For millions of people, LinkedIn (free; premium accounts available) is the number one online network for developing a professional network, finding new opportunities, and building a career. Everyone over the age of 20, should have a LinkedIn account. I’ve heard the odd complaint that the site isn’t well designed for certain job functions, such as academics, and that users have been enrolled against their wishes in multiple email lists (not to mention that unsubscribing isn’t as straightforward as it should be)—and yes, I’ll give you that. But the benefits of LinkedIn far outweigh its nuisances, making it a clear Editors’ Choice site and one that I would recommend virtually every adult use.
The site, which launched in 2003, is the place where professionals stay connected. You can think of it as a social networking site—and certainly, a good deal of socialization does take place—although it’s really more of a professional networking site. I use it as an exclusive replacement for business cards, which are almost always out of date within a year. With LinkedIn, I can find people from past jobs, volunteer work, schools, professional groups, and put the onus on them to keep their contact information current. Similarly, people in my network can find me. Whether they’re searching for someone with specific skills for a new opportunity or are merely looking for an introduction to another contact, LinkedIn facilitates that communication and many others that have real business and career value.
As with other networking sites, users set up a free account and draft an online profile, only here profiles resemble resumes and CVs. Where social networking sites frame tiresome lists of movies, bands, and favorite quotes as evidence of one’s persona, LinkedIn emphasizes professional affiliations, work experiences, skills, and job titles. I’ve noticed that some of my contacts use Facebook, in much the same way that I use LinkedIn. Hundreds of millions of people are on Facebook, and you can add your job history and professional skills to your profile, too. But I see too many gaps in Facebook that make it unsuitable for business. Its privacy settings aren’t as well designed as LinkedIn’s for professional use. Facebook requires too much vigilance (“babysitting”) to keep your reputation squeaky clean and still publicly searchable. If you lock down your Facebook profile and enable all the privacy settings and approval requirements, no one but your friends will be able to find you, which limits your ability to network effectively in a business sense. Facebook doesn’t have a job board, either, or a way for employers to search widely for candidates that meet very specific criteria.
LinkedIn simply provides a huge array of business-networking services, which can seem overwhelming or unnecessary at times, but most people don’t need to use every last one to reap the benefits of having an account. In that sense, LinkedIn can be low maintenance, which is a huge benefit to busy professionals.
Free to use, LinkedIn requires little more than an email address and password to get started, although you’ll want to fill in your profile completely to get all that the site has to offer. As mentioned, the profile is similar to a resume, with a summary section and job history prominently displayed. LinkedIn prompts you to upload other information about yourself, including a photo. Until your profile is 100 percent filled in, the site will remind you periodically to complete the process, and it’s mutually useful that it does. Users get more out of the site when their profiles are complete, and the more user data the site has, the better an experience it delivers.
The next step is to connect to people you know. You can find them by importing names and addresses from a variety of email programs: Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, Aol, Mac.com, Gmx in several languages, and many others. If one of your providers isn’t supported, you can always upload a .csv, .txt, or .vcf file containing other contacts.
As you connect with co-workers, friends, and business partners, LinkedIn will begin to suggest people you may know based on shared relationship and company affiliations. Sometimes I find these suggestions, which appear on the right rail of the main dashboard, a little obtrusive, nagging me to connect more, more, more!
People who use LinkedIn are usually looking to: find a job/clients, hire or partner with new people, keep tabs on their business acquaintances, and network, or more specifically, become visibly active in professional communities that matter to their long-term career goals. For all of these purposes, LinkedIn is pretty stellar.
When it comes to finding employment or employees, LinkedIn offers phenomenal search tools that let you drill down by multiple factors. You can search for people or companies by location, field of expertise, skill level, and even keep the search to people within your network or who are only one degree removed (in which case, you can request an introduction from the mutual contact).
Premium users of LinkedIn (starting at $240 per year for “Business” level) get Premium Search tools, giving them much greater leverage with the search function as well as better insights that results from searching. Formerly, in 2011, a premium account cost only $7.95 per month, so it’s much more expensive now than it was in 2011. It also used to be called just “Premium” and now it’s been renamed to “Business” (with the Premium term acting as an umbrella for all paid account types), indicating which types of users pay for the extra features. Premium users can also set up alerts that flag when a profile meets some saved search criteria (free or Basic users get only three weekly alerts, whereas the highest paid level account, Executive, can get ten). For additional details about the different account types, see LinkedIn’s upgrade comparison chart. If you’re a job seeker, filling in a very detailed account profile can help people on the hiring end find you. Multiple people in my network, myself included, have been approached by firms with potential job offers or opportunities because of LinkedIn. A detailed LinkedIn profile can open you up to unique career opportunities.
LinkedIn offers excellent features for searching and sorting through your contacts. You can set parameters to find people by geographic location, company affiliation, the industry they work in, and more. How much information you can see about someone who is not in your network, however, is to an extent under that user’s control.
In LinkedIn’s Settings are options for making your public profile visible to no one (outside your network, that is) or everyone. If everyone can see your profile, you still have the option to turn off or on the visibility of certain sections, such as picture, headline, summary, skills, education, and additional information.
Another reason people use LinkedIn is to keep pace with their professional network. While many job sectors have copious face-to-face networking opportunities built into the everyday business, others leave people isolated from their peers and colleagues sometimes for months on end. LinkedIn fills this gap by providing numerous ways for users to discuss ideas and simply connect over conversation.
First, a feed of “status updates,” nearly identical to what you’ll find on Facebook and Twitter is front and center when you log into the site. The status update feed can help surface trends among your colleagues, but more interesting and deeper discussions tend to take place on group pages. Groups comprise professional organizations, alumni associations, academic societies, and thousands of unique circles that reflect different interests. While some groups are open to anyone to join, others require permission. In my experience using LinkedIn, the Groups tend to offer more value than the feed. Posting to discussion topics, updating your status, and replying to other people’s posts all serve to keep your name and face in front of the people who matter to you and will have an impact on your career.
Since its inception, and certainly since its IPO, LinkedIn has increased the number of services and features on the site by a lot. It can at times be overwhelming to see nine options along the main navigation bar, all of which have additional sub-menus, plus an advanced search bar feature (with more options), plus another area for account settings, as well as all the information modules along the right rail showing things like “people you may know,” “who’s viewed your profile,” “jobs you may be interested in” and so forth.
All these features, menus, and information panels are really too much for the average person to use. The interface looks a little cluttered, and it’s easy to get distracted on the site and forget what you logged in to do in the first place. Thankfully, you don’t have to. Simply keeping your profile up to date with details about your current job, expertise, and contact information is the bare minimum any user really needs to do, and it’s enough to pay off from time to time.
LinkedIn for Everyone
If you’re at all invested in your career, you really should be on LinkedIn. The site makes it easy to have an account that provides real value without asking much of you in return, although you can certainly explore the site’s many features and services, too. Setting up an account amounts to copying and pasting your resume into a few fields, and adding connections takes little more than browsing through the names that are already in your web-based email accounts.
For hiring managers, LinkedIn has quickly become one of the most valuable places to find talented people. The job board section has improved and expanded radically since around 2010. LinkedIn remains a great site that delivers real results for both networking gurus as well as people who are sometimes wallflowers in real life. LinkedIn is a clear Editors’ Choice for all it can do to help you get ahead.
More Internet Reviews:
|Type||Business, Personal, Professional|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc