how the hell do you use LinkedIn in a job search, anyway?

If you’re going to use just one social networking site in your job search, it should be LinkedIn. With far less effort than it would take to go to networking events and build contacts the old-fashioned way, LinkedIn lets you expand and utilize your professional network in a pretty dramatic way.

It works like this: You start by creating a professional profile — essentially a less formal version of your resume — and then connect your profile to the profiles of other people you know. Once you connect to someone, you can then look at the profiles of the people they’re connected to, as well as anyone those people are connected to — providing three degrees of separation outward.

How to make contacts on LinkedIn

Simply being on LinkedIn and setting up connections to current and past colleagues, clients, classmates, and friends will likely give you a much larger network than you ever realized you had. Here’s why:

Let’s say that you have 100 connections. They, collectively, have 10,000 connections. And when you add in the people they’re connected to, suddenly your network is one million people. One million people available to help in your job search is pretty powerful.

You might be thinking you don’t have 100 connections. But you can use the site’s search tool to find and connect with past coworkers, clients, and classmates. And this goes two ways: Once you’re on LinkedIn, former colleagues and classmates will likely start finding you as well.

How to utilize your contacts

Once you set up all those contacts, you can use them in several ways:

* Referrals: Let’s say you’re applying for a  job. Wouldn’t it be great if someone could actually introduce you to the hiring manager? You can check LinkedIn to see if you have any pathways to that person. You might learn, for instance, that your neighbor’s former coworker works at that company — information you’d probably never otherwise never learn — and then you ask your neighbor to facilitate an introduction.

* Background information:  Now let’s say you have an interview. You can learn a ton about your interviewer by reading his or her LinkedIn profile first. You might be able to open your interview by mentioning that you both know Joe Smith, or that you both participated in AmeriCorps, which is information you probably wouldn’t otherwise have and which can help establish rapport right off the bat.

Or you might find someone in your network who works at the company, used to work there, or is connected to someone who works there. By reaching out to them for insight, you might be able to walk into your interview knowing the company’s culture, its key players, and what they’re looking for in a new hire.

* Building your expertise: LinkedIn also has thousands of alumni, industry, and professional groups that you can participate in, offering endless conversation on topics in your field You can use these groups to build your knowledge, establish yourself as an expert in your field, and get access to experts in your industry (thus building even more connections from the people you meet by participating in these groups).

Even if you’re not a big fan of social networking in general, if you’re job-searching or think you ever might be in the future, LinkedIn can be a huge help.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    I’m curious about how selective others are when accepting a connection from former co-workers.

    I personally won’t accept one unless it’s from someone I could genuinely recommend – and have no guilt about not accepting those who I know to be lousy employees (not only couldn’t I recommend them, but it wouldn’t make me look good to be recommended by them) – but what about people you worked with in a more distant way?

    Perhaps another department – you don’t have any negative impressions, but you don’t know them or their work well enough to vouch for them.

    Do most people accept those for the networking opportunities?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I accept anyone I know, even if I don’t know them well enough to recommend them. But I know some people accept anyone at all, even total strangers, which expands your network but which also (I think) cheapens its usefulness a bit. Interested in dissenting opinions on this one!

      1. John*

        I only accept connections from professional contacts. I wouldn’t assume that a connection is an endorsement. LinkedIn has other features for publicly recommending someone’s work.

        One mistake I’ve made is accepting connections from recruiters I’ve worked with. Since they tend to be so well-connected, it provides connection paths that aren’t particularly useful.

  2. Jamie*

    Speaking of networking – I’ve been dealing with a situation today which really illustrates the beauty of networking.

    I received a call this morning from someone with whom I used to work – of my former co-workers there are maybe three who I think are so awesome I will really go to bat for – he’s one of them. He asked if he could still use me as a reference.

    After agreeing, I stupidly hung up before getting current contact information from him. I immediately went to my boss and said he was back on the market (we wanted to hire him a couple of years ago when our mutual company was closing, but he was snatched up before we could get him in for an interview (the perils of foot dragging in hiring)).

    I then spent the morning trying to contact him with the old contact info, the owner of the company was helping me search the web for a way to get in touch with him, all the while I’m kicking myself for hanging up without a way to get a hold of him.

    I finally find a phone number – call him to plead a case for him to consider interviewing with us – and was very politely told it wouldn’t be possible.

    He’s still currently working at his job and while he wasn’t looking someone else made him an offer that was too good not to explore. He was lining up references just to seal the deal.

    His current boss knows about the other job and has made him a counter offer to woo him into staying. He’s weighing his options – none of which involve working for us which is disappointing to me and the owners of my company because he would have been such an excellent addition here.

    So…he has a prospective employer trying to poach him because they heard about him though word of mouth, a current employer sweetening the pot so he doesn’t jump ship, and another employer disappointed that he’s not on the market.

    My point is – none of these jobs were posted – we would have created a position for him. This is 100% due to networking and a stellar reputation.

    So sometimes it is just letting people know you’re looking – he wasn’t even looking and we were ready to bring him on board!

  3. Joe*

    Any thoughts on using LinkedIn from the other end? I’ve tried using it in the past to find someone for a position we were hiring for, but had no luck. What techniques are useful there?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know, I’ve never actually used LinkedIn to find candidates. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who uses it that way and likes it.

  4. Erin O'Brien*

    I’m curious if it’s acceptable to send a letter of intent/general job inquiry to a recruiter via InMail on LinkedIn? I would like to send my information to a newspaper in the area but currently no positions advertised fit my qualifications.

    And I suppose that’s my big question: When “Career Opportunities” and “Job Inquiries” are listed as acceptable reasons to contact a recruiter for a specific company, is it professional to do so through LinkedIn in lieu of an e-mail or snail mail packet containing the letter and resume?

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