As far as I'm concerned, LinkedIn is the single greatest networking tool in the world - ever. The problem is, not everyone knows how to use it to their advantage. Of all the people I've talked to about LinkedIn, most acknowledge that they're a member but only a handful are actually getting value out of the networking website. Most signed up because a friend sent them an invite and haven't really given it a second thought since.
The reality is, with more than 20 million business professionals on LinkedIn, you're missing out on countless business opportunities and the chance to build long-lasting relationships. Here are ten ways to get the ball rolling.
1. Your LinkedIn Profile = Your Resume
Instead of having a dedicated website with your resume, use LinkedIn to double as your online resume. Not only does it offer a world of more information that puts you ahead in the minds of employers, but it also boosts confidence in your credibility and can act like a qualified reference all by itself. Understand though that you need to put a reasonable amount of effort into creating an effective profile. Here Guy Kawasaki offers a primer on what it takes: http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/01/linkedin_profil.html
2. Increase Your Visibility
Every minute LinkedIn is used a resource to find qualified people to hire or do business with. By adding the right keywords in your profile (such as the words someone would probably use to search for someone with your expertise) you're much more likely to appear at the top of search results. My LinkedIn profile is a good example of this (note all of the references to the areas of writing I specialize in): http://www.linkedin.com/in/logankugler
3. Grow Your Network Fast
Expanding the size of your network is a snap. Aside from being able to easily import your entire address book from most email clients and automatically view who is a LinkedIn member, you can search for other members by companies you used to work for, people you used to work with, and people who went to school with you. In order to use LinkedIn to its full potential, you should have at least 50 first degree connections.
4. Ask For Advice
Recently, LinkedIn added a feature called LinkedIn Answers and it's phenomenally useful. It allows you to ask virtually any business-related question across the collective knowledge of both your network and the greater LinkedIn network. For example, here are some questions that were recently answered:
• What should a presentation about a major acquisition include?
• How do I set a retainer fee for my consulting business?
• Which slogan do you like most?
• What should we pay a Chief Strategy Officer?
Its uses are infinite from anything to starting your own business to getting help with a marketing proposal to finding a mentor.
5. Migrate Into a New Job
When starting a new job, you're often treading into unknown territory. To help familiarize yourself with the company and your new co-workers, you can use LinkedIn to study their profiles and get to know them better, maybe even send them a quick note letting them know that you're looking forward to working with them.
6. Fill-in Your Business Trip
Have a business trip scheduled for Atlanta and Chicago next week but have some time in-between meetings? Using LinkedIn, you can search your network for connections local to your destination(s) and then reach out to those people to meet for a power lunch or quick meeting to put faces to name, suggests Eric Butow, CEO of Butow Communications Group and author of the upcoming book How to Succeed in Business Using LinkedIn (September 2008; $19.95).
7. Learn More About New Contacts
Say you have a meeting scheduled with John Smith tomorrow morning but don't know anything about him besides that's he's the VP of business development for XYZ Corporation. Using LinkedIn, you might find out that you went to the same school or share similar interests, giving you a number of creative ways to break the ice.
8. Accelerate Sales Delivery
When a client drops a large project on your plate that requires skills beyond the scope of your team's abilities, LinkedIn is a great resource for finding top subcontractors to outsource parts of the project to. "With LinkedIn, you can find partners who have the skills you need to deliver a complete solution for a client," says Butow.
9. Research a Potential Employer
If you're thinking about working at a particular company, LinkedIn offers some unique statistics. By clicking on the company name in someone's profile, you're brought to a page that will show you a list of all of the employees working for that company on LinkedIn, LinkedIn members that were newly hired by the company, recent promotions, and key info like the size of the company, when it was founded, and the average age of employees. Uniquely, it will also show the common career path of where former employees ventured to next and which companies current employees are most connected to. You can also learn who previously held the position you're currently applying for. Here is TechCareer's parent company Beyond.com's company page: http://www.linkedin.com/companies/5259/Beyond.com
10. Farm References
Everyone wants testimonials, but sometimes they can be difficult to obtain. Not only does LinkedIn make it much easier to ask a former co-worker or boss for a "recommendation," but it's also a whole lot easier for whoever you're asking to give you one because assuming they enjoyed working with you, writing a testimonial on LinkedIn only takes a few minutes. Moreover, it has an even greater impact than one just stuck in your resume because it's visible to the world and it's interchangeable so you can copy and paste your LinkedIn recommendations into your resume as well.