way as most job boards, but there are several positions posted up that you won’t find anywhere else. Check the board each day to stay up to date and get your applications in early.
- Announce that you’re looking for a position. If you’ve built up a strong network of contacts from your previous positions and groups you participate in, you might alert the right person with a simple update. You’ll see the space to do this right beside your picture on your homepage. Remember, this isn’t Facebook! Be professional and simply inform your contacts that you’re looking for something new.
- Sort your results by “Relationship.” When you’re conducting a job search, you can click on the “Sort by” drop-down menu and choose “Relationship” to prioritise jobs where you’re directly connected to or two degrees away from the hiring manager. Unsurprisingly, your application will garner more attention if you have a connection to the person sifting through the CVs.
- Keep updating your profile. Profile updates become news stories on the feeds of everybody in your network – so in a sense they’re like advertising. Don’t go overboard, but keep working on your profile (making changes where needed and filling in any uncompleted sections) and your improvements will find their way across your network.
- Make sure you’ve been recommended. Recommendations are never as valuable as when you’re searching for a new position. If there are any which you could still get from previous employers or educators, do it!
The points above are only the basic tools you need to support your job search, but there is a lot more to using LinkedIn to find work than that. LinkedIn is basically a directory of companies, their employees and anybody who has worked for them in the past. As a result, when it comes to a job search, there are numerous extra steps you can take to maximise your chances.
- Research the companies you’re considering. You can use company pages on LinkedIn to find out valuable information about the positions you’re planning on applying to. Click on the “Search companies” link from the “Companies” menu to find a particular organisation. Choose the relevant company and look through their profile. The tabs at the top of the profile can help you find out some useful information. Many list their “Products and Services,” which you can use to familiarise yourself with what they do before you put your application in.
- Look at the current list of employees. Finding the list of people currently employed by a company helps you understand what they’re looking for in their staff. This is listed under the “Careers” tab, and you should focus on people in your proposed department or similar positions. You can see the positions they held previously and look at their qualifications and skills to understand how the organisation decides who to hire.
- Use the “Insights” tab to look at new and old employees. This works in much the same way as the previous step, but allows you to look at new hires and those who’ve left the company. If you’re particularly bold, you can even get in touch with one of the new recruits (much easier if you have a link with one of them) and find out about how they got their position. Likewise, looking at where people went who left your previous company can give you an idea of companies who might be interested in your skills and experience.
- Get the inside scoop. You can safely assume that the company you’re interested in has numerous employees who also use LinkedIn. If you have any existing ties with any, you can find out about what they’re looking for in a new hire for your specific position. This is often hidden in the subtext of the job description, so having someone with the knowledge to tell you directly can be invaluable. You can also network with someone in the HR department to give your CV a more direct (and trustworthy) path to the hiring manager.
- Look up people in your industry. Use the “People” search (you can access this through the main search bar in the top left, just change the drop-down box beside it accordingly) to find other professionals in your area who work in your field. Look at their profiles and see which companies employ people like you and find out more about common career paths in your industry.
Although LinkedIn is a great resource when you’re searching for a job, it can inevitably be discouraging from time to time. If you follow the advice above consistently and put plenty of time into each application, you’ll land your position when the right one comes up. The only way you’ll be consistently ignored is if you’re too passive in your approach.
By this point, you know most of things you need to effectively use LinkedIn to increase your professional network and find yourself new positions, but you could still be falling into several pitfalls. These dos and don’ts are general guides to making sure you come off favourably in your communication.
- Update your status regularly. Your status is the primary way you communicate with people on LinkedIn, so don’t leave it sitting idle for weeks on end. Many professionals suggest updating your status once a day, but it’s more important to do it regularly – even if it’s only once a week. It’s very much like Twitter, in that you’re limited to 140 characters, so your updates should be concise.
- Respond promptly to any communications. As an inherently social website, many businesses class LinkedIn messages as less important than direct emails or other communications – this is completely untrue. It’s a real platform for communication, networking and job-seeking, so don’t mentally devalue it and wind up ignoring messages. You should respond to them just as promptly as you do to any other mail.
- Get involved with the conversation. Social websites are a hub of conversation, and the best way to establish your presence is to become a part of it. If somebody posts and interesting status update, leave a well-thought out comment and participate in the conversation that ensues. This introduces you to new potential contacts and further associates your name with your industry.
- Post relevant content. As an expert in your field, the majority of your posts should relate to relevant industry news, whether it’s through links to news articles, interesting blog posts or YouTube videos. You can also link to your own blog posts, offer relevant advice and even things like inspirational quotes. You should strive to become a valued source of information on your industry.
- Measure your results. The best thing about generating interest in yourself or your organisation online is that it’s exceptionally easy to keep track of how effective your efforts are. Use the links underneath your post to gain a better understanding of how well you engage your audience with each update. You can see the number of times the post has been viewed and the overall “Engagement” with the post after 24 hours. The engagement is determined by the number of likes, shares, comments and clicks the post achieved, and you should aim for at least 1 percent engagement per update.
- Give full links. Full links look messy and eat up your character allowance, so use a service like Bitly to shorten any URLs you post.
- Be too self-promotional. There is an undeniable element of self-promotion for any business-related usage of social media, but the general rule is that 80 percent of the things you share should be useful information, not promotion. Sharing things of value (as described above) shows that you’re involved in your industry and adds value to being in your network. Then the small nuggets of self-promotion will reach a more engaged audience. The more you promote, the more you become like a spammer.
- Spell things incorrectly. Spelling mistakes are natural consequences of using a keyboard or touch-screen to communicate, but they don’t look like that. To potential employers and important contacts, spelling mistakes are a sign that mistakes creep through into the things you do. It seems like nitpicking, but there is no way spelling mistakes ever look good – so don’t risk creating a bad impression.
- Get too personal. It’s worth mentioning again that LinkedIn is not like Facebook or Twitter. You can have a personality, of course, but everything you say should be something you’d be happy for an employer or potential employer to hear, because they may well be listening. Be courteous, professional and helpful at all times.
- Expect too much. Remember that people have different schedules and unique ways of networking. You may be eager to continue a conversation or arrange a date for a meeting, but if the person you’re trying to communicate with is busy you’ll just become an annoyance. Understand that everybody uses LinkedIn their own way, so don’t get inpatient or badger anybody for a response.
It’s now time to look at groups in greater detail. They’re arguably the most important resource on LinkedIn, because they allow you to communicate directly with key influencers in your industry or your specialty. Whether you’re hoping to get early notification of any job openings, looking for a good way to establish a connection with somebody or just want to establish yourself as an authority on a topic and gain new customers, groups are the perfect way to do it.
There are numerous groups you can get involved with on LinkedIn, but the best way to decide which ones to focus on is to think about your specific goals. If you’re looking for new clients or to connect with potential business partners, you’ll use different groups to someone who is searching for a new employer. Generally speaking, you should only really use groups that are relevant to your industry (or intended industry). Browse the Groups Directory or click on “Groups You May Like” underneath the “Groups” link on the main site navigation. These are the main types of group you can join:
- University and college groups. Groups set up for graduates of a particular university or college can be useful for connecting with old contacts, networking and opening yourself up to new opportunities.
- Industry groups. There are many groups set up specifically for people in your industry. Again, the contacts you can gain here could be useful for a wide variety of reasons. These are excellent places for answering questions (to offer help to fellow members and establish your expertise) and getting involved with relevant conversations.
- Specialty groups. These work in pretty much the same way as industry groups, except they are tailored towards a specific niche. This means you can often join the group for your overall industry (such as retail) and your specialty (such as marketing) so you can connect with more people and open yourself up for more opportunities.
- Executive peer groups. Other groups are solely dedicated to CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, COOs and similar executives. This is useful for those looking to network with their peers and share advice, expertise and opportunities.
- Career groups. If you’re looking for a new position, there are several career-related groups which can help you along in your job search. You might be able to join a more specific group for the type of position you’re looking for, so browse the options and choose something both relevant and active. Search “Groups” for “career” to bring up a list.
- Employer alumni groups. Many Fortune 500 companies have groups for their previous employees, which enables you to connect with old colleagues for a variety of purposes. If there is one for your previous employer, join it and see what your colleagues have moved on to.
- Social media groups. Businesses need to use social media more and more in the modern age, so social media groups can provide valuable information and give you a place to share your expertise. Facebook and Twitter have dedicated users’ groups, for example.
Choosing “Create a Group” under the “Groups” section of the main navigation gives you the option of starting your own group. This is only really a good idea if there is a conversation you think really should have a space on LinkedIn, or your industry or specialty doesn’t have a dedicated group. This can really set you up as an authority (since you’re much more likely to be intimately involved with the discussions), but you shouldn’t do it without conducting a thorough search to ensure that the same role isn’t already being fulfilled adequately on the network.
Once you’ve found some groups that suit your purpose or created one of your own, it’s time to start using them. The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you’re searching for a new position or looking to find valuable contacts, groups are a somewhat passive way to do so. Your main aim should always be to join the community and become a reliable source of information, advice and insight. When you’ve established a presence you’ll be able to reap the rewards much more effectively.
- Check the group and make posts regularly. The simplest step you can take to maintain a presence on the site is to make checking it part of your routine. You don’t have to do it every day (although if you can find the time it’s ideal), just make sure you spend a little while actively participating as often as you can. If you’re pressed for time, focus on the groups which are most closely tied to your goals.
- Be insightful. Just posting in the group discussions isn’t enough. A good general rule is to think objectively about whether you can actually contribute to the discussion which is going on. Do you have expertise or experience in the area? Do you have a valid point that nobody else has raised? If you still feel like your comment will be constructive and helpful, then it’s probably a great thing to post up!
- Share. If you’ve read something that people in the group may find interesting or useful, post a link up for them! This is in line with the 80/20 rule of social media discussed earlier – you don’t want to be too self-promotional.
- Read about the members. Finding out about the positions, history and goals of the people in your group helps you identify people you may want to connect with. If there is someone who you’d benefit from connecting with, you can watch out for their comments and see if you can open up a dialogue in any way. Don’t force it, of course, but you should take any opportunity that arises.
- Make direct connections. This is one of the only obviously pro-active thing you can really do as part of the group, but you should wait until it’s justified. It can provide common ground for you to mention in your invitation to connect, but you’ll still risk being treated as a spammer if you just both happen to be in a group of 10,000 members, for example.
You can see that using LinkedIn is actually extremely simple, but only if you’re willing to really get involved with the site. Social media is one giant, international conversation, and if you’re intending to get something out of it you have to be a part of that conversation. Hiring managers often like LinkedIn because it’s used for a passive form of job-seeking, where they can approach candidates rather than the other way around. This means that all you have to do is be visible, active and engaged with the medium – if you have the expertise, approach and attitude they’re looking for, they might just get in contact with you.
If you’re mainly interested in networking, things work in much the same way. You can directly network, but if you’re approaching people who you don’t really know, you’re basically just a spammer. You have to remember that you’re communicating with a person, and treat them appropriately. Always think about how you would feel upon receiving that invitation or message before you send it.
Of course, there is much more to the effective use of LinkedIn than those broad points (as you have no doubt discovered!), but they’re the threads which tie the whole thing together. If you only take two messages from this entire ebook, it should be those. Remember, you can always come back and check the relevant section if you’re struggling with a job search, invitations to connect and anything else to do with using LinkedIn! You only have one chance to make a first impression, so you should ensure it’s a positive one.