The time to build your professional network is before you need it. Once you need help, it may be too late to find allies who are ready, willing and able to provide it.
Among the tools that can help you grow your network is LinkedIn. com — a free, searchable database of professionals in virtually every field.
Use LinkedIn to connect with current and former contacts, the contacts of your contacts and so on — just as you may use in-person opportunities to generate such connections. Also, use LinkedIn to initiate contact with strangers with whom you share common ground; find such allies by searching the LinkedIn database by name, keyword, employer or industry.
Once you register on LinkedIn, you can create a profile that includes varied features, such as your professional summary, a list of your educational and professional credentials, your photograph, as well as links to other LinkedIn members, relevant professional organizations, and websites that cover your work. You can also arrange for your LinkedIn profile to showcase written recommendations from your professional associates and a downloadable version of your résumé.
You can link your profile to those of other LinkedIn members who, at your request, give you permission to do so.
Alternatively, at your request, your own contacts or the contacts of your contacts may introduce you to members of their LinkedIn circles.
With these features, LinkedIn can help you:
• Arrange for hiring managers and other professional contacts to instantly access your résumé and professional recommendations online without you even having to e-mail these documents. To promote such access, change the online address of your LinkedIn profile to your own name, and then link to it from your private e-mail signature and your other private online communications.
• Find potential mentors who have held certain positions, gained experience in particular fields, conquered the same types of obstacles you are confronting or done anything else that may qualify them to advise you on your career choices or answer questions about issues in your field.
• Identify potential speakers for conferences, and identify experts to recruit onto work groups, advisory panels, conference panels or professional organizations.
• Gather intelligence on hiring managers before job interviews or informational interviews, or before other types of meetings with professionals.
* Evaluate the “connectivity” of a job applicant to your office, a colleague or other associates — i.e., determine whether such people are connected to movers and shakers in your field or whether they know people who belong to your professional circle.
• Brandish your “connectivity.”
• Research the professional backgrounds of social contacts.
Some tips on using LinkedIn:
• Consider your LinkedIn profile a business card; keep it current, accurate and typo-free.
• Raise the “Google” ranking of your LinkedIn profile by setting it to “Public” and “Full View.”
• Note that professional summaries on LinkedIn are generally written in a more casual, but still professional, tone and feature more human interest information than do traditional cover letters and résumés. With their informal style, these summaries are generally more interesting than traditional professional profiles, so follow suit.
• If a LinkedIn member introduces you to another member, thank your connection for the introduction and tell him how it helped you.