MySpace is for kids, Facebook is for college students and for the professionals out there, LinkedIn offers a place for you too. Started in 2003 out o f the co-founder’s living room, LinkedIn is the largest online professional network, with over 100 million users in over 200 countries.
“LinkedIn offers a unique opportunity for people to connect in a professional way for job search, networking purposes and to keep abreast of what is going on in your field of interest,” said Ignacio Gallardo, Associate Director for UCSB Career Services.
While other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are more focused on the public aspect by providing an opportunity to stay in touch or add new friends and post updates on one’s life, LinkedIn is purely a place to brand oneself, search for jobs and forge valuable connections with other professionals to get a foot in the door.
“I think it’s very important for a student and job seeker to manipulate social media to their advantage and to present the image they want to portray of themselves,” said fourth-year Business Economics major Giovanna Gonzalez. “I would recommend students create a [LinkedIn] profile as soon as possible to increase their internet presence.”
The basic layout of LinkedIn is not that different from Facebook’s. A user has their own profile where they can post a photo of themselves as well as status updates. Another similar feature is the ability to see how you are connected to others which can be an advantage if one of your connections is connected to the hiring manager at the company you want to get into.
But that is where most of the similarities end. The rest of a user’s profile is like a virtual resume; the majority of their page is explanations of experiences they have had working, interning or volunteering as well as their education history. Connections can write recommendations about the user for interested employers to peak at.
Status updates are not intended to be as random or phatic as Twitter or Facebook, but to create a more professional feel that comments on interesting things read, beneficial experiences and other tid-bits that present oneself in a more career oriented fashion.
“One should really utilize the status update feature to post comments, links to relevant articles and so forth because people in your network see them and see what you are doing professionally,” Gallardo said.
There are also groups to join and discussions always taking place that keep one active and involved if they participate and that also show their interest in the subject.
National Campus Relations Manager for Vector Marketing/Cutco Cutlery Jennifer Wright Allen said someone who is on LinkedIn but is just doing the minimum won’t impress a potential employer as would someone who actively participates on LinkedIn. “If I can see that you are commenting on, offering insights and asking questions about topics of significance to you, it is a very good first impression before I even meet you face to face that you are interesting, interested and engaged,” she said.
In addition to posting statuses and staying active on group discussions, job seekers can find and apply for positions through LinkedIn, which is fast becoming the primary place companies post job openings. Yet professionals and LinkedIn gurus warn of becoming too reliant and comfortable with this virtual world, so valuable interpersonal, face to face skills are not lost.
“It may erode people’s skills, but it will just make it easier for those who do have those skills to get that job,” Wright Allen said.
Gallardo agreed. “You can’t stop at LinkedIn; the importance of using such a tool is to get to that face to face interview.” Another trick, Gallardo said, is taking a look at the employer’s profile so that when you do see them, a connection and relationship can be formed over things both parties share.
With all the opportunities there are on LinkedIn, there are numerous things to avoid doing as well that can taint your professional record.
“I hate it when I receive the generic message ‘I’d like to be a part of your network’ when trying to add me. Tell me how we met and why you want to connect with me; sending me that generic message just tells me you are trying to add people,” Wright Allen said.
As for the future of LinkedIn, it looks promising but is hard to tell.
“If you look back ten years ago, AOL was the king of the world,” Wright Allen said. “LinkedIn does a good job at keeping up with what is going on and is really the only large scale networking site in the US so it’ll probably be around for a while.”
“It is a powerful tool,” Gallardo said. “These tools make it a thousand times easier and helps target your efforts to get into that professional circle.”