Link-up with LinkedIn

Published in CareersConnect, August 2010

By April Silverthorn Southward

The thought of joining LinkedIn is nerve-racking for some people. Rather than setting up a fun profile like many other social networks, LinkedIn demands that you set up a professional and well-thought-out profile. This is because this profile will be evaluated by everyone, from your co-workers and those who consider doing business with you to recruiters and potential employers. That realization alone is enough to make anyone a bit nervous, but not to worry, the process of setting up a profile and using the site's more advanced features is easier than you might imagine. Investing a relatively small amount of time in the site will help both your job search and career immensely.

One of the first steps you should take after joining LinkedIn is to add a picture of yourself. Don't be bashful, the picture is very small; it will show up about the size of your thumb on the computer screen. All you really need in terms of a photo is a decent headshot. This is an important step because not uploading a picture makes your profile appear unfinished. You could spend hours filling in and perfecting every detail of your profile, but without adding a picture, your profile will still look incomplete.

Next, you will want to set up a personalized URL for your profile. Doing so will give you a very simple link to share with others and help to move your profile toward the top of web search results. Since LinkedIn is a professional network, you will want to use something professional for your custom URL. Using your chat screen name or any other alias will only hurt you in the long run because it's unprofessional and will drag your profile down several links in web search results. I would suggest using your first and last name as the custom part of your public profile URL. If you have a common name, and that URL is already taken, you should then try your first name, middle initial, and last name; or your first, middle, and last names. Your custom URL will be end up looking similar to mine:

Now, you need to add some basic content to your profile, beginning with the "experience" and "education" sections. As a job seeker, you should have a recently revised version of your résumé to use as a starting point. Before you begin painstakingly inserting all the information from your résumé, use the "Import your résumé" tool located on your profile editing page. This handy feature will pull the information off of your résumé and create an instant profile for you. Once you have uploaded your résumé, you can go in and tweak anything you like, or possibly add information that is not included on your résumé. Personally speaking, I like sticking to the old one-page rule when it comes to the résumé I provide to a potential employer, but when it comes to LinkedIn, I like the capability of being able to list information I did not have the space to list on my actual résumé. However, you may also want to keep in mind that your page should not become crowded with unnecessary or irrelevant information. Listing the basics in a few key bullet points is sufficient for each specific experience and education listing.

The next area you should put some time into is your "summary". The summary for your profile is the first piece of content on your page under your user at-a-glance. It's also one of the few items that will show up on your profile even if you don't provide content. Just like disregarding the addition of a photo, disregarding the summary section will make your profile appear unfinished. Your summary should be well written and should essentially be a synopsis of your professional career. I suggest that you use a broad range of keywords to make it more appealing to the reader. LinkedIn suggests a summary of 100 to 300 words, but 300 words on the screen sometimes looks intimidating to the reader. I'd suggest you compose a summary about 100 to 150 words in length.

It's important to fill in the "specialties" portion of your profile as well. Not only will these keywords help recruiters find your profile, but they also help the reader understand what you are best at. Focus on listing the types of projects at which you excel, those you enjoy most, and those you have been awarded for. Maybe you excel at cost-estimating, you enjoy mitigation, and you've been awarded for risk management; let people know that these are your specialties and the direction you would like to focus your career on.

The final section you should work on adding content to is the "additional information" section of your profile. I would suggest that you fill in the following sub-sections: "interests", "groups and associations", "honors and awards", and "websites". For the "interests" section, list some of your personal interests; this will help to provide a well-rounded perspective of who you are to a potential employer. For "groups and associations", you can list your affiliation to any professional organizations, beginning with NCMA. After listing the name of the organization, you should list the year that you joined the organization. You can also add our LinkedIn group, National Contract Management Association (Headquarters Approved), to your profile. Your recent participation in the group will show up on your profile and can help reiterate to a potential employer that you are experienced and knowledgeable in your profession. Listing any honors and/or awards that you have received throughout your career in the "honors and awards" section will have the same effect. Finally, you should think about adding the three websites that LinkedIn allows you to post to your profile. The site gives you several standard options, as well as the option to add your own type of site. Essentially, what you want to do with these links is showcase your talents and interests. After adding a link to your organization's page, you may have difficulty determining what other content you should add. I suggest that contract professionals think outside the box. Maybe you're working on a contract for a really interesting technology, or maybe there is a contracting blog you find particularly interesting or helpful; these would be great items to add to your profile. The websites you add to your profile will help give someone a better understanding of you and your career.

At this point, you may feel motivated to create a profile, but are having trouble with inspiration. I've got the perfect suggestion for you! Type your job title or a more simplified version of your job title into the site's search box, then review the information other professionals in your field are including in their profiles. Not only does this help inspire you, but it will give you a better picture of where you stand in comparison to other applicants in the eyes of a potential employer.
One final thing to remember is that you can always update your profile. There is no limit to the number of times you can change the information you have listed. You do not have to set up a perfect profile from the get-go; this is a project you can continue to develop over time. More importantly, remember that no one is perfect! Everyone makes mistakes, so be sure to have a trusted second and possibly third set of eyes to review your profile to ensure that it is free of errors. For more information on what to look for, review my article, "Have You Focused on the Details of Your Job Search?".

There is so much more to LinkedIn; actually, there is too much to cover in a single article. Therefore, I've taken the liberty of writing a follow-up article and posting it to LinkedIn. Once you join the site and NCMA's group, click here to get a better grasp on how to make the most of the LinkedIn profile you're working on.

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