If you’ve ever attended a local business networking breakfast in hopes of making new contacts or finding a new job, you’ll be excused for wondering why you were there. But there are alternatives to chatting with a dentist and a criminal lawyer and a few other people unrelated to your line of work (that is, unless you are a dentist or a lawyer).
LinkedIn, the networking site for professionals, has become a vast business gathering place. With more than 259 million members in over 200 countries, LinkedIn offers users, most of whom pay nothing for the service, a chance to hone and increase their contacts. Users can also limit their connections to others who can best help them professionally.
It is, essentially, the networking breakfast moved into a virtual world, and available virtually to the entire world. “People need resources to find a job and contribute to their community,” said LinkedIn’s co-founder, Allen Blue. “We want to create an economic opportunity for every professional.”
But that promise won’t mean much if the site is not used correctly. Failing to keep a LinkedIn profile updated, ignoring connection requests or connecting with the wrong people can make the site as pointless as attending that local business breakfast.
First, the basics: LinkedIn allows users to create a compelling text-and-multimedia narrative of their life and work. It can be updated at will, can be any length and it will often pop up in a Web search of the user’s name. “This is the next-generation résumé,” Blue said. Once you sign up for the service, LinkedIn guides you through the process of creating a profile. Write an extensive one that speaks to your strengths, skills and experience. Add multimedia, such as slide presentations and links to examples of your work.
Use the headline space (right under your name) to create a compelling statement about yourself. Instead of “third assistant stock clerk,” be creative. “Inventory manager with over 20 years’
experience” will generate more views. As Ted Prodromou, a San Francisco consultant and author of a book on how to use LinkedIn, says, “What would you type in, to find you?”