How To Use LinkedIn Like A Grown-up
Graduating with your college degree should be a proud and happy time for everyone. But too often, it’s filled with anxiety over finding a job and condescending advice from people with only a few more years of experience than you have. There’s frequent paradoxes (Entry-level jobs that require 2 years of experience, for example). Then there’s the plethora of free help available: Blog articles written to get as many clicks as possible (Regardless of the soundness of advice being given), companies trying to sell you things (I own a resume writing service, so you can throw me into this category), the occasional but widely circulated Medium article from someone with 30 years of experience at a huge tech firm like Google which may not apply to you at all. And then there’s the platitudes, those pieces of advice that seem simple and sage but offer no methodology. You’ve heard them before: Welcome to the real world! Build a network! Never take a lateral move! Make sure you’re using LinkedIn! Much of the advice in the easily-consumable world of internet blogging is either a little self-serving or perhaps makes for better reading than practical advice. So let’s all agree that stepping into your career with a brand new degree is often more panic attack than cloud nine.
So let’s pick on a common piece of advice: You should be using LinkedIn. How you use it changes based on your career level and the value of your network, as well as your individual goals, but there’s almost always a potential use for LinkedIn in your career skill set. There’s also plenty of reason to waste time. In fact, if you aren’t careful, LinkedIn is only a slightly more professional version of Facebook. Without proper guidance, you might find that most of your LinkedIn activity amounts to sharing viral prank videos and wishing people happy birthday instead of building your personal brand and spreading professional awareness of your skills!
Before looking at some tips, it’s important to realize that LinkedIn isn’t an all-benevolent website dedicated to making your career better. It’s a business, and that business needs to generate revenue. On a social network that is, at it’s core, free of charge, it’s important they closely watch user “engagement”, or how long a user spends on the site. This is where people get led astray, because we can’t assume every part of the LinkedIn platform is going to help us achieve our goals. Some of it is simply to keep us busy and keep us clicking. I’d like to help you separate some of the better uses of LinkedIn from some of the weaker paths that can lead you astray.
5 ways to use LinkedIn like an adult:
1. Get a proper profile. Every professional job, and even a couple of college jobs (if you’re younger with less experience) should appear on your LinkedIn profile. Treat this with the formality of a resume. List out the responsibilities in bullet form (don’t get lazy and just write a quick paragraph). Focus on the duties that would directly translate to new positions, as well as any noteworthy projects that might impress someone looking to scout for new openings. But beware: Not every section needs to be filled out here. Unless you’re very active in a charity or cause, there’s no need to fill out the volunteer section. You don’t need to upload projects unless you’re a freelancer in film production or other similar field. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it needs an entry. Stick to the basics: Summary, experience, education. And don’t be afraid to rearrange the sections! Are you a new graduate with underwhelming work experience? Make sure you drag your education to the top of the screen so people realize your primary value to them.
2. Get a head shot, you savage! Head shots used to be for models and real estate agents, and occasionally for VPs and CEOs who needed a great picture for the company executive page. But those times have changed. These days, there’s no excuse not to get a cheap but professional head shot. Most of us know a friend who was a photography major in school or at least an amateur photog who knows his stuff. Those people will take head shots for very cheap if you ask them nicely. You can use a professional backdrop (some neutral color), or go with the trendy “I’m outside in a suit but the background is blurry and my portrait is the only thing in focus” that’s so popular today. As a last resort, you can go to JC Penny or Walmart and have a head shot taken. It may sound silly, but this matters quite a bit. The purpose of a head shot is not to show us how beautiful you are (the average person, after all, is only average-looking!) Instead, a head shot shows that you take your career seriously enough to take a single picture fit for display here. No, cropping your friend out of the last wedding or Vegas picture you took is NOT going to cut it. And as usual: “No family, no pets” is the rule. I love my cat, but he doesn’t come with me on interviews and nobody is going to take me seriously with him in my LinkedIn photo (which is a shame. Webster’s skill set is impressive!) Lastly, I’ll leave you with this anecdote: In my past, I’ve seen peers who upgraded to a more professional head shot and instantly thought “Wow, they must be doing really well!” I am a professional career coach and you wouldn’t think I’d so quickly fall for such a small effort, but I can’t deny that a person with a real head shot instantly looks more professional and “put together”. In the words of some shoes I own: Just do it.
3. Avoid the gimmicks. LinkedIn’s users have dropped over time, and especially their engagement (the time people spend on the site). I’m living proof of this. I used to spend 15 minutes a day reviewing the site, and now I’m more of a “once a week” person. The free version of LinkedIn is great for me, and I can get a lot of value out of using the site intermittently, but that’s not going to line shareholders’ pockets. So what do they do? They add LinkedIn premium. They charge to send solicitation emails for sales prospects. They add “job seeking” tags. They beg you to congratulate people for birthdays, work anniversaries, new jobs, and any other noteworthy activity. But worst, they put the words in your mouth. On my birthday, and especially on the anniversary of my most recent job, I am inundated with generic congratulations messages from people I’ve not spoken to in years. You could see this as polite, but we both know what’s really going on here: LinkedIn was clever. They said “hey, click this button and we’ll even write the congratulations for you. It’s so easy and maybe one day it’ll come back to help you!” It comes off as so insincere. My advice is this: If you’re a super-social person who loves interacting with your network, take advantage of these. But make them personal. The default “Congratulations on your work anniversary!” is going to make my skin crawl. But if someone said “Jeremy, 5 years with Executive Drafts! That’s amazing, so happy your business has taken off!”, I would see that as a heartwarming and well-thought-out message.
4. Choose your friends wisely. This one is a little controversial. A large network is great, but only if your network is filled with valuable connections. You’ll have to decide what kind of LinkedIn network you want to have. Early on, I told myself I would only accept connections from people I know personally. I would treat it like Facebook. That was fine when I worked in sales and business development. But once I began running a career services business, I started getting connections for different reasons. Sure, some people just wanted to solicit a service (and I promptly deleted them). But many people would add me on LinkedIn, snoop around a little, and then hire my company’s services to help with their job-seeking strategy. Now there’s a dollar cost associated with limiting my network, and I realized an open network filled with people who appreciated my business was more important than a tight circle of friends. I now accept most random invites unless they’re obviously from some marketing firm trying to sell me something I already use. For most people who don’t own a business and who don’t tend to need random potential clients, I suggest only accepting requests from people you’ve met at least once or twice. This guarantees your network is legitimate. There’s little worse than having 1000 connections and realizing not a single one of them would go to bat for you when you’re applying for a role at one of their companies. My rule was simple: if I met someone who seemed like he had his act together, I’d connect with him the very next day on LinkedIn (not to seem too eager). Many people tell you to personalize your LinkedIn request messages. That’s a good idea, though I’d be very short about it. “Susan, great meeting you yesterday! Let’s connect.” However, I’m not going to condemn the generic ‘connect’ request like many others will. I get the generic requests all the time, and I treat them like a friend request on Facebook. We both know what this is, so there’s no reason not to simply accept a generic invite if we know the person. Personalized messages are more important if you’ve never met someone before (but I’m suspicious of those connections anyway!)
5. Set aside some time every week. Most people hate Mondays, and I especially hated Monday mornings. In fact, if I didn’t get a hot grande Americano and a few minutes to mess around on the internet in the mornings, I was far less productive. That was my way of “easing into the work week”. I soon realized, though, that I could spend 5–15 minutes browsing LinkedIn, and it felt like a slightly more grownup version of wasting time on Facebook or Reddit. I’d take a look at what my best colleagues and friends were up to. I loved seeing promotions and new jobs. In fact, the most valuable part of LinkedIn for me was seeing where so many of my friends ended up after changing jobs a few times. People will surprise you. Some old co-workers who never seemed to get much attention at your last job will suddenly get their act together and start making real moves. And inevitably, you’ll see someone move to a company you admire, and you’ll make a mental note that it might be good to set up a coffee or lunch to catch up and see how they like the new gig. The point is this: Use LinkedIn as a knowledge tool if you can spare 5–15 minutes a week. I’ve run into old co-workers at a grocery store before, and the conversation was much more natural when I could say “I saw you moved to AirBNB a while back. Congrats on the job. How do you like it so far? I’ve always thought that would be a great gig!” This is so much better than the generic “So what are you doing these days?” I’d also occasionally share business articles I found interesting. Usually these were startup-focused, or perhaps an article about a local Austin tech company that went on a hiring spree. I don’t share clickbait articles or anything that could be polarizing, but just the act of sharing shows people you read to stay informed in business and your field, and that you’re a source of knowledge for others by passing that info along. In the end, most people considered me a complete power-user of LinkedIn, and nobody knew I just spent 5–15 minutes a week, Monday mornings, while waiting for my eyes to fully open after a cup of coffee.
Using LinkedIn for your own gain is easy if you have the right information and know which parts to ignore. It really doesn’t take much practice or much of your time. And proper LinkedIn use can help you build connections, increase the value of those connections, and show you as a powerful professional who is modern and takes his career seriously, which is especially important as you’re just starting out. With so many other people graduating from similar schools with similar degrees, you will be surprised how fast you can rise above your peers and gain competitive advantages in the workplace by simply showing you’re putting forth the effort.