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LinkedIn is a valuable tool for career management but many executives fail to use it properly.  There are two dangerous extremes: they either ignore it or believe it is the be-all, end-all to finding their next job.

Both are big mistakes.

LinkedIn for career managementLike everything else with your career there must be a strategy, not just a strategy for LinkedIn but for the whole of your professional advancement.  LinkedIn is just one small part of that overall plan.

Yes, you need to have a robust presence.  Yes, internal and external search firm recruiters use LinkedIn to identify potential executives for their jobs, and yes, it is a very useful tool in developing a professional network.  However, no, LinkedIn’s advertising is not that helpful to internal recruiters since, like the now less sexy, recruiters say they usually attract more unqualified and/or foreign applicants, and that just makes the candidate job search market more crowded, noisy and can drown out your message.  If you sit back and look for help wanted ads, you are missing the point of the site.

So having a personal digital career management plan is critical because when it comes to the hard work of establishing sustainable relationships and connecting with contacts at companies you admire and would like to work for, LinkedIn is not the airplane equivalent of autopilot for career management.

In the interest of transparency I have, since its inception in 2002, touted the value of LinkedIn.  I still do.  But over time I have come to appreciate its strengths and its big weaknesses.  Without a personal strategy for the job hunt, the platform’s weaknesses could set back your job search.

Here are four ideas to help you master the value from LinkedIn.  Some of these I have sermonized about in the past but judging by some of the profiles I have seen lately there are still many souls still to be saved.

  1. It is all about the strategy.  You will NOT be successful if you create a minimal profile and then wait and see because you will do more waiting than seeing.  I think the keys to a good digital strategy parallel the traditional rules:  decide your value, why would someone want to hire me, what problems am I good at solving; create a value-based profile (employers are more interested in what you’ve accomplished in quantifiable terms); identify the top companies you would like to work for;  identify contacts who can make “warm” introductions; and nurture those contacts by sharing relevant, useful information.
  2. Use a photograph taken by a professional.  Tell the photographer you would like a “personality” shot — one that captures your true self — smile.  No pictures with family members, pets or even some artsy nature photo.  One candidate used a photo of a sunset (or sunrise?), I could not tell the difference but it did beg the question: is this person at the end of their career, if not physically then emotionally?  LinkedIn’s own research says candidates with a professional photograph are significantly more likely to attract the attention of potential contacts, including recruiters.
  3. Avoid P&R/SC — politics, religion, and snarky comments.  You can throw in satire as well.  We live in a diverse nation and you can never tell how someone might react to a statement or point-of-view comment.
  4. Do not flood the zone with posts.  When LinkedIn was rapidly ramping up with new members most of us did not understand the power of the platform — to inform or to irritate.  One insurance industry recruiter would post 20 to 40 industry-specific articles and arcane regulatory information every day.  These articles may have kept him up at night in excitement but for the majority of us, we just wanted him to chill.  Think about the articles you post: will your contacts/group members find them interesting, will they help build a relationship with your contacts?   How will they reflect on your career image?  Some days I do not post at all.  I have three scheduled posts per week:  blogs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a podcast on Wednesday.  Typically I post news stories that I think people might respond to.  On stories of national interest, I post it on my main news feed but more than likely I will target professional groups within my broader LinkedIn network.

If you are beginning a job transition, vet the outplacement firm’s knowledge of, and practical expertise with, LinkedIn and emerging social media sites.  Guidance on an overall career strategy with specific advice for social media is now a requisite for any reasonable outplacement regimen.