Allow me to get right to the point:
Get on LinkedIn, then
Get active in LinkedIn, then you’ll
Get a job via LinkedIn.
Yes it is that simple. I’m not saying it is easy, and I’m not saying you will get an instant Return on your Investment (ROI). But one thing is absolutely clear: LinkedIn is currently THE PROFESSIONAL MARKETPLACE, for ALL fields and sectors. What this means for you, dear scientist, is that if you want to advance in your career, find and access exciting new career paths and entry points, and ensure that your discipline maintains its own health and continues to grow, you have to be on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is so powerful because it is based on the theory of six degrees of separation: you are connected to anyone else on the planet by no more than six degrees. So I know someone who knows someone who knows the person with whom you want to network. The more Connections you have on LinkedIn, the more people you are connected to, and the more possible job opportunities you can access.
The social media site is only a few years old but already approximately 300 million people use it on a regular basis. But what makes it so special is the way its members leverage it. When you reach out to me, via a cold email, the first thing I am going to do is look for your profile on LinkedIn. I want to know who you are and what you have done in your career. If you don’t have a profile, or if it is not communicating all of your value (essentially underselling yourself) or out of date, it may appear that you are not a contributing member of your community. Furthermore, more and more, search committees, hiring managers, decision makers and other professionals who are involved in hiring do simple and more complex LinkedIn searches to find candidates for positions. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if a potential employer or Principal Investigator emailed you out of the blue and invited you to apply for a position, only because they found and read your profile on LinkedIn? This isn’t a fantasy – this type of thing happens ever y day.
I talk a lot about the importance of self-promotion and this website is a channel on which you can promote yourself in a very appropriate, genuine and authentic way. You can and should articulate your accomplishments, awards, experiences, expertise, credentials and pedigree via your LinkedIn Profile and through activities in LinkedIn Groups, and this is how people land opportunities all the time.
Mind blown yet? If not, get ready to really freak out when I offer some surprising, hidden, and/or completely underutilized components of LinkedIn that will help you get hired. Please note that if you want more detail as to how to actually do any of the following, you can view the accompanying webinar here:
- Have a catchy headline: Your headline is your very first introduction to the world. It should be catchy, direct, to -the -point and convey your brand (your promise of value). It can be in the form of a list or a fragmented sentence, but most importantly, your headline should elucidate what you can do for the community. My LinkedIn headline is: President, Quantum Success Solutions: Speaker, Consultant, Writer, Comedian; Author, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015). Your headline can be simple, such as “Geosciences graduate student with expertise (or interests) in seismology, data analytics and statistics”. Be creative, distinctive, and even thought-provoking in your headline. It should encourage readers to want to learn more about you. And attracting eyeballs is definitely something you aim for on LinkedIn.
- Have a profile picture: according to LinkedIn, your profile is 7 times (!!!) more likely to be viewed if you include a photograph of yourself. Keep it classy and professional: make it a headshot if possible where I can see your eyes.
- Choose your “Skills”: LinkedIn offers you the chance to list up to 50 Skills from a master list of Skills it keeps. Of course you can always list other skills in your profile summary, but this specific list of Skills (with the subheading of, um, “Skills”) is especially critical for you to leverage because it is an explicit avenue through which employers find you. If you want opportunities within the arena in which your skills are required, then make sure you list of your Skills in this section. Be choosy in what you pick: high level skills that are singular to you and give you a competitive advantage are the ones you should consider listing first. In other words, don’t list MS Office, because almost ever y professional knows this. However, if you know how to use R, the programming language, which only a handful of people know and is important for the types of jobs you endeavor to land, then list that.
- Create your profile in another language: wouldn’t it be awesome if you wanted to live in Spain and you could present your Profile in Spanish? Or perhaps you desire to work for an organization that does business in China. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a Profile in Chinese? Well the good folk s who run LinkedIn think so too, so they incorporated into the site a means for you to create your Profile in another language. ¡Fantastico!
- Check out who’s viewed your Profile: OMG, this is probably the BFF of the LinkedIn user. You can take a look at who has looked at your Profile and you can leverage this as a way to reach out to others. For example, let’s say you searched for “science writer” and “comedian” and found my Profile. Maybe you took a glance at it and went on with your day. By using the “Who Viewed Your Profile” feature, I am able to see that you stopped by and can then reach out to you to thank you for taking a look. And if I see parallels between our Profiles, such as the same interests, goals, or experience, I will send you an inmail (the LinkedIn email communication system) and ask for an appointment to speak with you. My hope is to build a win-win partnership with you, and it all happened because you looked at my profile and I took advantage of the feature to know that you looked. I myself have landed jobs from looking at others’ profiles and them contacting me and vice versa. It is such a powerful tool in your networking toolbox!
- Publish posts: On LinkedIn, you can announce your activities via an update on the home page. If you win an award, if you’re going to a conference (or speaking at one), or if you want to share an article or other content that your Connections would be interested in, this is the place to do it. Keep it short and pithy. But then you can take your posts to a whole new level and create a blog on LinkedIn. This is an exciting opportunity because ever y time you add a new blog post, all of your Connections are notified. And once you publish, LinkedIn makes it very easy for me to share your blog posts with all of my Connections, which allows your brand and reputation to permeate throughout the space and perhaps to new arenas and publics, who may be interested in engaging you.
- Join and post in Groups: you can join up to 50 Groups and you should definitely take advantage of this. Groups are an invaluable resource within LinkedIn as they serve as “Networking Nodes” – some - thing that brings together likeminded souls. Join the AGU Group, for example, and now you suddenly have access to over 25,000 members. Post items of value – such as articles, videos, questions, link s to papers, etc., - and contribute to the conversations that exist. And don’t forget to peruse the member- ship of your Group – you can even reach out to other members and ask for informal conversations to discuss potentially collaborating.
- Find Connections: Connections at to LinkedIn as Friends are to Facebook. They are the lifeblood of the social media site, and serve as a way to connect to your community. But your goal should not be related to numbers, i.e. don’t Add Connections like crazy. Instead, look for people with whom you think you can build win-win relationships. These are the people you should Invite to Connect. Once you are connected, you can Ask to be Recommended (recommendations are very powerful and are a great addition to your Profile), you can recommend others (always appreciated!), and you can even make private notes to yourself about how you met, what you discussed and what follow up is required. And here’s a great tactic: once a month choose a Connection and take a look at all of their Connections. You might find someone who you really want to connect and work with and you can ask your Connection to introduce you.
- Find Alumni: This is also one of the most powerful components of LinkedIn and like many other features is often underutilized. You can use “Find Alumni” to identify alumni form your alma mater (or any other school), and see where they are geographically located, for what organizations they work, what their job function is, what they studied in school and how many degrees of separation there are between your and them. Play around with this feature and I guarantee you will be surprised what information you can gain about your former schoolmates and what they are doing. It is sure to spark an idea for collaboration.
- Search for Jobs: You always want to access all available resources when looking for your next career move and admittedly, most of your time should be spent on active networking (the likes of which I have referenced here and in other columns). But LinkedIn also offers the chance to employers to list announcements for jobs and this is a great way to learn about what is available to you now, and to research the state of the industry in which you endeavor to work. Search for Jobs off the main search bar, or search for Jobs that are announced within your Groups. Some employers (including some in academia) are only advertising jobs via LinkedIn, and I expect this trend will continue. So do check out the jobs that your fellow LinkedIn members are posting.
- Follow people, companies and interests: the site allows you to tap into the vast network of everyone else on the site, by “Following” people, companies (including universities, government agencies and associations, like AGU), and sectors, such as higher education and research. You can Follow these entities and will be kept apprised of their activities. What a great means to learn about trends and trend-makers with whom you can network and possibly craft mutually-beneficial partnerships.
Mind blown yet? This is just a sample list - there are many, many more features of LinkedIn which can help you in your career. The site is constantly evolving, so keep an eye out for new features and novel avenues within LinkedIn that can aid both you in your career exploration and advancement and your discipline’s reach as well. Spend some time discovering its many elements and learning how you can ha ness its power. And then get out there and network!
Portions of this article appear in Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015).
Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. She can be reached through her website or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine.
Copyright, 2014, Alaina G. Levine