7 LinkedIn FAQs: Social Networking for Job Seekers

In May 2003, the professional social networking platform LinkedIn was founded with a pool of around 4,500 members in its initial month. Now, just under 10 years later, LinkedIn has crossed the threshold of over 200 million members, and is currently adding members at a rate of around 2 new users per second. With such exponential growth, LinkedIn has evolved into a powerful tool that recruiters and job seekers use every day to develop and maintain new connections.

As a career counselor, I utilize LinkedIn in about 75% of my appointments. Whether it is helping a student figure out how to word their resume, research a company, or connect with an experienced professional, the odds are good that LinkedIn can contribute to the process in some way.Below are a few of the most common LinkedIn questions I receive during appointments and presentations. Ask yourself – are you utilizing LinkedIn to its full capacity?

I don’t know how to create a good profile

You are not alone if you feel intimidated by the task of creating a LinkedIn profile, but you should also know that the process is really quite painless. Create an account and get started – LinkedIn will provide numerous prompts and walk you through every step in detail.

The key is that you need to provide some consistent branding in your Profile Heading (i.e. “Management Student Seeking a Recruiting Position in the IT Industry”), your Summary, and your Skills section. These components of your profile will most dramatically impact how you appear in search results, so make sure that you use a clear message and some strong, specific keywords.You should also feel better knowing that writing a LinkedIn profile entails many fewer rules than writing a resume. Since there are no space limitations, you can add longer descriptions with minimal concerns about formatting.

If you want some additional tips on building your profile, check out this great handout that was created by my colleagues at The University of Georgia Career Center!

How do I find people on LinkedIn?

LinkedIn makes finding other professionals pretty easy – primarily through the use of the People Search function, which is found on the site’s tool bar. I typically use Advanced People Search, simply because it allows users to search for professionals using keywords, location, job title, company name, and/or the name of their college. This video on LinkedIn’s student resource page does a great job of demonstrating the People Search function.You can also connect with other users through joining LinkedIn Groups and becoming involved in professional discussions. There is even a great page under the Contacts tab that allows you to filter alumni connections from your college based on location, industry, or company name. These are not the only ways to find professionals on LinkedIn, but they are some of the best and easiest ways to get started. Which leads us to our next question…

What should I say in my networking message?

So, you have found someone you want to connect with on LinkedIn, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it? Obviously, the answer to this question is going to vary depending on the exact circumstances, but there are two basic rules you can adhere to when writing a networking message: Be Honest and Be Professional.

Now, just be clear, “Be Honest” does NOT mean you should message someone asking for a job, even if that is your ultimate intent. Rather, you should honestly convey your career interests and express the desire for information – that could include information about the person’s company, their career path, or the type of work that they currently do. Emphasize whatever common bond you may have – perhaps you went to the same school, live in the same town, or simply have similar career aspirations. Usually, disclosing some sort of a shared connection will help provide motivation for the other person to respond.

And of course, you should strive to be professional in all of your LinkedIn communications. Here’s a quick tip: the default message – “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” – is pretty generic and will not leave a strong first impression. Take a moment to write a customized, professional message. After all, you expect the other person to take the time to write YOU a customized response!

LinkedIn won’t allow me to connect with the person I found

This issue is a little tricky, and it involves a deeper understanding of how LinkedIn works. Your LinkedIn network is composed of four different layers – 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Level connections and people who are Out of Network. LinkedIn offers a detailed breakdown of how these different communication levels function on their Help Center website.

Basically, you can only directly message 1st Level contacts (people who are already connections) or members with whom you share a common LinkedIn Group. For 2nd or 3rd Level contacts, you will need to send them an invitation to connect before starting a conversation (which may or may not be possible, depending on their account settings). You can also request an introduction from a shared contact. You will not be able to contact professionals who are Out of Network, except via InMail, which requires a paid premium account.

In other words, there are definite advantages to building a strong LinkedIn network with plentiful contacts and a variety of group memberships. You may also benefit from learning more about the OpenLink system, which allows some premium members to communicate with users who are outside of their network.

The bottom line is that LinkedIn offers a variety of avenues to connect, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and experiment with a few different approaches!

Isn’t it “creepy” for me to look up someone on LinkedIn?

No. LinkedIn is NOT Facebook – if a professional has a presence on the site, then they expect to interact with other users and are probably actively seeking to develop their own network. As long as your communication is tactful and professional, you should not be viewed negatively for trying to expand your network!

What’s the point? The professionals on LinkedIn will never respond to my message!

I know plenty of stories from friends or students who have leveraged their LinkedIn skills to land them a job. I also know plenty of stories about candidates who have put their best foot forward on LinkedIn with nothing to show for it. The point is that LinkedIn is not a magic bullet. Rather, it is one more resource in your job search toolkit.

Think about it this way – what do you have to lose? Take a few minutes every week to expand your LinkedIn network, update your profile, and message a few key contacts. Worst case scenario, you never hear back from anyone you reach out to via LinkedIn. Best case scenario, you are able to expand your network and advance your career with minimal investment of time, money, and energy.

Go ahead and get started – connect with me!

Updated: 01/06/2011
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Andrew Crain
Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.

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