Unlike Facebook, where your number of friends is seen as something of a status symbol, connecting with any and everyone on LinkedIn won't necessarily make you more successful. "It isn't about how many people you know, but actually who you know and what they know," explains LinkedIn's European PR Director Cristina Hoole. "It's more a question of quality than quantity."
Vetting your interests
LinkedIn enables you to summarise your hobbies and interests, just as you might do at the bottom of your CV. A few well-chosen disclosures can add instant merit to an otherwise static page; Bill Gates, for example, lists his interests as "reading, tennis and playing Bridge" whereas Barack Obama prefers "basketball, writing and spending time with my kids". What both Gates and Obama do share is that they – or their PR representatives – have undoubtedly agonised over these revelations.
A passion for Xbox wouldn't cut it, 'travelling' might suggest a lack of direction and 'driving my sports car' might suggest a lack of concern for the environment. While these men may have a lot more to lose, the basic principle is the same. It might be your greatest passion, but unless your hobby fits neatly between uninteresting and unethical, it's best not to mention it.
Your summary is your chance to sell yourself, so inject some personality into it. Blandly stating 'I am a London-based web designer specialising in database technologies. I am knowledgeable and friendly' isn't going to convince anyone. Compare this to 'I'm a forward-thinking web developer based in bustling central London. I'm highly knowledgeable and passionate about my field, with significant expertise in database technologies', and it's clear which is more likely to get you hired. Another good idea is to write like you talk. If you generally shorten 'there is' to 'there's', do so; it'll look far less wooden.
You'll find that your summary allows you to sell yourself publicly on a level that might previously have been uncomfortable. There's an unspoken acceptance that a LinkedIn summary can often come across as pompous – and within the confines of the site, that's OK. Boasts such as 'I was the only member of my team to achieve a perfect record' or 'I've been praised on numerous occasions for my strong leadership ability' may initially seem a little awkward to make publicly visible, but in LinkedIn they're not just acceptable – they're vital if you want to impress.
Networking is a big part of LinkedIn life, and you'll have opportunities to offer advice, discuss practices and advertise your services to other members. Asking and answering questions is a vital practice. It builds your credibility and gives others a reason to take a look at your profile – and hopefully be impressed while they're there.
It's worth making a point of asking and answering questions to establish yourself as an expert in your field and raise your social visibility. It also pays to write professional recommendations for your friends and colleagues due to the reciprocal nature of the act.
"Ask your contacts to focus on a specific skill or personality trait that drives their opinion of you," suggests Hoole. "Make meaningful comments when you recommend others, and mix it up; variety makes your recommendations feel authentic." A recommendation from an influential colleague is also likely to provide a substantial boost to your Google PageRank, and your audience is far more likely to believe a recommendation than your summary.
Showing the real you
While LinkedIn handles your corporate side, more socially oriented sites like Facebook play an invaluable role in portraying you as a human being. We all know what all work and no play does to Jack's image, and constantly being shown as unflinchingly professional may depict you as someone who's impossible to engage on a personal level.
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