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Harnessing LinkedIn for Career Change

How to make this networking powerhouse work for you with great LinkedIn profiles


by Kara Baskin

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Ah, LinkedIn: At best, it’s a handy way to network with peers and scout new opportunities. At worst, it’s an online cocktail party with 400 strangers where you’re stuck rebuffing small talk and leaving unfulfilled. Career coach Dan King, principal at Career Planning and Management Inc., specializes in mid-career redirection. He’s seen people using LinkedIn lead to new jobs and to disaster; here, he explains how to use it effectively.

DO: Create a profile and then follow through. “People say, ‘Well, I’ll sign up and just plug in my resume,’ but it does more harm than good. If you’re going to do it, do it right,’” he says. Just using LinkedIn won’t help you; an anemic or boilerplate profile won’t get noticed and, at worst, it makes you look lazy.

DON’T: Connect to everyone you’ve ever known. “Some people approach LinkedIn like a contest to see who can get 500 connections quickest,” King says. It’s fine to have a lot of connections—if they’re truly people you know. Ask yourself if these are people you’d feel comfortable speaking with in real life. If not, don’t add them. “It looks deceptive,” says King, especially if an employer sees your profile, realizes you have someone in common, and reaches out to the mutual connection only to learn your “contact” doesn’t even remember you.

DO: Link to social media accounts, but only if they bolster your professional image. “Make sure it’s professional,” says King. “If you’re a huge Dungeon and Dragons fan, that’s great, but is it something you want an employer to know?”

DON’T: Add skills you never want to use again. Hated analytics? Don’t list it. “LinkedIn is an advertisement, not a chronology,” King says. “Instead, think about what you did in a role that was valuable, and highlight that.”

DO: Summarize. LinkedIn’s Summary section is underused, King says, and it’s a chance to shine. King recommends listing bulleted keywords that emphasize skills, as opposed to full sentences summarizing a bio. “People don’t read three or more lines of type.”

DON’T: Speak in generics. “Don’t say ‘good communication skills’ or ‘seeking new opportunities’—if you’re using LinkedIn, clearly you’re seeking new opportunities, and it sounds like a personal ad. Plus, an employer isn’t going to hire you just because you’re looking,” says King.

DO: Think like Google. If someone were looking for you on a search engine, what would you want them to type in? “Think of how you’d describe yourself as a person, not just a job title,” says King. If someone were to ask you about yourself, would you say, ‘I work at ABC Company’? Probably not.” List job titles later, in the Experience section.

DON’T: Call yourself experienced. Think about it. “Who would ever call themselves inexperienced?” asks King.

DO: Reach out personally after connecting on LinkedIn. “LinkedIn is great for introverts, because it cuts out the muck of schmoozing,” King says. “But LinkedIn’s mail feels transactional. If you’re networking, connect on LinkedIn, and then message them directly, with a personal note,” he says.

Photographs by John Lund/Getty Images