How important has LinkedIn become to job hunters? The numbers say it all: 87 percent of recruiters use the social networking site at some point in the hiring process. It gets about 106 million unique visiting members a month, making it the No. 4 social network in the United States, eclipsed only by Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Ask most any job market expert, and that person will say that creating a great LinkedIn profile is among the most essential things you can do to find work. But merely pasting your résumé into your profile and then sitting back doesn't cut it. Whether or not you're job hunting, a fully fleshed-out online profile—plus ongoing engagement with your peers—conveys to the world that you're comfortable with all the latest tech tools and aren't afraid to use them. Try these six sure-fire LinkedIn tips.
1. Connect with former coworkers
Maxwell Hoffmann, 63, built up his LinkedIn connections by methodically reaching out to as many previous coworkers as he could find, writing a personal note with each invite. He now has more than 5,000 professional connections. He then exported his contact list to a spreadsheet, color-coded the people who could help him and then contacted that group at least four times a year. "If you're over 50, chances are, you'll find that people you worked with in your early years are now in senior positions," Hoffmann says. All that connecting worked for him. One offhand comment he made on social media about "how little free time" his job search left him led to an offer of a dream role as a product marketing manager for a company in Portland, Oregon. A former colleague had seen his post and immediately recommended him for an opening where she worked. "She saw the value in me and was a ferocious champion of me," says Hoffmann.
2. Add key words
Including search terms relevant to your field in your summary statement—that box near the top of your profile—makes it easier for recruiters to find your profile when searching for candidates. According to LinkedIn research, people who list specific skills on their profile get 13 times more views than do those who have broader and less specific statements. Adding a location—city and state, or a region (such as the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area)—leads to 23 times more views.
Consider Debbie Hart: The Ohio-based saleswoman for an information technology company received a message on her LinkedIn page from a recruiter asking if she was interested in a new position. She said she was, and after going through the usual interview process, she got the job, which she started late last year. Hart, who is in her late 50s, says the recruiter discovered her through the skills she'd listed on her LinkedIn profile.
3. Contribute to the conversation
LinkedIn makes it easy to share relevant articles, comment on other people's posts and notice when your connections change jobs. "Commit to reaching out to five people a day—not to get something from them but to look at their newsfeeds, comment and congratulate," advises Laura Labovich, CEO at the Career Strategy Group, an outplacement firm. LinkedIn groups also offer a way to connect with new people and discuss topics relevant to your field. Use the Search box at the top of your home page to look up groups, and explore suggestions from there.
It Worked For Me! When Kevin Gray's LinkedIn feed showed that a friend liked a white paper related to legal research posted by someone Gray didn't know, Gray, 55, left a comment. That led to a private message exchange between Gray, a law librarian in Valley Stream, New York, and the original poster. "I mentioned, 'Given your field, if you know anyone with an opening, keep me in mind,' " Gray recalls. It turned out the poster's company was hiring—and Gray was tapped for the job.
4. Ask friends for introductions.
Second-degree connections (friends of your friends) are often the best entrée to a company you're interested in. Once you spot a connection listed on LinkedIn or Facebook, ask your friend to introduce you, or reach out to the person yourself through InMail, LinkedIn's email tool, or Facebook's Messenger app. You can also go the old-fashioned route and ask a friend who works at a company you like to set up an introductory meeting for you. A recent online survey of over 3,000 people by the Adler Group, a hiring consultant, found that 85 percent of today's jobs are landed through connections.
5. Invest in a professional headshot
"Members who have a profile photo receive up to 21 times as many views as those who don't," says Blair Decembrele, a senior manager at LinkedIn. Keep children, grandchildren and pets out of the frame; the photo should project an image of professionalism, she adds. Plus, you can add a background image that reflects your professional identity: An architect could feature a building he designed, or an accountant could showcase her office.
6. Identify candidates for in-person meetings.
Face-to-face encounters often yield more meaningful, productive conversations than online-only exchanges. After identifying the people online who have the most potential to help you, ask to meet them for coffee or lunch to get their input about the job market. Be sure to pick a time and place that is super-convenient for whomever you approach, and make it clear that the tab is on you: "I'd love to buy you a coffee and pick your brain about the widget business."
It Worked for Me! When Kelly Hoey, 51, wanted to shift from being a lawyer to working in professional development at a law firm, she spent a year and a half talking with those who had made a similar switch before finding the opening she was looking for. "I purposefully started pulling these threads through connections. Then, based on those meetings, I'd get additional advice," says Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network.