Photo courtesy of LinkedIn
And there's no time like the present. More than one-third of employers expect to add full-time permanent employees in 2015, according to CareerBuilder's annual job forecast, the best outlook from the survey since 2006.
Here are some tips to make sure your LinkedIn profile is first-rate.
1. Create a bold headline and presence
Your professional headline is below your name on your profile. By default, your current job title will fill that 120-character space. "If you're job-hunting, I would recommend saying, "Looking for opportunities X, Y and Z," says LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher, who is responsible for educating consumers on how to best use LinkedIn. "It signals to people that you're on the market." If you are openly and actively seeking work, you can also put something in your summary section that you are looking for a particular position.
You should have a current, professional photo. "My big joke is, unless you're a veterinarian, don't have a photo of you and your dog," Fisher says.
Create a custom LinkedIn URL. Click on "edit profile" and change the URL to: www.linkedin.com/in/yourname. Include that address on your résumé, cover letter and the bottom signature line of your outgoing email.
2. Create your career story
"Employers are looking for a snapshot of your accomplishments, your skills and your employment history," Fisher says. Use the summary category to show what your career trajectory is and write it in a conversational voice.
See also: Create your own personal business brand
In the experience section, list your job title, followed by the name of the company, with a one-line description of that business, then list the specific responsibilities of a position in a bulleted format with active verbs. For example:
- Led strategy
- Developed budget
- Managed, devised, created and so on
Then, write a results section, similar to your paper résumé, and capture your accomplishments in a tangible way. For instance: Completed a project two months ahead of schedule; outperformed projections by 40 percent; or ramped up sales by 20 percent.
It's your choice how far back you go in listing your experience. You have the option to delete dates when you graduated from college or an advanced degree program, but in the experience section you will need to include the specific dates you were employed at various firms.
3. Fill out your volunteer experience section
According to LinkedIn research, 42 percent of hiring managers surveyed say they view volunteer experience as equivalent to formal work experience. "It can set you apart from other candidates," Fisher says.
Add your volunteer experience in the work experience section and in the summary section at the top of your profile. "The summary is perfect because it's where you write about what motivates you, what excites you about your work," Fisher says. "Include the volunteer work in that section by saying something like, 'I am passionate about the work I did with this nonprofit organization,' for example, 'and I have been able to use these specific skills in the work I do there.' "
Fisher cited an example of a woman who was looking to hire someone. She was a big dog lover and saw two candidates on LinkedIn that were qualified. One of them volunteered at ASPCA, so there was an instant connection there. That's who got hired. "Sometimes it is a great icebreaker," she says. "You might have something in common."
4. Highlight transferable skills
While you may tailor your paper résumé to a specific job you're applying for, on LinkedIn you can only have one profile. In the summary section, you need to be clear that you have transferable skills that can work in a range of positions and industries, Fisher says. You can list recent certifications and courses in the "certifications" section of your profile. This shows potential employers that you are still adding to your skill set and willing to keep learning.
5. Keep it current
"One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people build a profile and never come back," Fisher says. "Make sure you're putting your best foot forward. As your career progresses and changes, so should your profile. If you've changed positions, been promoted, won an award or have just come off a really successful event, it's a great time to showcase some of your work," she advises. "I do some public speaking, so on my profile, I have a video that shows me speaking."
Other extras can include a PowerPoint presentation you've delivered, or you might upload a video résumé. You might even add a special customized background that appears behind your profile to liven it up visually. The background feature is currently being rolled out to all 300 million-plus users.
6. Join and participate in LinkedIn groups
LinkedIn groups are a great way to get information on the trends impacting a field. With some private groups, you might need permission to join so you can follow a conversation or post. When you come across an article that you think is relevant to this group, share it, Fisher advises. "That is the type of information people like to see. Click the "like" button on articles that others post, and comment if you have something thoughtful to add." Some groups will require you to be approved before joining and many, but not all, review content before it's posted for approval.
When you're connected to the group page, you can see who the top contributors are. "If you're a hiring manager who is part of an industry group, when you see someone who is really active, it can only help," Fisher says.
7. Follow companies that interest you
You can follow a company on LinkedIn without needing approval. This allows you to keep tabs on that company, which could come in handy in a job interview at some stage. Job hunters can also go to company's page, and a pop-up box shows you all the connections you have at that firm. This can be helpful if you want to reach out to someone to learn the inside scoop about a job or what the company is like.
8. Make it easy for someone to recommend you
Selling yourself shamelessly online is not in bad taste, if done properly. On LinkedIn, there are recommendations and endorsements. A recommendation generally carries more weight than an endorsement with potential employers. When it comes to recommendations, make it easy for someone to write one for you.
For example, you might send a LinkedIn request note saying: "Hi, Kerry. Hope all is well with you. I'm writing to ask if you would write a brief recommendation related to such-and-such project that we worked on together that I can include on my LinkedIn profile, perhaps highlighting this particular aspect and these two actions I took throughout the project that made it a success. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks for your consideration. If you have any questions, please let me know."
Endorsements allow your connections to pick skills and areas of expertise that you've listed within your profile, as well as endorse you for skills to be included in your profile. You can remove or hide them if you choose, or turn the entire endorsement feature off.
Generally speaking, endorsements are a good thing and potential employers check them out. But do manage them, Fisher says. LinkedIn ranks your skills based on the number of endorsements they have received, which means your top skills might not actually be the most significant ones. The good news is that you can change the order of what's showing up when you edit your profile by clicking and dragging the skills to reorder and hitting save.
If one of your skills is public speaking, or that is the area you want a recruiter or potential employer to see first, you can slide that public speaking category within the endorsement list to the top of the chart. You can also add or delete skills anytime.
9. Pay attention to the extras
While LinkedIn is free to use, you have the option to purchase an upgraded premium subscription. The cost after one free month runs from $29.99 to $59.99 per month, depending on the package, which allows you to contact recruiters, see who's viewed your profile and compare yourself to other applicants (by seniority level, education and top skills) to jobs posted on LinkedIn's job board.
See also: Are recruiters really working for you?
You can also check out sites like AARP's Life Reimagined for Work, a social media platform that leverages the power of LinkedIn to connect 50+ individuals with employers that value them. The site features job opportunities at more than 270 organizations that have signed the Life Reimagined for Work Pledge to recruit across diverse age groups and recognize the value of experienced workers. Pledge signers include Google, AT&T, Scripps and American Red Cross. View all the openings or connect with your LinkedIn account to see jobs related to your background and skill set.
Kerry Hannon, AARP jobs expert, is a career transition expert and an award-winning author. Her books include What's Next? Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond and Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … and Pays the Bills. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.