The Social Network that Puts Work First
While other online networks might be bigger - Facebook now has more members than the entire U.S. population - LinkedIn is specifically tailored to the world of work. No Mafia Wars. No Farmville. Instead, you'll find people talking shop, looking for jobs or job candidates and connecting with colleagues past, present and future.
And that's why if you're over 40, you belong there. Even if you're not job hunting, LinkedIn has become the 21st century equivalent of an online calling card--your resume, business card and social circle all rolled into one. If you don't blog or have a website, it's an easy - and free - way to have an online presence. Plus, it shows that while you might be an old dog, you definitely can learn new tricks.
If you haven't checked it out or if you created a profile but haven't logged on recently, you've missed new features that make the service meatier and easier to use.
Here's my beginner's guide to LinkedIn.
1. Create a profile. This is the site's basic building block. Once you open an account, go to the Profile section and follow the instructions to build what is essentially an online resume. Don't scrimp on details. Include the names of companies you've worked for, jobs you've held and skills you have. Those details will help your profile come up in searches on company names and other keywords. Include schools you attended since the service now hosts lots of alumni groups. (LinkedIn no longer requires that you list graduation dates, and that's nice if you're using the site to look for work and are concerned ageism could cost you a job offer.) Add a recent picture so people know what you look like. Once you have a profile, ask for recommendations from colleagues - the more recommendations the better, since some positions in the site's Jobs section require that people have a minimum number of recommendations to apply.
2. Connect with people you know. Next to creating a profile, the second most important thing you can do on LinkedIn is ask people to connect with you because the bigger your online circle, the more useful the service will be. To make this easy, LinkedIn has tools for importing addresses from Outlook, Gmail and other e-mail programs. To add someone to your LinkedIn network send them an invitation from your Home or Contact page using the "Add Connections" feature, or if they're already a LinkedIn member, from their profile page. If you're using LinkedIn's free service - which I recommend if you're just starting out - you can only send invitations to people if you know their email address. It's easy enough to find email addresses for people you don't know, but take heed of warnings not to spam strangers with invites - do it too often and your account could be frozen. Once you connect with people they become what LinkedIn calls first degree contacts and you can see their full profiles, read their status updates and include them in group messages. A feature called Profile Organizer lets you search and save profiles of people you want to keep tabs on, but not necessarily connect with - a handy tool for creating lists of prospective customers, employers or service providers.
3. Ask questions. LinkedIn's Answers section is crowdsourcing at its best. Members use it to ask or answer questions related to their careers or businesses. On any given day you'll find thousands of new questions on everything from marketing issues facing small businesses to Microsoft Word to staying up in a down economy - to name just a few questions I saw posted recently. Questions close after a week - though the information remains online - and the asker gets to pick the best answer, which gets a nice green and white star. It pays to answer questions -- if your answer is chosen as the best, it shows up on your profile and you'll appear in the Answers section as an expert - all the better to attract the attention of potential clients or employers.
There's too much about LinkedIn to cram into one short blog post, so expect to see more from me on this service in the future. Meanwhile, check out LinkedIn's Learning Center or New User Starter Guide for help getting started. The LinkedIn Blog does a good job of explaining new features as they're added, and you can always ask Customer Service for help.
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