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.