If you were to ask any career services professional or human resources manager what's the best way to find a job opportunity, to a person they would say "networking."
If that is the case, what is a quick and easy, no-cost way to network?
If you have not heard of LinkedIn, imagine Facebook, but with professional information and previous work experience instead of pictures of your pet and announcements about what you are having for dinner.
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Seventy million professionals host profiles on LinkedIn. Profiles are relatively easy to set up and basically include most of the information you have on your résumé. You are able to upload a picture — a head shot in professional attire is best — and can begin making "connection" requests, instead of "friend" requests, for those you know in your professional and personal lives.
Just as with Facebook, LinkedIn will provide a list of "people you may know" by searching through your various job and educational experiences. This makes it very easy to increase your connection numbers quickly.
Adding connections leads to what is the strength of LinkedIn — access to second- and third-level connections, the equivalent of friends of friends on Facebook. I have 171 first-level connections, which leads to second-level connections of 1.4 million people. With that many possible networking contacts, it is very easy to explore companies and job opportunities.
If I am a job seeker and I'm trying to find out more information about a company or industry, I can simply type a company name into the search bar. I randomly chose to search Apple and discovered that I have second-level connections to five Apple employees. Using my first-level connections, I can get "introduced" through LinkedIn to one of these five employees to find out more about opportunities within Apple.
LinkedIn offers many services to its users to help them best utilize the system. Visiting http://learn.linkedin.com will take you to the Learning Center, which helps you learn how to put together a complete profile and offers advice for job seekers looking to leverage this site into application opportunities.
Additional tools from LinkedIn include its "Groups" section, which is also similar to Facebook. There are thousands of groups on LinkedIn, many of which are online versions of the professional associations in the industries in which you want to be employed.
Joining these groups allows for more opportunities to connect with colleagues with whom you might not have a formal relationship, and encourages discussions and idea sharing. LinkedIn also allows free posting of job opportunities through the groups.
One of the last tools I will mention from LinkedIn is its "Answer" portal. This is a fabulous tool that I make use of regularly, both to receive and contribute information. It works by encouraging you to post a professional inquiry about an infinite number of topics.
Just the other day, I encouraged a client who is looking to leave the legal profession to post a question on LinkedIn to see how she might be able to combine her legal education with her business background in some creative ways. LinkedIn examines the key words in the question and then posts them to people who, through their profile, have expertise in those areas.
I've seen and answered questions about graduate school and résumé writing. You will find that you often get very good advice through this tool.
LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for any professional, regardless of whether you are a job seeker. But if you are looking for employment, leveraging the value of this free tool can make networking vastly easier and give you a professional online presence that employers will find attractive.
Take some time to explore LinkedIn, create a professional profile, and get to work networking so you can get to work.