Leveraging LinkedIn: How to Maximize your Professional Network

02/13/2014 Directors Institute

By Chris Grimmig, Director of Member Services

The rapid adoption of social networking and social media as a communication and collaboration tool has changed the way that people network, especially in an increasingly global business climate.  Among professionals, LinkedIn is the most widely adopted networking platform, adding over 57 million new members in 2012 alone1.  While Facebook and others are poised grow in popularity among professionals as Generations X and Y populate a greater portion of the workplace, LinkedIn currently owns the market and is an important tool for career advancement at all levels.

 

Become Visible to Board Recruiters and Nominating Committees

Technology and data, specifically LinkedIn, have turned the executive and board recruiting worlds upside down.  In the past, much of a recruiting firm’s value was in its proprietary database of candidates.  A firm’s ability to network with candidates and maintain a comprehensive and current candidate portal was often what allowed them to deliver higher quality placements faster than its competition.  A database of value takes years to compile, in addition to significant financial resources to build and maintain.  However, the onset of LinkedIn has somewhat leveled the playing field – now, any two firms that can afford a premium LinkedIn recruiting package have access to the same candidate pool.  So the competitive advantage has shifted from the firms with the most robust databases, to the firms that know how to maximize their professional networks.

Board recruiters and nominating committees frequently use LinkedIn to source candidates for board membership opportunities.  Over 5.7 billion professionally-oriented searches were conducted on LinkedIn in 20122 – using a variety of strategies and techniques, LinkedIn is a primary resource to surface and engage qualified board candidates.  However, with over 259 million2 members on LinkedIn, they cannot hope to connect with every qualified candidate on the network.  The candidates that are most visible are those with the most comprehensive profiles and the most expansive networks.

In order for you to maximize your competitiveness for board membership, it is critical that you leverage LinkedIn and your professional network.

 

Build a Better Profile

If you’re seeking the opportunity to enhance your visibility among board members and recruiters, having a board-level profile is important.  Beginning with your board biography and board resume is the most efficient and effective method of building your LinkedIn profile.  In fact, LinkedIn will let you import your resume directly from your computer’s desktop, and automatically populate your LinkedIn profile with the content of your resume.  Use those documents as a foundation, and ensure you complete your profile by highlighting not only what you’ve accomplished over the course of a career, but your interests and personality.

LinkedIn will automatically track the “completeness” of your profile for you, taking into account the proportion of available information fields that you’ve successfully completed.  Remember to include:

-          A “Headline” that summarizes who you are and what you’re looking for.  For example, …

-          A “Summary” that speaks about your career, accomplishments and expertise at a high level, while highlighting your personal traits.  Imagine this is your personal elevator pitch;

-          A comprehensive “Experience” section which provides insight into your professional history.  This is not an executive resume, so there is no need to highlight specific performance metrics.  However, briefly highlight your positions and accomplishments from a high level;

-          The “Skills and Expertise” section allows you to showcase your areas of expertise.  Consider: 1) No one is an expert in everything, highlight the unique skills that set you apart;  2) recruiters will narrow a search using these fields, so ensure you make use of them;

-          The “Interests” section offers an opportunity to provide insight into your hobbies outside of the office.  Cultural fit is an important component of recruiting, especially at the board level, so understanding what people are passionate about is an important recruitment consideration;

-          Finally, don’t forget a profile picture.  Make sure it is professional and suitable for an executive (this is not Facebook).  Pictures provide a level of familiarity and comfort, vastly increasing your likelihood of being contacted.

Consider the perspective of a recruiter or nominating chair, and view LinkedIn as a recruiting tool.  If you were seeking talent for your organization on LinkedIn, what keywords and fields would you use to build your search?  Think about the type of board opportunities that are of interest to you, and build a profile that would appear organically in a search for that job specification.

 

Grow Your Network

Even if you have a complete and descriptive profile, the LinkedIn search algorithm is based primarily on network connections.  Envision your network as a web of interlocking connections, where you sit at the center.  For each new connection that you add, you also add that person’s web, exponentially increasing the reach of your network with each new connection.  So while you may have 100 first-degree connections, your entire network is likely comprised of over 1 million people, as it includes your second and third-degree connections as well.

Therefore, when a nominating chair or recruiter searches LinkedIn, the people closest to the center of their web (who still meet the search criteria), will rank highest in their organic search results.  The more network connections you have, the more visible your profile is to the greater LinkedIn network.

LinkedIn has a variety of tools to quickly build your network, especially if you are new to the system.  The “See Who You Already Know on LinkedIn” tool will access the address book linked to your email account(s) and tell you who among your email correspondents is also on LinkedIn.  Chances are you have hundreds of colleagues who are already active on LinkedIn – this tool provides a quick, simple, and effective foundation for your LinkedIn network.  However, with two new users joining LinkedIn every second3, it is important that you periodically update your connections to ensure you’re engaging the new LinkedIn members within your network.

LinkedIn will also recommend contacts for you based on “People You May Know”.  These suggested contacts are often people with whom you share multiple network connections.  More often than not, you will know the individual already.  However, if not, sharing common connections on LinkedIn makes for an easy, natural introduction.

 

Join Groups

81%3 of LinkedIn users belong to at least one of the site’s 2.1 million groups2, while the average LinkedIn user belongs to seven groups5.  With over 8,000 new groups created weekly5, groups are specific and cover countless topics, including nearly every industry, function, and geography.  The groups are generally used as a member forum for discussion, networking, and collaboration.  Nominating chairs and recruiters will often target candidates from within relevant groups for specific search criteria.  For example, if a public company is seeking a strategic IT expert for their board, they may commence their search by considering membership of “The Chief Technology Officer Network” group.

There are also a number of board-specific groups that are worth joining:

-          The Directors Institute

-          Board of Directors Society

-          The Board of Directors

Also consider joining university and company alumni groups pertinent to your background.

 

Be an Expert

Once in a group, it can be beneficial to be a productive and engaging group member.  Oftentimes, members will post questions or business-related inquiries on the group’s discussion board – 87% of users trust LinkedIn as a source of information affecting decision-making4.  If you can help answer questions, or perhaps offer your network to assist another group member, your increased credibility as an expert within the group will augment the growth of your network and increase your visibility.

Sharing published articles and thought leadership within groups can be beneficial to your fellow group members as well.  Ensure that the articles are valuable and relevant to your group and its members.

All of your commentary is visible to the other group members, and you never know when or how your contributions will pay off.  For example, something you contribute to The Directors Institute group may be of value to a nominating chair within the group, influencing him or her to connect directly with you.

 

Recommendations and Endorsements

LinkedIn offers the opportunity to endorse and recommend your network connections.  These commendations become visible to other LinkedIn members.

Endorsements are confirmations of the listed “Skills and Expertise” on your profile.  For example, if you list “Strategic Planning” as a skill, your colleagues can endorse that as an area of expertise for you.  They are affirming, based on first-hand experience, that these are strengths of yours.  However, ensure that you are only endorsed by people you know, and only for the core skills that you want to advertise – because with over 10 million endorsements given daily3, not all can be of substance.

Recommendations are written endorsements, similar to a letter of recommendation you might write for a colleague.  These are often more valuable than endorsements, as they are far more specific and descriptive.  Getting recommendations from a diverse group of people you’ve interacted with (bosses, direct reports, clients, etc.) can pay dividends in describing you in a way that your resume and/or bio never could.

Try and display recommendations which are indicative of the value you can add to the roles you’re trying to attain.  For example, if you are a senior executive seeking your first board seat, it could be greatly beneficial to have the CEO or current board members at your company write a recommendation praising your quarterly presentations to the board.

Finally, it almost goes without saying that the goodwill from endorsing and recommending other members of your network can pay dividends.  Take the time to write thoughtful and honest praise about your network connections.  Your recommendations of others appear on your profile as well, so make sure that they are considerate and insightful.

 

Broadcast

Maintaining your network and relationships on LinkedIn requires effort, be sure to carve out the time to execute your LinkedIn networking strategy.  In fact, 35% of LinkedIn users access the website on a daily basis3.  Broadcast to others that you are actively using LinkedIn and encourage them to do the same.  One simple way to accomplish this is by including a link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signature.

 

 

 

 

1 2012 LinkedIn Corporation Form 10-K Annual Report

2 press.linkedin.com/about – November 7, 2013

3 “10 Amazing LinkedIn Statistics for 2013” – https://visiual.ly

4 “LinkedIn Statistics 2013”, Punch Media

5 “By the Numbers: 41 Amazing LinkedIn Stats” – expandedramplings.com October 29, 2013