This is an area where there is a bit of a generational divide. The over 40’s, who tend to be less active on social networking sites anyway, are less likely to use professional networking sites. To the under 40’s anything I say will probably being like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs (or, rather, your, grandchild to play Grand Theft Auto..). So I’ll keep it brief.
LinkedIn is one of those internet trends that has reached tipping point. Two or three years ago, it was only the early adopters who could be bothered. But now there are so many people using it that, at least for the time being, you really ought to have a profile. Creative types still tend to use Facebook, but LinkedIn has become the pre-eminent site for Professional Networking for business people.
So, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, set one up now. Here are a few pointers:
Try to make your profile as complete as possibly. LinkedIn’s own profile editing function will help you on this. A lot of firms now employ in-house headhunters who use LinkedIn as their primary research tool to identify candidates. And most headhunters routinely use it all day every day. If you have ever tried using LinkedIn’s ‘advanced search’ profile, you will see that it relies heavily on Job Titles and other key word searches. So, when writing your profile, try to make sure that you include the types of key words for jobs you have done or would like to do. So, rather than writing a generic title like ‘Vice President, Marketing’, try to treat the job title like a ‘job function’ for example: Head of Marketing: Northern England, or Head of Retail Marketing: N England, etc. And then write some details of what the job involves in the Responsibilities bit to give the key word search a chance to identify your record. Your LinkedIn profile should ideally look a bit like a pared-down version of your CV, with about half to a quarter of the amount of detail.
Connect to as many people as possible. This is a bit like being Friends on Facebook, though less intrusive. The more connections you have, the more visible you are. So it is better to be more connected as it makes you more visible to headhunters and prospective employers. But be careful: if you simply invite lots of people you don’t know to connect to you, they may report you as a spammer, and LinkedIn will suspend certain functions on your profile (in particular, the one that allows you to invite large numbers of contacts to ‘connect’ to you). I personally also hide my contacts, which you can do in the ‘privacy settings’ area, as I reckon most people do not want everyone to know they are connected to headhunters. But if I was not a headhunter, then I would probably not bother hiding my contacts (unless I had unfeasibly large numbers of connections with headhunters, which might not look great if my boss happened to check out my profile!). In any case, be aware that you can hide them, and you can also tweak a few other privacy settings. So it is worth checking this out in the account settings when you set up the profile.
Sign up to Groups. LinkedIn also has lots of Groups which are aimed at people with similar interests. These range from Alumni Groups (old School or old University) Groups, as well as professional networking groups (eg. UK Asset Management Salespeople, Benelux Investment Managers, etc). Try doing some searches in the Groups window to see if you can find any likely-looking groups. You can also check out what groups that contacts or friends belong to for ideas. Once again, the more Groups you belong to, the more visible you are. Groups also have discussion areas, where you can ask questions and possibly get answers from other group members. If you cannot find a relevant group, try setting up Groups yourself. I manage about 18 groups, which range from having over 2000 members to about 40; it’s pot luck which Groups grow and which do not, but give it a go. The key tends to be to get 5 or 6 others to sign up – if you can get to 100 Group members, then you are up and away.
As well as making yourself more visible, LinkedIn is a great research tool, which you can use to identify whom you should call to make direct approaches to. Or to research the career history of whomever you may be about to interview with. It is particularly useful to work out if you have any contacts in common with a particular person, which then allows you to call that person up to either ask for some background colour on them, or to ask for an introduction or recommendation.
It seems to me that Job Boards are mainly for the junior end of the market; for new graduates and people early in their careers. There is a job board for Senior Executives called BlueSteps, which is run by the Association of Executive Search Consultants, but you have to pay to be listed and I am not sure how effective it is. If anyone reads this and has had experience of BlueSteps, your thoughts would be gratefully received.
Other than that, the types of Job Boards most people have heard of are Monster.com or Fish4Jobs or eFinancialCareers. There is a list of UK job boards here. They usually allow you to upload your CV for free, and then charge recruiters and hiring companies to get access to the database of CVs. Since it doesn’t cost anything, it is worth giving these a go. Job Board databases tend to be used mainly by Agency Recruiters, so this will possibly result in calls from Agency Headhunters. But anyway, if you are under 30 you probably know all about that, and in much more detail than me. In fact, I would appreciate any information or views you could contribute on this subject as I confess I have never had direct experience of using Job Boards either as a Candidate or as a Headhunter.