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En español | Quick: When looking for a job, what is most likely to pique a potential employer's curiosity? Go to the head of the class if you answered, My LinkedIn profile.
Yes, today's hiring managers pore over your digital footprint to gather as much information about you as they can. Call it due diligence.
And for most of them, LinkedIn is the place to go. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 77 percent of employers are using social networks to recruit, a sharp increase from the 56 percent who reported doing so in 2011. Among the recruiters using social tools, 94 percent said they use LinkedIn.
"There's no easier way to demonstrate your expertise to a broad audience of potential colleagues, networking contacts and hiring managers," says Miriam Salpeter, owner and founder of Keppie Careers, a coaching and consulting firm.
So don't take a bare-bones approach to your profile. When a hiring manager looks at it, you want him or her to see a clear portrait of your background, skills and experience and to learn a bit about how you spend your time outside the office.
Equally important, a comprehensive online profile subliminally helps ease concerns about your age: It sends the message that you are not out of step with social media and technology.
Here are some smart ways to make the most of your LinkedIn profile.
1. Pick the right headshot
This sounds obvious, but lots of people don't add one to their profile. It might be for privacy reasons, or they don't have a photo of themselves they like. Sometimes they have do have one on their page, but it's a small, blurry image.
That's a turnoff for a recruiter. It implies that you aren't comfortable with social media, or are a neophyte. "Your LinkedIn profile photo is critically important for 50-plussers," says Donna Svei, an executive search consultant and executive résumé writer who writes the AvidCareerist blog. "It's often the first impression you make on a recruiter."
Choose a current one. Sure you might think you looked better a decade ago, but that photo doesn't show you right now. If you get in the door for an interview, the employer may feel cheated when she sees you face-to-face.
Svei recommends a photo of you behind a podium, clearly involved in a public speaking engagement. "This confers automatic authority and shows that your opinion is respected by others." Otherwise opt for "a naturally lit photo where you look happy, have white teeth and well-styled hair," she says. Plus, pay attention to your jawline — no double chins. Push that forehead out and down a bit when you pose.
2. Customize your LinkedIn address
Click on "edit profile" and change the URL to: www.LinkedIn.com/in/yourname. Then include that address on your résumé, cover letter and the bottom signature line of your outgoing email, too. Consider creating a QR code that links directly to your profile. You can use free tools like Kaywa to generate your QR code. Make sure to add your LinkedIn QR code to your business cards and résumé. Android phones come with QR code readers and there are free reader apps for iPhones, so it's simple for someone to scan your QR code and be sent straight to your LinkedIn profile.
3. Create a bold headline
Your professional headline runs directly below your name on your profile. By default, your current job title will fill that space. Don't let a run-of-the mill title command that key space.
When employers run a LinkedIn search, the results that appear display names, photos and headlines. You want to have something that captures people's attention, so make the most of those 120 characters. Tailor it to say exactly what you do, or the kinds of jobs you're seeking. For instance, mine reads, Expert/Author/Speaker. If you aren't sure what to type in there, LinkedIn has a prompt for you to click and see what others in your industry are using.
4. Join groups
Get involved in LinkedIn groups that relate to your current work, alma mater, past employers or other interests. Comment on posts from others and add your own. It displays your expertise to prospective employers. Plus, it's astonishing how many new "connections" you can make, when you interact.
5. Create regular updates
If you've read a terrific article — share it with your connections as an update. It illustrates that you're continually learning new things. "Statistically speaking, we know that if you share once a week you increase your chances of having your profile viewed by a recruiter tenfold," says LinkedIn's career expert, Nicole Williams.
6. Market your blog or a personal website
Under your contact information, you can add the links to your other digital doings. Such extras can provide a smorgasbord of information about your expertise. You can include videos of speeches or PowerPoint presentations you've given or attach a video résumé.
7. Refresh recommendations
Don't be pushy, but periodically ask ex-colleagues, previous bosses and clients to write recommendations on your profile. If possible, suggest that they upend older-worker stereotypes that a hiring manager might have by highlighting the fact that you are a source of timely and creative ideas or have up-to-date technical skills. Get recommendations from coworkers or managers in several different age brackets, Williams says. Having a younger colleague go to bat for you will send a subtle message that you work well with those younger than you.
See also: How to get along with a younger boss
8. Cull endorsements
Endorsements let your connections select skills and areas of expertise that you've listed within your profile, as well as endorse new skills they think should be included in your profile. Some of these can be off-mark. If so, remove them, or even turn the entire endorsement feature off. You can also delete endorsements from certain connections.
9. Post previous positions
Many seasoned job seekers only list one or two in order to appear younger to their future employers. "This will work against you in the long run," Williams says. "As a mature employee, your experience and longevity in the workplace is what differentiates you from younger job seekers."
10. Spice up your skills
List recent certifications and courses on your LinkedIn profile. "This is key to do since employers often fear that older workers have plateaued and haven't improved their skills," says Williams.
11. Show your heart
There's a section devoted to describing your volunteer experience, what role you played and what the cause was, along with a place to write a detailed description. You can also type in specific opportunities you're looking for, such as joining a nonprofit board or providing pro-bono consulting. You can also include causes you care about, such as animal welfare, the environment or education.
"Highlighting your passion and commitment to projects signals to employers that you don't spend your time away from work on the couch but rather at charity meetings and events," says Williams. According to LinkedIn research, 42 percent of hiring managers surveyed say they view volunteer experience as equivalent to formal work experience.
12. Check out the competition
Review LinkedIn profiles of other professionals in your field and see how they've described their work. You might get ideas of keywords to include in your summary description, or ways to clarify the work you do in a clever, non-jargon way.
13. Shuffle the sections
You can change the order of your current positions and education entries to emphasize something more prestigious. Of course, if you don't have many endorsements or recommendations yet, you may want to slide that section down the profile to make your lack of supporters less obvious. Once you begin getting endorsements for your top skills, you can reorganize the content.
14. Bump up connections
If you only have a few connections, it's going to make a potential employer feel like you just joined the network — which might signal that you're not that tech savvy. Once you hit 50 connections, LinkedIn will start giving suggestions of people you should connect with, so that will help you build up your network of potential business contacts more quickly.
15. Write your own personal notes
Don't use the generic e-vite that automatically pops up when you click to send a request. It may sound old-fashioned, but etiquette never goes out of style.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her latest book is Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills.
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