LinkedIn: Facebook with a suit and tie
// Jeff Maertz

I knew this day would come, but I never expected it to come so soon. For years I pushed against the pressure, dodged the persistent requests, and firmly stood my ground. But finally, the day had come, and I was forced to join a social networking site. For one of my human resources classes, we were given the task of connecting with some Capilano alumni to ask them to take part in a speaking event, and to do so I had to become a member of LinkedIn.

LinkedIn, for those of you who don’t know, is a social networking site that is targeted at professionals looking to build a circle of like-minded people, as well as people looking for jobs. Unlike Facebook, it has a corporate, almost sterile feeling to it. I got the feeling this was a no-nonsense kind of site. LinkedIn is where one would post one's polished resume, list all your accomplishments (to varying degrees of truth), and pray a Google headhunter will seek you out. However, upon further research, there may be more to LinkedIn then just a passing trend.

Founded in 2003 by Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn has taken off in the past couple of years. Canadians especially seem to be gravitating to the site, as over two million residents have joined in the past 12 months to bring the total count of Canadians to over five million. It’s seems as if Canadians have bought into LinkedIn sales pitch, which promises career advancement and professional growth. The real question is if LinkedIn can truly help you land your dream job, or if it is just another social networking that will eat away at your valuable time.

There is no shortage of LinkedIn fanatics, touting it as the most powerful professional networking tool ever created. Patrice-Anne Rutledge, writer of “Using LinkedIn”, claims that “participation in LinkedIn can enable you to find a job or recruit qualified job candidates, develop your business by connecting you to clients and partners, and brand yourself online with a professional presence.”

The truth is, having a polished profile on LinkedIn will help curious recruiters get a better picture of who you are. Unlike in the past, where employers would only have your resume to judge your character, they now have access to everything you post online. A 2011 study found that over 56 per cent of employers creep applicants Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn sites when they are considering hiring them. So what do you want them to find: a drunken picture of you at The Caprice last weekend from your Facebook, or a headshot of you looking spiffy in a suit and tie on your LinkedIn profile?

If you accept the fact that potential employers are going to find you online, then you’d be wise to control your “e-reputation”. This might sound a little cynical and horrible, but if you’re looking to social media to increase your professional network, then think of yourself as not just a wonderful human being, but also a brand. That means creating a positive image that reflects who you are in your professional life, what you are known for, and what you can offer. LinkedIn, unlike Facebook, is a well-suited tool for personal branding as you have more control over what goes on your page. Instead of having mildly offensive updates from old high school friends on your front page, you’ll have your skills and work experience.

With that said, there is an ugly side to LinkedIn. John Flexman, a former office manager at BG Group in England, was fired last year over his LinkedIn profile. He ticked the box indicating he was interested in new “Career Opportunities” and also bragged about his achievements in the company, which was apparently sensitive information. This led BG Group to dismiss him because of “inappropriate use of social media.” The case has been brought to a tribunal, who will deliberate over the legality of it, but in the past, disclosing “confidential” company information to the public has been considered a legitimate cause for dismissal.

Basically, to avoid this ugly situation, you should check with your human resources department about the company’s social media policies, which most large companies now have. Debra Benton, an expert in human resources and social media, offers some advice: “I recommend you clearly understand your company policy and consider the 'unwritten rules', too. Post only fundamentals: your business photo and the minimal profile. Craft the narrative so you humanize yourself and people will, and can, reach you if they want to.”

Despite this case, the potential benefits from LinkedIn still outweigh the risks, although to fully realize these benefits, you have to know how to use this platform to its fullest.

Here are a couple of things that will improve your chances of connecting to the right people: first, you need to completely fill out your profile. That means adding your relevant work experience, your volunteering history, and writing a short summary about who you are. If you can get readers to relate to you, you have a better chance of landing an interview, and this is why the summary section is so crucial.

Secondly, you need to be strategic about who you “connect” too. The idea here is to choose quality over quantity. Connecting to a person who holds your dream job, and can offer advice or link you to job openings, is going to be worth more than connecting to ten of your old co-workers at Starbucks.

Thirdly, once you have created these connections, you must nurture them. Just adding a user as a contact and then ignoring them will not likely deliver the results you want. Send them messages to keep you on their mind. Eve Osbourne recommends spending “ten minutes each day in LinkedIn. Start participating in groups and discussions and start finding new connections to make.” Like many things, LinkedIn will give back only what you put into it.

Even if right now it may seem like Facebook and Twitter are more your social media style, LinkedIn may prove to be a great asset in the future once you’ve graduated.

Katie Kessel, a student at Capilano University, summarized LinkedIn nicely: “If I were looking for a job, LinkedIn would be useful since I do have contacts in HR positions that regularly post job postings for legitimate firms. I also know many professionals who use it in sales to maintain their contacts. As a student though, I don’t have a use for it at the moment, but I know people in the working world who do.”

So, if you're trying to make the jump from the student to the professional life, LinkedIn might make this transition a little smoother. And who knows? It might just help you land that dream job.

Jeff Maertz is a fourth year student of the Capilano school of business with a focus on marketing. Over the next few months, he will touch on topics ranging from small businesses to examining the effect  current events may have on students. He is aiming to make the business world accessible and relevant, regardless of their field of study.

//Jeff Maertz, columnist

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