In one word, the legacy of technology development has been all about disruption. Changing the paradigm. Providing new and better ways to accomplish things. Defying conventional wisdom.
The PC gave average users access to computing. The Mac gave us the graphical user interface and a computer “for the rest of us” (that is, non-geeks). The cell phone, although initially quite expensive, gave us mobile communications. The smartphone gave us a pocket-sized computer that made phone calls and did a whole lot more. The Internet gave users a breadth and depth of up-to-date information that has, for all intents and purposes, made the Encyclopedia Britannica irrelevant.
We see the disruption story over and over again, and this is one of the exciting prospects for those of us who follow technology.
One small slice of disruption can be seen in the business of professional networking. Disappearing are the days when you prepare a résumé and cover letter, mail them to a company, and wait for a call to come in for an interview.
Now, both candidates and recruiters are increasingly taking more proactive steps to finding employment and vetting potential candidates.
Which brings us to LinkedIn
Launched in 2003 as a privately held company, LinkedIn staked claim to the business segment of the social networking landscape. It was primarily aimed at people wanting to build an online professional network, and provided some decent Web 2.0 tools to enable this. And it was free to join.
By 2006, LinkedIn was beginning to seriously disrupt business networking, having garnered 20 million members across a wide spectrum of professions. The site was especially embraced by professionals working in high technology. These were people who understood and welcomed the Internet as the all-encompassing communications medium it was fast becoming.
Today, LinkedIn is an $18 billion public company with $1.5 billion in annual revenues. It is available nearly worldwide and in 20 different languages, and boasts almost 260 million members. Disruption on a pretty wide scale.
Like many web-based companies, LinkedIn makes the majority of its revenues from online advertising, but the lifeblood of the company is its membership, which has grown exponentially.
Obviously, the company must offer something of value to have triggered such growth, but unlike tangible goods and services from brick and mortar businesses, LinkedIn’s value proposition is less readily apparent.
The company’s mission statement is simple: to connect the world’s professionals to enable them to be more productive and successful.
As someone who has been a LinkedIn member for over a decade, I have to admit that it’s only recently that I’ve come to understand that LinkedIn offers remarkable value to both individual users and participating companies.
What the struggling economy wrought
A few years ago, as the US economy continued to struggle in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage scandal, I was laid off from a very good job in the high technology industry after 20 years of continuous employment. I was not alone.
Many professionals were let go as unemployment approached 15% in some industries and 9% overall. At the same time, for whatever reason, corporate America decided to rein in spending and stop hiring.
Thus began a vicious cycle of economic recession that lasted for years. Those who remained employed worked twice as hard, often without annual raises, but were thankful to still have jobs.
Today, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, as unemployment is a more manageable 6.3%—still too high, but at least improving.
Social media tells a story…Is it the right one?
Where does LinkedIn fit into this woeful tale of economic decline? One very interesting side-effect that I discovered during those recent lean years was that my résumé alone was not enough to get my foot in the door for interviews.
Because there were hundreds of qualified candidates for every job, recruiters and human resources staff were increasingly looking for ways to trim the candidate pool. This included going to social media sites to evaluate the profiles of potential candidates.
God help you if your Facebook page revealed potential “character” issues, or your LinkedIn profile was lean, outdated, or worst of all, non-existent.
LinkedIn’s value proposition
For me, because I had built a solid LinkedIn profile over the years, with a list of over 300 professional contacts, and multiple published recommendations from former colleagues who knew my work, I was able to leverage my network to find employment and continue to grow my professional skill set.
I’m in my current position as a senior technical writer not only because I have the necessary skill set and years of experience, but because I just happened to have a LinkedIn connection who knew a hiring manager who knew and respected a former colleague who provided a personal reference for me.
Of course, that convoluted relationship matrix only got me the interview. I still had to win the job, and after multiple interviews with the hiring manager and three of her colleagues, I passed muster and finally received an offer.
It’s fair to say that some of my success is the culmination of years of carefully crafting my LinkedIn profile and cultivating my professional network. LinkedIn not only made this relatively easy to manage, but also offered the critical mass that would ensure that my profile would be available to potentially millions of viewers.
And therein lies LinkedIn’s true value proposition, which, save for a little effort on our parts, we can tap for free.
Your online profile: the new résumé
What makes a good professional profile? I think it comes down to several key things:
- A well-written professional history. The focal point of a quality LinkedIn profile is an accurate, concise professional history with few, if any, gaps. Gaps of months are easily absorbed in one’s contiguous job history. Gaps of years, not so much. Thus, the artful spin of any lengthy gap is critical. Even if you were unemployed for a few years, you must have been doing something: working freelance, taking classes, traveling, bearing children…something that could be used to fill in those lengthy gaps with something of value.
- Professional recommendations. Try to get as many positive recommendations from your present or past colleagues (who are also LinkedIn members). Recommendations that speak to your skills, accomplishments, and teamwork can tell a compelling story to prospective employers. If you are less than completely satisfied with a recommendation, you can delicately ask your contact to make certain revisions, and most often he or she will be happy to comply. In the worst case, LinkedIn enables you to hide a recommendation should you decide it doesn’t present you in the best light.
- Professional memberships. LinkedIn offers a plethora of forums that are tied to particular professions or industries. Join and contribute to as many as feasible. By contributing to discussions that you can confidently add value to, you raise your profile in your chosen profession, and widen your network. A side benefit is you can follow other contributors whom you admire, as they can do with you.
The LinkedIn toolkit
LinkedIn provides an ever-growing set of tools and algorithms to enable you to build your professional profile online.
- Jobs—LinkedIn will keep you apprised of any new job postings that require your skill set.
- Connections—If you’re job hunting, having access to your list of connections can be very valuable. If you’re interested in a company, you can quickly find out whether one of your connections, or one of their connections, is working there. If you can get an introduction to the hiring manager, it’s an ideal way to get your foot in the door.
- People you may know—To expand your network, LinkedIn provides regular suggestions of people you might want to connect with, based on your current list of connections and their connections, companies you’ve worked at, and other factors.
- Who’s viewed your profile—If you’re in the job market, or just curious, LinkedIn regularly provides a list of people who have viewed your profile. To take full advantage of this capability, you need to upgrade to LinkedIn’s professional package for a monthly fee. And, yes, it is just a little creepy. But, hey, as the man said, knowledge is power.
- Companies—LinkedIn lets you follow companies you are interested in and might like to work for. It notifies you of any news or new job openings associated with the company.
- Influencers—LinkedIn lets you follow other members, the most prominent of whom it identifies as influencers. There are often some really good insights and perspectives provided by these titans of industry. And if you’re brave enough and brilliant enough, you can apply to be an influencer yourself.
Like any for-profit company, LinkedIn is in the business of making money. But it started with a good idea and a worthy mission, and these hold true just as much today as they did in 2003.
A living document
Even though older information about you may live in Google’s cache history forever, information seekers will typically go directly to the source. That means Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other social media platform you belong to.
When it comes to your career, the care and feeding of your online profile is critical. Treat it as a living document that changes and grows, as you, yourself, change and grow.