Dan Schawbel is the bestselling author of Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, April 09), and owner of the award winning Personal Branding Blog.
We’ve given you a detailed process on how to build your personal brand on both Facebook and Twitter. Now it’s time to go over how to do the same on the number one professional network, LinkedIn.
Whether you’re a job seeker, consultant, entrepreneur or happily employed, LinkedIn can be an incredible asset for your career. You can connect to over 43 million professionals in over 200 countries around the world. LinkedIn is not just a virtual resume that should be tucked away for a rainy day. Instead it acts as a resume, cover letter, references document, database of your contacts throughout your life and a place where you can learn, share and interact in a professional manner. The following four steps, will help you build a powerful brand on LinkedIn so that you attract jobs you’re passionate about, while fostering a network that can support your career moving forward.
1. Brand your profile
Your LinkedIn profile needs to be absolutely flawless, since you’ll be judged harshly by recruiters who are analyzing you to see if you fit their corporate needs. That means no spelling or grammatical errors and it should be completely filled out, leaving no experience or details out. Think of your profile as an asset and as a portrait of you as a professional who someone would want to possibly hire for a newly available job.
Custom URL: Your LinkedIn URL should appear as “http://linkedin.com/in/yourfullname.” If it doesn’t, you’re missing a vital opportunity to have your profile rank higher in Google and to make it easier for people to find you. To do this, go to your profile and click “edit” and then next to where it says “public profile,” click “edit” again. At the top, you’ll want to click “edit” one more time next to “your public profile URL,” and then type in your full name, without spacing, and click “set address.” If the unique URL is taken, then try using a period between your first and last name or use your middle initial.
Headline: Your headline will automatically be displayed as the last job you’ve had, unless you change it manually. I recommend that you brand yourself for the job you want, not the one you have! This means that you should revise your headline so instead of “Marketing Specialist for Toyota,” it could be “Internet Marketing Expert for Fortune 500 Companies.” This way, you’re positioning yourself for a future potential job, while leaving your current job within your LinkedIn profile.
Summary: Your summary should include a brief paragraph summarizing your work experience, especially work experience that is relevant for the job you want. Feel free to spice this section up with your unique abilities and differentiators, such as industry awards and honors. In the second paragraph, you should define your career aspirations.
Experience: Don’t just list the past few jobs you’ve had. I recommend that you put every single job you’ve had that is still related to either your current position or the job you are searching for. The easiest way to complete this section is to copy and paste the bullets from your traditional resume.
Keywords: You should flood your entire LinkedIn profile with keywords because recruiters and other individuals will be using LinkedIn as a talent search engine. By selecting a few keywords that are also found in your headline, and sprinkling them throughout your profile, you will rank higher for those terms when someone conducts a LinkedIn “people search.” If you show up first or second, then you may get the opportunity over everyone else.
Applications: If you have a blog, then you should definitely use either the “WordPress” or “Blog Link” applications. With this integration, you’re able to show people your thoughts, feelings and emotions on top of a more traditional resume format. List only your past two or three blog posts so you don’t overwhelm the reader. Another application that you may want to try is the “Slideshare Presentations” application to showcase how you compile information, your formatting and creative skills to employers who may glance at it. Finally, the “Box.net Files” application can be leveraged to allow employers to download your portfolio of work.
Websites: LinkedIn gives you the ability to list up to three website links. I would recommend that you select your blog, any web pages you own, your company and possibly your Twitter profile link. Instead of leaving each title (for each link) as “My Website,” you should change them to the actual title of each of your links, so that the link can be associated with the URL. This will help optimize your profile and drive Google PageRank to your other web properties.
Recommendations: Many people argue if LinkedIn recommendations are legitimate, especially because they typically come from your trusted network of friends and colleagues. The truth is that they are very significant because when a recruiter searches for talent, they will view and identify profiles that have the “thumbs up” graphic next to them. If you don’t have a “thumbs up” graphic, that means that you haven’t been recommended and if you do and you’ve been recommended several times, there will be a number next to it. If two candidates for the same job had the same background and skills, yet one had twenty recommendations, who would you choose? Exactly! Recommendations can come from colleagues, teachers, managers and even celebrities.
2. Develop your network
Now that you have a compelling and immaculate profile, it’s time to start developing your network. A LinkedIn network is all about your professional network graph. That means that your first, second and third degree contacts are visible and can help you with career opportunities. The more first degree contacts you have, the more second and third you will gain, which is why I recommend that you accept everyone as a contact. You never know when someone can help you!
How to develop your network
Import your contacts: If you’re brand new to LinkedIn or you want to start building your network, without having to search for people, you should use the import function. LinkedIn allows you to important contacts from Windows Live, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! and AOL. You can also search through your college or workplace and add people you’ve worked with or have gone to school with.
Be open and available: A huge part of LinkedIn is its messaging system and by being available and open to accepting contact requests and continuing conversations, it will help you build relationships.
Leave your email address: People cannot add you to their network without your email address, so you should either leave your email address at the end of the summary area or put it in the contact field and label it public. Also add ALL active emails to make it easy to connect with you.
Promote your URL: Take your distinct URL and put it in your email signature, on your traditional resume, on your blog (with an optional icon graphic), your website, your presentations, and possibly on your business card.
Update your status: Don’t worry, you don’t have to update “yet another” status bar with a message. Try using Ping.fm or hellotxt.com to push your status to all of your social networks at once. Make sure that your LinkedIn status message is extremely professional because the audience is more career minded people and hiring managers.
3. Position yourself as a leader
Now that you have a remarkable profile and you’ve developed a sizable network, it’s time for you to become a leader on LinkedIn. This professional network allows you to do a few key things that will help you gain followers, attention and, possibly, a new job.
How to position yourself as a leader
Start a group: Groups are extremely powerful assets for your brand. Instead of starting a group based around your company, if you have one, do it around the topic you want to “own.” Decide whether you want to localize it (Group Name, Boston) or make it international, allowing anyone to join. By starting a group on LinkedIn, you’re automatically portraying yourself as a leader. You should invite your current contacts to your group, especially after analyzing their profiles to see if they would be interested. You should also promote the group on Facebook, Twitter and your blog to gain an initial base of members. After a few months of delivering news content, helpful articles and seeding it with discussions, you will see (just like any other community) that it will grow based on member activity. Another important strategy is to syndicate your blog through LinkedIn; you’d be surprised how much traffic you can get from it. I still am!
Start an event: LinkedIn events are strictly for professional interests or for conferences. By starting your own networking event, you can easily promote it to your current LinkedIn audience, as well as your second and third degree contacts. It’s a great way to become a known connector and leader in your niche.
Ask and answer questions: If someone in your network asks a question pertaining to an area that you have knowledge in, you should answer it. By participating in these types of discussions, whether you’re asking or answering them, you are perceived as a valuable contributor to your network and someone to go to if people need help.
4. Leverage LinkedIn as part of your unified brand strategy
When it comes to your personal brand, LinkedIn is only one piece of the puzzle. You’ll want to supplement LinkedIn with profiles on Facebook and Twitter, in addition to your own blog or website and profiles on industry specific social networks. Your LinkedIn profile should be consistent with your online presence, which means you should be using the same avatar, your full name and your personal branding statement. As you grow your brand over time, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is updated with your latest job information and experience. If you’re looking for a job right now, toss away your traditional resume, click on “PDF” on your LinkedIn profile and print it out for your interview. This, in effect, displays more of who you are in a different format than recruiters are used to, so you stand out.
Decide how much time you want to invest in LinkedIn, as opposed to your other online assets. LinkedIn requires less upkeep, but to leverage it to the best of your ability, you will have to put your time in. By building your personal brand on LinkedIn, you’ll be where people are searching and you’ll have access to those who can help build your brand now and in the future.