Arguably the least fun social media platform, LinkedIn used to be the online equivalent of a professional networking event — a stodgy affair that no one really wanted to hang around. But, for the foreseeable future, the pandemic has all but eradicated most other methods of sniffing out career opportunities. Now that grabbing drinks with former colleagues or hobnobbing at work conferences is off the table, LinkedIn has been promoted from obligatory to essential.
Since March, LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, has introduced a number of tools to help its 706 million members connect to more than 14 million job postings and learn new skills for career development (these figures were reported in Microsoft’s fourth-quarter earnings call in July). All of the new offerings are available to all of LinkedIn’s users and do not require a “premium” plan, which ranges from $29.99 to $119.95 per month.
Whether you’re looking for a new role or just trying to expand your professional network, here’s how to use the website to your full advantage.
Update your profile regularly.
A well-tended LinkedIn profile is an important way to stay relevant.
“A lot of people only update their LinkedIn when they’re looking for jobs, so it’s not used to its full potential,” said Ashley Watkins, a job search coach and former corporate recruiter. “They wonder why no one’s reaching out to them; it’s because they’re inactive. If your profile is stale, you almost don’t exist.”
In addition to featuring your job and skills, be sure to include a photo of yourself.
“Your picture should be professional-ish and represent you well,” said Tejal Wagadia, a corporate recruiter at StrongMind, a digital education company. “If appropriate, it’s nice to have a photo that shows your personality.” (Hers shows her drinking out of a coconut, which she described as “a good conversation starter.”)
Make sure your skills are accurate.
The “skills” section of your LinkedIn profile deserves special attention if you’re looking for work, as recruiters often hunt for candidates using skills as keywords.
“LinkedIn members who have at least five skills on their profile are 27 times more likely to be discovered by recruiters,” said Blake Barnes, who oversees the strategy and development of new tools and products at LinkedIn.
LinkedIn offers a feature where current and former colleagues can “endorse” the skills you’ve listed, as well as quizzes you can take to “verify” them.
“We encourage members to go the extra step to verify skills — you’ll be 20% more likely to get hired if you have a completed LinkedIn Skill Assessment badge displayed on your profile,” Barnes said.
Don’t get too carried away, though. “If you haven’t used a skill in the past five years, don’t list it,” Wagadia said. “Some people have tons of keywords in their LinkedIn profile because they want to be found through a search, but then their job experience doesn’t back it up. That doesn’t help anyone.”
Be active on the platform.
Regular engagement may not get you a job directly, but it can help open doors and get you on people’s radar.
“When you’re liking and commenting on other people’s content, and sharing articles you read and liked, you’re more visible,” Watkins said. “That gives other people more incentive to reach out to you.”
But don’t post about just anything — this isn’t Facebook or Instagram. “Stick to your area of expertise,” Wagadia said. “And definitely avoid engaging in political or religious debates. It just leads to a mudslinging contest, and if a recruiter or hiring manager sees that, they’re going to question your judgment.”
Make new connections — but be strategic.
“If you’re looking for a job at a certain company, start by doing an advanced search to find people you have something in common with at the company, and reach out to them,” said Michael Quinn, senior manager at Ernst & Young who specializes in helping organizations attract talent.
Avoid coming off as transactional, though. “Start by looking at their content and engage based on that,” Quinn said. “Don’t just message people because you want something.”
He suggests sharing a little bit about your professional life and commenting on their posts.
“If I’m used to seeing your name, and then you send me a message saying, ‘Congrats on the new promotion,’ and then you ask to get on the phone for 15 minutes to learn about how I got to where I am, then it’s much easier for me to say, ‘Yes, I’ll take that phone call,’ ” he explained. “You’re building a relationship.”
Don’t be shy about needing a new job.
In June, LinkedIn introduced a feature called “Open to Work,” which allows users to display a badge on their profile photo that indicates they are looking for a new job. And according to the company’s data, it can give your profile a boost.
“We’ve seen that people are 40% more likely to get a message from a recruiter and 20% more likely to get a message from another member if they show that they are ‘Open to Work’ publicly,” Barnes said. (If you’d rather be discreet, members have the option to display the badge so that it’s only visible to recruiters outside your company.)
A silver lining of the pandemic is that it has stripped away some of the awkwardness around admitting you’ve lost your job. “That transparency didn’t really exist before COVID, and it’s now becoming a key part of our job-seeker ecosystem,” Barnes said.
Anticipate new job postings and interviews.
Data collected in August showed that users are four times more likely to hear back from a job recruiter or hiring manager if they applied for a job posting within the first 10 minutes, according to LinkedIn. So it helps to be quick.
“We recommend setting up job alerts so that listings that meet your specific criteria will be sent to you as soon as they’re posted,” Barnes said.
In the meantime, the platform allows users to record practice interviews online and evaluate their performance. The tool uses AI-powered feedback to assess how fast you’re talking, how many times you use filler words (“um” and “like”), and sensitive phrases to avoid.
Be open to career transitions you may not have previously considered.
Linkedin’s most recent tool is Career Explorer, which rolled out last month to steer members toward new roles that align with their skills but may be in a different industry or area they hadn’t previously considered.
“Our data gives us unique insights about career paths and how skills transfer from one job to another,” said Paul Ko, the head of economic policy research at LinkedIn. “Many members didn’t necessarily know what job transitions were available to them.”
In a recent survey of 2,000 professionals who became unemployed in the last eight months, commissioned by LinkedIn and conducted by Censuswide, respondents reported that they were overwhelmed by the prospect of a career pivot because they didn’t know where to start (almost half), considered themselves unqualified for other industries (about a third), didn’t have connections in other industries (32%) or didn’t know how their skills translated (just under a third).
The Career Explorer tool aims to bridge those gaps in knowledge and confidence.
To use it, members type in their current or most recent job and get a list of other job suggestions that require similar skills (along with a percentage of skills overlap, like a Venn diagram). For example, a food service worker could see that his or her peers often transition into customer service specialist roles, a rapidly growing sector that requires about 70% of the same skills, according to the tool. The tool also suggests open positions in your geographic area.
If there are certain jobs with overlapping skills but a few critical ones you don’t have, the tool will also provide links to LinkedIn courses that you can take to learn them.
“The goal is to help people tap into opportunities that they should be considering but didn’t even know about,” Ko said.