At a recent convention, I met a fellow geek named Mark; when he learned that my day job is in information technology, he was shocked when I told him I wasn't on LinkedIn.
"No matter how secure you may feel in your job, you never know what can happen," he warned. "These days, a LinkedIn profile is almost as important as a resume."
Mark has much more impressive computer credentials than I do. Still, seeing as I don't feel a great deal of job security -- who does these days? -- I figured I should get on the ball and set up a profile on the site.
I first became aware of LinkedIn during a time when I was experiencing a whole lot of social media fatigue. I'd just started on Twitter and I was on MySpace and LiveJournal and Facebook, and ... wasn't that enough? A quick browse through LinkedIn had given me the feeling it wasn't really a place for creative types. And despite my history of professional nerdery, I'm most interested in doing creative work.
But I gained those initial impressions a couple of years ago; sites change. Facebook wasn't that interesting to me on first glance, either, and now I spend most of my social media time there. So I've been trying to give LinkedIn another chance to prove its worth to me.
As I started looking for former coworkers and professional acquaintances on the site, I noticed a lot of familiar names and faces. Many fiction authors had already established presences there. Did they know something I didn't know?
Most fiction writers I talked to seem to think the site is still a bit of a cipher.
"I can't say that I've had any benefit from LinkedIn," says Chesya Burke in what was a common refrain. "But then again, I signed up and haven't really done anything to promote it or use it."
"I find LinkedIn to be the least effective social media platform out of all social media platforms available," agreed Deborah LeBlanc.
"I appreciate it as a professional alternative to Facebook," says Lawrence C. Connolly, who also hasn't seen any tangible benefit to the site. "But these days I find myself comfortably busy and productive without too much help from digital forms of social media."
"I've tried using it as a part of my job search, and to network, but it didn't work so well," says Maurice Broaddus, who got more job leads from Facebook after making appropriate status updates.
"On the plus side," says Broaddus, "it is interesting seeing what my fellow writers do 'in real life' ... most of us are balancing writing, working, family, and interests. LinkedIn gives a better glimpse on the working side of who we are."
And a few writers are finding the site to be helpful.
"I think Linked In is one of the better sites, especially for professional connections," says James A. Moore. "While I haven't taken full advantage of the potential, the fact remains that by dealing with my connections I can then deal with hundreds of other potential contacts through them."
"As a networking tool, I can't think of a more efficient one, short of a professional convention," continues Moore. "And as we all know, there are often shenanigans involved in those. LinkedIn is a solid and innovative method of making and improving a network of professional contacts."
I've also heard from freelance nonfiction writers who have been able to land new writing assignments from LinkedIn.
"LinkedIn got me my current job," says Mark who directed me back to the site. "The owner of the company found my profile, was impressed by my skills, experience, and recommendations, and contacted me."
The site's usefulness didn't stop there for Mark, who is a highly experienced (and publicity shy) database programmer/administrator.
"I researched the company on LinkedIn and found out who their lead developer was," he says. "I noticed that he was a member of one of the local user groups I belonged to, and made sure to introduce myself at the next meeting. We, along with a few other people, went out for drinks and munchies after the meeting."
After that friendly bar chat, Mark's new ally helped keep his candidacy at the company moving forward during a time when the owner dithered about filling the position.
"During that process, I found several former employees of this rather small company, and contacted them to find out why they had left and what they liked and didn't like about working there," he says. "It's amazing how helpful people are willing to be to complete strangers if asked nicely. Their information helped me ask really good questions in my interviews, and to decide that I was willing to work there."
Mark adds that he'd been actively using LinkedIn during his previous four or five job searches, and he found out about many job openings that were never posted anywhere else. He says that it's rare that six weeks will pass without him receiving a note from a recruiter.
Some companies use LinkedIn instead of Monster or other job boards because it's cheaper to post there and gets similar or better results. There are also rumors that some HR staff use a person's presence or absence on the site as a quick way to weed through applicants: those who submit paper resumes but who have no LinkedIn profiles get quick form rejections, while those who have decent profiles get passed along for further consideration.
Mark has some general advice for people seeking to use the site to attract job leads.
"Think of a recruiter doing a search using LinkedIn for candidates for any of your former positions or your current one," he says. "What keywords might they search for that should lead them to you? Ensure all those keywords are in your profile somewhere. Include things like software and technologies you've used, not just job duties. Like a good resume, the description of each position should show some accomplishments as well as responsibilities."
"Getting recommendations from people who are familiar with your work are helpful, especially from former managers," he adds. "It never hurts to ask people if they would give you a LinkedIn recommendation. At the very least, ask this of anyone you would use as a professional reference. That way there is a summary of what they would likely put in a reference letter online where recruiters and potential employers can see it without even having to ask."
So, the upshot is that LinkedIn is a good job-hunting tool, but it's not a magic bullet. Using it well requires effort, and it works best in conjunction with face-to-face networking. The site may be more useful for fiction writers who are seeking day jobs than for those who are seeking freelance writing assignments. Likewise, it may be most useful to those who have high-tech skill sets that are still in comparatively high demand.
Conversely, if you have 4500 Facebook friends and only 50 LinkedIn contacts, it's entirely possible that you'll share Maurice Broaddus' experience of being able to find more job leads on the less formal site.