The best time to look for a job is when you already have one, and the best time to build your network is before you need one. Building strong relationships with coworkers, managers, and industry colleagues is an important part of your career strategy. But sometimes it’s necessary to cultivate relationships with people you don’t already know. For example, if you have your eye on a job at a particular company or you’re trying to change careers, forging relationships with people in the space you want to occupy can be very valuable. Or perhaps you’re not sure what direction your career will take. In all these instances, online networking can be a smart move. So how do you build a network with people you’ve never met to expand your professional network?
Online networking has two key components: presenting yourself as someone others will want to connect with, and knowing how to make the connection. In this blog post, we’ll tackle the first half: building your LinkedIn presence and creating a professional network.
Demonstrate Expertise, Professionalism, and Confidence
The entire purpose of your LinkedIn profile is to demonstrate expertise, professionalism, and confidence. This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow this simple rule. A key example is unprofessional profile pictures. Pictures from your wedding, shots that include you drinking alcohol, and even photos of you with your kids or spouse are not appropriate for LinkedIn.
But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a professional headshot. A photo that is clear, contains just you (preferably smiling!) and recent is all you need. But if you want to take it up a notch, get an action shot of you in your work element. A picture of you giving a presentation, filming a video, or working with your hands is an excellent way to show your expertise. It still doesn’t need to cost you anything–it just needs to show you being awesome at work.
Be Choosy About Your Updates
Keeping your profile up to date doesn’t just mean adding new skills or job titles. It also means ensuring that your listed skills and accomplishments align with where you want to go in your career. So let’s say two years ago, you built a really great email list for your manager, so you included that on your profile. But maybe today you’re realizing that you hated doing that work, and you never want to do it again. Why leave it on your profile? Take it off. There’s no sense adding skills and accomplishments that move you away from where you want to go.
Similarly, as you’re thinking about a new skill or accomplishment to add, consider whether it contributes to your overall career goals. If it doesn’t contribute or makes you look like a jack-of-all-trades instead of the expert you want to be known as, skip it. This means not everything you CAN do will end up on your profile. That’s okay. Stick with the combination of CAN plus WANT to do. Then you’re setting yourself up for success.
Wordsmith Your Profile to Match Your Career Objectives
It’s almost a meme at this point that people on LinkedIn make up all kinds of crazy titles to make themselves sound more important or interesting than they are. You’ve probably seen a graphic designer give herself the title of “Beautifyer of Ugly Corporate Ideas” or a software developer calling himself an “All-Star Code Ninja”. Whatever you do, resist that urge all together. It’s unprofessional and can rub people the wrong way.
Write about yourself in a way that is natural and understandable. It’s fine to have a little bit of fun, but when your title obfuscates your job duties, that’s not great.
Instead, be fun and creative in your summary section. Tell a story about what you do and why you do it. You can even showcase a great case anecdote from your work life. You want to show people how skilled you are, but you also want to be likable. Strangers are less likely to connect with someone who seems like a robot. Be warm. Be real. Be sociable.
It’s important to keep your LinkedIn profile (and your resume!) up to date. Check on it regularly and make sure it represents not just who you are today, but where you want to be tomorrow.
Create Posts and Share Articles with Colleagues and Others In Your Industry
The last piece of developing your LinkedIn presence is one of my favorite secrets. A lot of people overlook it, and I’m not sure why. For job seekers, especially those mid-to-late career, it’s a great way to stand out from others in your field. It’s the ability to share posts and articles on LinkedIn. And if you’re not doing it today, you should start.
When you’re looking to establish yourself as an expert, use LinkedIn to your advantage.
Use the platform to talk to your connections about topics near and dear to your heart. Challenge them with questions about the status quo in your industry. Share observations you have about where your industry is going. Share relevant articles. The idea is to demonstrate that you don’t just talk the talk–you walk the walk. You have unique thoughts and ideas about your work and your industry, and sharing them makes you interesting–someone strangers will want to connect with.
And don’t forget to interact with other people on the platform, too. Follow thought leaders that you admire and comment on their threads. Invite conversation. There’s absolutely no need to be self-promotional–if you have a genuine interest, it will shine through. If you don’t, well…that will shine through, too.
And before you freak out and start saying, “But Charmaine, I’m not a great writer!” I’ll let you in on another secret. You don’t need to be. Tools like Grammarly are excellent for helping you craft copy that will make you look good. You don’t need to be a great writer to post articles and share ideas. You do have to be willing to put yourself out there.
In our next blog post, we’ll talk about the second part of growing your network: cold emails, connecting, and growing relationships.