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Are you in? Leveraging your LinkedIn profile

Recently I was invited to speak to some marketing students at George Brown College. The topic was about social media and how students could leverage it in their job search as they get ready to embark on their careers.

I don’t know about you but it’s tough finding a job much less your very first one. The adage we all know comes to mind. ‘You can’t find a job without experience and you can’t find experience without a job.’ Furthermore current economic conditions bring another layer of challenge into play. Times are tough and people are suffering.

When I spoke to the class I asked the question of how many of them were on various social networks. “Facebook?” “Twitter?” “YouTube?” Pretty much 100% of hands went up each time. When I asked about LinkedIn about 50% of hands went up. When I asked how many of them completed their profiles 100% on LinkedIn about only a third of hands had not fallen. That surprised me. If you were a student looking to find a job in marketing – how could you not be on LinkedIn? It is free to use. If I was a hiring manager on the client side or agency side, I’d be questioning your capabilities. I’d expect someone graduating with a post-secondary education to be on LinkedIn. I told the students that many in my network share the same philosophy. But my post is not to criticize George Brown College or the students there. On the contrary, I’m very impressed with the work that institution is doing to get its students prepared for the working world. Whether it be mentorship sessions or adding ‘non-traditional’ taught classroom skills to the curriculum that are required in today’s business world. The students were very engaged and kept me back for more questions over 30 minutes after I got off my soapbox. The best part? Many of them created or updated their LinkedIn profiles afterwards.

This brings me to you the reader. Students may not know any better. They might figure it won’t be a problem finding a job when they graduate. (I know I did.) Unfortunately there are many professionals out there in marketing, advertising, finance, accounting, operations, logistics, technology, administration and legal that are not on LinkedIn. Or they have a lousy profile completed. It totally blows my mind.

Cynics will say that LinkedIn is only beneficial to marketing, sales and ‘tech’ people. But if it can work for financial advisors then what is your reason not to have a profile? Some argue that LinkedIn is like other online network sites that sprout up every day and then fall by the wayside. Indeed, but how many of them have over 3 million Canadian members alone or an IPO planned? I once recall a senior executive telling me LinkedIn was a waste. He had better things to do with his time. He didn’t need to get spammed with invites. A year later there was a corporate restructuring and that executive was unemployed. Having a LinkedIn profile was suddenly no longer such a waste of time. That same executive now swears by it and is gainfully employed elsewhere. Care to guess how he found his new job?

Now I’m not on the LinkedIn payroll but I know and respect a few people who work there. The quality of a team often speaks to an organization’s products and services. Most importantly I believe in the product. LinkedIn has done me a world of good over the past 6 years. How so?

1. Google my name ‘Sulemaan’. On regular text results it’s fine. Now Google my name ‘Sulemaan’ under images. Stop laughing. No I’m not related to the OctoMom. It’s not that funny. My point being that you don’t know what comes up when people type in your name into a search engine. And make no mistake they do type in your name into search engines. By having a properly completed LinkedIn profile it puts your best foot forward. Usually one of the first search results that appears are either LinkedIn, Facebook and/or Twitter. (Also your blog or personal website.) If you don’t believe in the importance of ‘personal branding’ let my Octomom experience be an example to you.

2. The average tenure in a CMO position is roughly 23 months. People change careers more frequently and it’s hard to keep track. I received an email from LinkedIn in January advising that 25% of contacts in my network changed their job title in 2010. Twenty-five percent. Think about that figure for a second. LinkedIn becomes an updated online rolodex where you can keep in touch and stay up to date on the comings and goings of your network.

3. The whole concept of 6 degrees of separation comes into play. You may not know someone at company X or someone with specific skills (i.e. ability to write marketing copy in mandarin for search engine ads) but someone in your network probably does. Or they know someone who who knows someone that does. LinkedIn helps you find them. Do you know of a better way to quickly meet someone in targeted manner via a personal referral?

4. If you’re going for a business pitch or interview you can leverage LinkedIn to give you information on the company and who you are meeting. You no longer have an excuse not to do your homework ahead of time. If you want to go about doing ‘homework’ discreetly on LinkedIn as one friend recently recounted then remember to turn off profile views & network update in your privacy settings while you research others on LinkedIn. Once completed – turn it back on.

5. Paying it forward by using LinkedIn. By helping others in need, be it those looking for work, searching for top notch candidates or facilitating introductions that create solid business partnerships/friendships you become a menschGuy Kawasaki describes the term as follows: “Mensch is the Yiddish term for someone who is ethical, decent and admirable. It is the highest form of praise one can receive from others whose opinions matter.” Be a Mensch.

So if students have absolutely no excuse not to be on LinkedIn with a properly completed profile – what about you as a business professional? Are you in? Otherwise you are definitely out.