(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2015. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)
Remember when networking was something you did with your dad or mom and their circle? Your parents would mention to their friends, “Did you know my daughter is interested in advertising?”
Nowadays you don’t need a parental circle, or even your parents, to connect to people who can help with your career.
You do need a plan. Now that you can contact people so easily on LinkedIn, how will you use that access?
LinkedIn adds texture to a boring résumé. It brings your interests, charities, and portfolio to life in one place.
But it’s also easy to overindulge—like a college freshman at his or her first kegger—and embarrass yourself. Making a silly mistake on Facebook is one thing. Embarrassing yourself on LinkedIn could cost you a job or career.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid on LinkedIn:
Mistake No. 1: You don’t consider yourself a product.
Deconstruct what you like about your favorite brands. Are they funny, clever, consistent? Do they always deliver on their identities? Do they innovate? Do they have a competitive advantage? Keeping those considerations in mind will help you build a simple, tailored, smart profile.
Once you determine your personal product voice, incorporate it into your profile. Lead with a concise, well-written summary that details your capabilities and what you can contribute.
Mistake No. 2: You’re indifferent.
The more you share insights, articles and perspectives, the more others will see you as an industry expert—or at least someone passionate about his or her field.
The easiest way to build awareness for your brand is through a newsfeed. People are 10 times more likely to show up in search results if they are active. Just make sure the content you post has value, moves your story forward and fits into the brand identity you’re creating.
Mistake No. 3: You’re too social.
Stop thinking of LinkedIn as a social network. It’s a professional network. There’s a big difference in how you approach a social dinner versus a business dinner, right?
Use this analogy. Rather than focus on connecting with buddies, zero in on connecting with people you just met at a conference. You may not be as “social” with them as with your college buddies, but you do have a common business interest that will serve you much better on this platform.
Your headshot should also be professional. A suggestive shot or one that shows you partying won’t go over well in human resources.
Mistake No. 4: You only do the minimum.
This is where many struggle. Often people feel the need to be on LinkedIn, yet once they are on, they don’t update their profiles.
An incomplete profile with no structure, story or thought hurts you more than it helps. LinkedIn is a job-searching tool, and you should take it seriously. You would never send an incomplete résumé, so why present an unfinished profile?
Hiring managers who see the minimal effort you put into your profile will assume you’ll do the same in your job. Gerry Rubin, co-founder of RPA Advertising, said, “Everything matters because everything communicates.” A sloppy profile brands you as a sloppy worker. Manage your profile as if your job depended on it. It does.
At the minimum, you need a professional photo, story and solid references to bring your career to life. Include your email address so organizations can easily contact you.
Mistake No. 5: You over-complete your profile.
As important as it is to be complete, over-completeness can hurt too. If you’re right out of college and have a two-page résumé, I’ll perceive you as indecisive and unsure of what to cut. And in a world of attention deficits, someone who can’t present the most important information will quickly fall out of consideration.
Mistake No. 6: You ignore spelling and grammar.
This shows your lack of attention to detail, which could cost you the job.
Mistake No. 7: You tell a flat story.
It’s important to make it easy for the person hiring to get an understanding of you as a worker and person, so your story must be easy to read. If not, the hirer will move on to the next candidate.
A rule of thumb: Every sentence must move your story ahead. If it doesn’t, cut the line. The same goes for background. If a former job doesn’t move the hiring manager towards hiring you, cut it. If you interview to be a copywriter, your retail experience at Forever21 won’t help get you the job.
Recommendations from colleagues, clients, professors or supervisors can greatly enhance your story. Consider adding “Projects,” where you discuss assignments you worked on. Include who you worked with.
One more thing: If you write recommendations for others, don’t include negative commentary. Others can see your recommendations, and your candor won’t impress them.
Mistake No. 8: You embellish freely.
I liken LinkedIn’s endorsements to what Yelp would be like if reviewers constantly ate at their favorite restaurants and only gave glowing reviews, but the endorsements do add third-party credibility.
Like your résumé (meant to present your best self), LinkedIn presents a rarefied persona. But your LinkedIn profile combines a cover letter, résumé and references into one dynamic location. Make sure the real you lives up to your profile.
Mistake No. 9: You connect to sell.
One of my pet peeves is people who immediately pitch me. It’s bad manners to be so transparent about your intentions. While this may not lose you a job, it will definitely cost you any future consideration.
Slow down, present some articles, comment on work or posts from that person and let the networking happen naturally. Before you know it, the person will probably ask about your company and a project that may fit.
Mistake No. 10: You’re overly personal.
When you connect with a new acquaintance on LinkedIn, take the time to write a personal note. Don’t use the auto-populated copy LinkedIn provides. That’s cutting corners. Your new contact will be much more willing to get to know-and possibly help-you if you take the time to write a note. But don’t get too personal. This isn’t the place to flirt.
LinkedIn is valuable. It’s up to you to maintain an updated, thorough, yet concise profile that sells the best you.