LinkedIn is essential for most professionals today. It’s a giant, online Rolodex containing information on over 530 million people across the world. While LinkedIn is extremely useful as a professional network, enabling people to reconnect with old friends and colleagues as well as meeting potential new clients and suppliers, it is particularly important for people in a job search. No need to go chasing job postings (although LinkedIn does offer job postings) when the job can find you.
How Effective Searching Works
To understand how to successfully leverage LinkedIn, think about how we all use search engines. To find something quickly, we search using keywords that describe that thing as closely as possible.
For example, if we want to go out for pizza at Uno’s Pizzeria in a new town, we don’t search generically for “restaurants” or even “pizza restaurants.” When we want Uno’s (or whatever your favorite pizza chain is) in a specific location, we search specifically for “Uno’s Pizzeria restaurant in [city and state].” With very specific search terms, the search results are also very specific, usually meeting our criteria.
That’s a much faster way to get the most useful results from the search engine.
Why, When And How Recruiters Search
Today, job postings are less effective than they have been in the past. Too many people apply for jobs they are not qualified for, so finding the qualified applicants in that crowd is a time-consuming chore. As a result, employers depend on applicant tracking systems to help them sift through all those applications to find the qualified candidates.
But an ATS is not the only solution available. Increasingly, rather than posting jobs and combing through applications, recruiters are searching online to find candidates qualified for their jobs. The job might not be posted publicly anywhere, but the search for good candidates is active.
Recruiters search to find good candidates the same way we search for other things. To find someone qualified for their social media marketing analyst opportunity, they don’t search for a “marketing professional.” That would waste time and effort with too many search results to comb through to find the people with the correct qualifications. Instead, when using a search engine, they search using the keywords that describe the specific job they are trying to fill. To find candidates for the social media marketing analyst job, they search using the terms in the job description and keywords on job title, skills, qualifications, education/certifications, accomplishments and the location of the job.
When a recruiter wants to hire someone, they usually search LinkedIn, and they search specifically for people with the right job titles, skills, experience and location. When a recruiter wants to confirm a job candidate’s qualifications, they search LinkedIn for the person’s name to see their profile, checking to match the “facts” on their resume or application and viewing the person’s interests and communications skills.
But, as essential as a LinkedIn profile is today, making it effective as a personal marketing/personal branding tool is a bit of a mystery to many.
To Be Found, Be Focused And Clear
The key to being found by recruiters on LinkedIn is to use the terms recruiters use to find the people they want. Start with your LinkedIn Professional Headline (the tagline that follows members throughout LinkedIn). That’s probably the most valuable electronic real estate on LinkedIn, but too many people waste it.
Ignore the term “headline,” and think instead of this space as the search terms someone would use to find you if they didn’t know your name, staying focused on the keywords that describe your next job.
People often describe themselves vaguely (and uselessly) in Professional Headlines, like these:
• “Experienced Marketing Professional:” Only 76 out of the millions of jobs posted on Indeed.com include the words “marketing professional” in the job title.
• “IT Expert:” Only 34 jobs are titled “IT Expert” on Indeed.
• “Mission-Driven Leader Achieving Financial Operations Excellence:” There are no jobs titled “mission-driven leader” on Indeed.
Being generic and open-ended about the target job feels smart. “I’m keeping my options open.” Unfortunately, the keeping-my-options-open instinct is deadly. Today, being vague is an option-limiting move. Recruiters search job titles when looking for qualified candidates. Very few recruiters are filling jobs with the title “marketing professional,” yet tens of thousands of LinkedIn members describe themselves that way.
For example, a few months ago, I heard from a job seeker who described herself as a “technical writing professional.” She complained to me that LinkedIn was overrated. I suggested that she change her Professional Headline to “technical writer” and include the kind of technical writing she did. Skeptically, she implemented the change, and two weeks later (seriously!), she let me know she had a job. A coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
An effective Professional Headline is one part of successful LinkedIn search engine optimization.
To Be Found, Be Well Connected And Leverage Skills
Unless a recruiter pays for LinkedIn Recruiter, your appearance on LinkedIn search results depends on being in that recruiter’s first, second or third-degree network. LinkedIn’s free search results show only the people in your network. So, the more people you have in your first-degree network, the larger your whole LinkedIn network will be. Your network size has a very large impact on your visibility in LinkedIn search results.
Most people pay little attention to the Skills and Endorsements section of their profiles. Big mistake! Skills are a major search criterion in LinkedIn’s recruiter product, often the first search option selected by a recruiter (faster and easier than a keyword search). So, choose and get endorsed for those skills which are essential for your career (and your job search).