Dear LinkedIn, Help Us Help You!

I speak for many: I am one of many Career Professionals who promote LinkedIn every day to job seekers, career changers and anyone interested in taking a proactive role in managing their career. I will use the term “we” from this point on and will go out on a limb and speak for all career professionals because I have not found one yet who disagrees with me on this (and I know hundreds of them).

The jury is in: Based on many blog posts, comments in LinkedIn groups and in-person collegial discussions, it’s clear that many of us are frustrated with continually being caught off guard by sudden changes to the site. While it is understandable that LinkedIn must make smart business decisions that cause changes to the site, being more transparent and proactive in sharing information regarding the changes would benefit us, LinkedIn and its members.

Must changes be so surprising? Believe me, with the many changes in the world of work, our industry knows very well that the only constant in life is change. We are not saying don’t change, we’re just saying, please consistently warn us when it is about to happen or at least make it easy for us to know when it has taken place. We have been able to adapt to LinkedIn changes but it can be challenging, depending on the scale of the change. Some changes are small (like changing how to remove a contact) but many are big (like removing entire sections such as the pages providing details on specific Skills & Expertise or Signal). In some cases these changes are announced publicly (usually on the LinkedIn blog) but in other cases, it is done without much notification, if any at all. Sometimes the changes are so abrupt that the LinkedIn Help Center hasn’t event caught up and shows incorrect and old instructions. In other cases, we are in the middle of a live presentation using LinkedIn when we find out a major feature has totally disappeared without warning (this happened to me). I know people who have been prepared with PowerPoint slides for an early morning presentation only to have had the prepared screen shots become outdated overnight. In many cases, the only way to find out about a change is from online posts and verbal dialogues by angered LinkedIn members and trainers.

Let’s try to make it better: Is there a way to involve career professionals with LinkedIn changes in a more meaningful way? I am aware that in past years, LinkedIn created special training and support for journalists and I wonder if it has considered doing something similar for career practitioners. In both cases, these groups provide extended publicity for LinkedIn. That publicity can be good or bad, depending on how these groups interact with and experience LinkedIn. Why not take a preemptive approach with career professionals to help LinkedIn garner more positive marketing and improve LinkedIn members’ experience? If this would be of interest to LinkedIn, I would happy to help in that effort.

This could be a win-win! I truly believe we have valuable insights that would make LinkedIn a better product and that you are missing out on utilizing our expertise. Here are some ways we could be useful to LinkedIn. First, as avid users, we often notice glitches before anyone else. If we had a more effective way to share these with your company, you might be able to catch unintended consequences faster. I’m sure if asked, many of us would even be willing to preview, test and provide feedback on new features. Second, as teachers and evangelizers of LinkedIn, we interact with members and potential users every day. We hear feedback that you never will. We can provide front line opinions on features that people find useful, valuable or annoying. This could help LinkedIn avoid trouble by discarding or adding features that devalue members’ experience with LinkedIn. Finally, we can help others feel less intimidated about using LinkedIn. When we are in the middle of a presentation and jarred by a new change, it reinforces to the audience that it can be hard to keep up with all of the changes. This discourages people from being interested in using the site more often and perpetuates the argument that it’s too much to keep up with so why bother joining or using LinkedIn at all.

Call to act: If you are a career professional who agrees with this point of view, please share this post with others, especially anyone at LinkedIn who might be open to this idea and feel free to reach out to me. If you work for LinkedIn, I would be happy to continue this conversation. Please contact me to discuss ways that we can help LinkedIn succeed.

LinkedIn: Should a job seeker pay for an upgraded version?

My spring was filled with many LinkedIn activities that kept me too busy to blog until now. It started with a LinkedIn workshop with my colleague Shahrzad Arasteh (We do this every few months in Annapolis. The next LinkedIn workshop is on the morning of Saturday, July 13 and we will definitely be sharing information on the recent changes to LinkedIn). In April, I was honored to speak at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for their 7th Annual Fellow’s Retreat for the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID). And finally, I was asked to write a journal article about LinkedIn for the summer issue of a career counseling journal.

 

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Paula Brand speaking at NIAID’s 7th Annual Fellow’s Retreat

Of the many times I teach about LinkedIn, there is one question that comes up the most. This post is devoted to that question: Should I pay to upgrade my LinkedIn Account? The answer depends on your purpose, but for the most part I would say no. If you are a recruiter: yes it’s worth every penny. If you are a business owner marketing your products: this can be a great way to reach potential customers. If you are a job seeker, I say save your money and read on.

Anyone can open a basic account for free. All of the techniques and features I share in workshops are based on the free account. There are benefits of upgrading but for most of us, they are unnecessary. The main advantages of upgrading are the ability to send InMails (InMails allow you to send a message to anyone in the LinkedIn community, regardless of having any other connection to them) and more powerful search options to find people. There are other smaller benefits but those are the big ones.

You could wait to be offered a free trial of the upgrade. I regularly get solicited for a free month of the various upgrade services packages. At times, I have been tempted to test these out. However, the deal is that you must agree to be automatically billed, and then you will be given the discount after the fact. Also, you will have to go through the task of cancelling if you don’t want to continue. I don’t like those types of arrangements so I have begged off for now.

The bottom line is that if you are in job search, there are plenty of things you can do on LinkedIn that cost you nothing and there are probably more urgent needs for your hard earned money. For free, you can:

1) Create a keyword rich profile that will attract recruiters and HR professionals.
2) Join and interact in groups to position yourself as a subject matter expert.
3) Connect with people in your field to network into the hidden job market.
4) Search for jobs posted only on LinkedIn.
5) Research your target companies on LinkedIn to gain insights, to prepare for an interview and to learn more about the culture of an organization.

Most job seekers need to spend their money on more pressing needs. So before you decide to shell out the money to upgrade thinking that this will be the silver bullet to get yourself hired (by the way there is no silver bullet for landing a job – it takes hard work and a lot of networking!) ask yourself how much you are taking advantage of all of the free features you can use today without breaking your bank account.

LinkedIn changes: 8 tips to keep you up to date with this ever-evolving website

There have been so many changes with LinkedIn over the past six months, you may have had trouble keeping up. If that’s the case, read below to get a summary of what’s new and what’s gone within the LinkedIn system. The most visible change was creating a new “simplified” look for profiles which were rolled out to the millions of LinkedIn members over many months. Less obvious changes include the removal of some features and the addition of new kinds. Let’s jump in!

WHAT HAS CHANGED

1) The Answers feature is gone. As of January 31, 2012, LinkedIn has removed Answers. This feature allowed LinkedIn members to seek advice from all LinkedIn users but more importantly, it allowed experts to shine. Thought leaders would answers questions and strive to be rated as the Best Answer, providing a spotlight on their expertise. One way around the loss of Answers is to ask and answer questions within your Groups. Though not as powerful, because Answers provided a much larger audience (every LinkedIn member), Groups provides a more limited but targeted audience. There are some other ways to work around this loss, provided by a blog post from Linked Strategies Group LLC . If you had ever used Answers, you might wonder where the information went. This post by Jason Alba explains that the history of previous Answers has disappeared.

2) Most apps have gone away, sadly Events is no more. A few still remain (such as Slideshare and Boxnet) but most have gone away. The omission I mourned was the loss of the Events app. Though some said they wouldn’t miss it, I think it was a great loss. Some people agree with me. Here is a post by Julius Solaris from Events Manager blog. Events allowed you to showcase conferences you had attended or would be attending, thereby displaying your commitment to your field. It allowed people to seek out others going to the same event, which encouraged taking on line networking to the personal level. If you were organizing an event, it allowed you to promote it (though I agree most people did not maximize this angle). LinkedIn suggested using Eventbrite and Meetup as replacements but these are inferior alternatives. Though both sites are useful for organizing events, they lack the ability to showcase where you will be going and where you have been right on your profile. For more information, here is a useful blog post by Jason Alba on the apps that went away.

3) Snapshot changes. In trying to create a more “simplified” profile design, LinkedIn has hidden some of the information that used to show up in your snapshot (the top area of information next to your picture). In this area, you must now click on Contact Info in order to see someone’s e-mail, Twitter handle or websites and only employer names show but not job titles. Websites can still be added and customized but most were dropped in the profile changeover so you should make sure yours still shows if you had any websites listed pre-changeover. One thing that is not hidden is your profile picture. In fact, the picture is now much bigger so keep this in mind. You may need to change or edit your previous picture to create the best possible impression. Also the font of your headline (the line right below your name) is bigger too.

4) Influencers and company pages. One major new feature is Influencers which allows you to Follow people, much like Twitter. LinkedIn started out with 150 people deemed as influential (think Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, President Obama, etc.) and more are being added regularly. Company pages are not new but have been enhanced. The pages are better designed but still offer the same excellent research information as before. Be sure to use these company pages to see who you know at a company and to do your homework before an interview.

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED

1) Getting a vanity URL. You should still get yourself a “vanity” or personalized URL. This is essentially your internet address that can be used to get to your profile instantly. It’s free and very easy to do. To learn more about why you should do this and how, go to my previous blog post about getting a vanity URL.

2) Complete your profile. You should complete your profile as much as possible. Only adding your name and current title is not enough. You should have more than one job (preferably a few), a picture (this will increase the chances of people accepting your invitations and viewing your profile) and a summary (to give a professional but friendly “big picture” view of who you are). There are many other sections you can complete including education, certifications, languages and projects. The more you share, the more likely people will find you.

3) Connect and share. You should still network with others and use this platform to share useful information with others. Making LinkedIn connections (you should at least have 50) and sharing information with others is still one of the best uses of LinkedIn. Adding connections increases your sphere of influence, increases your ability to connect with others beyond your inner circle and displays your level of “connectedness.” To share, you can post activity updates to let others know what you are doing and post articles with timely information. Activity posts are more prominent in the new design of your profile and now the last few posts appear just below your snapshot. Use this to your advantage by posting more often.

4) Endorsements are here to stay. The endorsements feature appeared in September 2012. It allows your connections to “endorse” the keywords in your Skills and Expertise section. It was controversial at first and continues to be. On the down side, many people dislike the facebook feel of a popularity contest, question those who endorse strangers and think that the ease of which one can endorse lessens the value of it. On the upside, you can use the feature to your advantage by having colleagues endorse you for skills you want to promote. As a result you can be found by others based on your areas of expertise. Recruiters and talent scouts continue to use this keyword rich section to find those with the aptitude they seek. Here is a recent article by Patricia Kitchen that shares some ways to make the most out of LinkedIn endorsements.

So there you have it. You are now caught up on the most major changes with LinkedIn over the past six months. There are a few other minor changes I’ve noticed, but I didn’t mention them because I am hoping they are glitches that will soon be fixed by LinkedIn. Based on past experience, I am sure more changes are coming so maybe I’ll have to write another post like this in six more months? For now, please use this information to help you make the best use of LinkedIn and share any feedback. Which of these changes do you like? Which are driving you crazy?

One easy step to improve your LinkedIn Profile – CREATE A VANITY URL

WHAT IS A VANITY URL?

It is a fast and easy way to customize your social media presence when using LinkedIn.  The “vanity URL” concept is similar to the idea of getting a vanity car license plate – it makes your name and brand much more memorable.  Aren’t you more likely to notice and remember driving by a car with the plate “DAY-DRMR” or “IMGR8” versus a randomly assigned plate like J3R9S6?

WHY SHOULD I CARE? 

Two big reasons- clarity and branding.  First, LinkedIn assigns everyone a messy URL initially, which is why you should change it.

Additionally, a Vanity URL helps in your branding and marketing efforts and shows you are somewhat savvy in using LinkedIn.  As Donna Sweiden shares as tip #4 in her blog 7 simple updates to your LinkedIn profile, it improves your Google ranking.  Once your profile is set up, share your customized URL so people can easily find you and your expertise.  Place it on your résumé, business cards and electronic signatures.  This is important for people concerned with managing their careers effectively no matter what their status is:  employed, unemployed or underemployed.

HOW TO GET A VANITY URL:

LinkedIn often changes things up, so I can\’t promise these will be the exact steps when you try this, but here it goes.  Once logged into your LinkedIn account, click on the Profile tab located at the top left of the page.  Then slide your curser to the drop down choice of Edit Profile. Click on the Edit link (usually in blue letters), just to the right of your currently assigned URL.

It may take you directly to an edit screen but more likely, you should now see somewhere in the upper right-hand side of your screen the words Customize your URL Link (usually in blue letters) – click on the link on these words.  Then, a box will “pop up” with the URL started as http://www.linkedin.com/pub/, plus a blank box at the end will allow you to type in the customized URL you would like.

Start by typing in your full name and see if it\’s available (no spaces allowed and it will all show in lowercase no matter how you type it).  If it is available, you will see a green check mark. If not, you will see a red X mark.  Keep trying until you get one you like that is available. If your name is taken, look to add other letters that have meaning for you or your profession. So, if the extension of joesmith is taken and he is in the field of sales, he could try joesmithsalesexpert.

Like others, when I first got on LinkedIn, I was assigned an unmemorable URL.  Now you’ll see that my Public Profile (URL) on LinkedIn ends in paulabrandcareers.  When I initially attempted to obtain a vanity URL, I typed in my name and paulabrand was taken, so I added the word “careers” and my URL is now http://www.linkedin.com/in/paulabrandcareers.

SO WHAT’S STOPPING YOU NOW?

It really is easy and takes only a few minutes.  Now you know how, so make use of this feature! Take the time to do this for your best career management when using LinkedIn.  Please share this tip with people you know.