There’s a common refrain about LinkedIn among new users: “I don’t get it,” or perhaps, “I have one but don’t know how to use it.” The site forces us into a weird space between work and social network, and it can be an expectedly uncomfortable place to occupy. But LinkedIn is here to stay, and the network has an obvious in-crowd: older, more experience professionals.
According to the Pew Research Center, LinkedIn users are an accomplished bunch, especially when taken next to the likes of the average Twitter or Instagram account holder. Forbes reports that, not unexpectedly, college graduates have flocked to LinkedIn, but the site is also a hit among so-called “high earners,” people making more than $75,000 a year. There’s also a productive age imbalance: 50 to 64 year olds are more likely to be using the site than 18 to 29 year olds, which, if you’re a job-seeking young person, is exactly the crowd you should be trying to track down. That doesn’t mean you should quit Twitter outright, but consider that an older, more professionally experienced user base is almost always the type of group you want to be engaging with on a job hunt anyway.
So, how do you make the best out of LinkedIn? Part of the reason the site has picked up steam is that we’ve outgrown the resume as an end-all-be-all and employers want a simultaneously faster and more intimate close-up at a prospective employee. In that way, your LinkedIn profile should cover many of the same bases as your resume—your crucial information, work experience, and education all belong, for example—but can also reach past that perpetually stuffy piece of paper. When an employer reads about your previous jobs on a resume they’re often just extrapolating from titles, on LinkedIn you should spell out exactly what your day-to-day responsibilities entailed as well as outline the skills and experience you picked up along the way. If brevity is the point of a resume, LinkedIn is aiming at completeness, an opportunity to spell out every bit of experience and skill-set worth bragging about.
More generally, your LinkedIn profile should be neat, even if it’s loaded with information, and attractive. Think carefully about formatting and spacing—where does the eye get drawn first?—and obviously pick a tasteful profile picture. The most difficult part about LinkedIn is the upkeep though, and your profile should never look stagnant. Instead, you should share links about the work you’re doing or at least things that are relevant to the industry—not all jobs leave an obvious web trail—to appear like more than a digital ghost.
Perhaps the most obvious issue with maintaining a LinkedIn profile comes in the form of curating your connections. It might be tempting to go all out and request as many connections as possible, but like in real life, meaningful connections should be your focus. Connecting with people you don’t know isn’t taboo, but you should certainly tread carefully here, lest a potentially valuable connection sees you in the wrong light. Bottom line: connect with people you know and thoughtfully engage with new connections (which is to say, send a nice, personal note along with your request).
In at least one way though, LinkedIn is just like any other social media platform: there’s nothing you want to do more than creep around. Study the profiles of people you admire or potential coworkers, and constantly check up on company pages that interest you. A job search is like any social scene, weighing the benefits of being seen with the dangers of stepping out into the light. LinkedIn formalizes the process for the better.