I was given a great gift these past 10 days. I was invited to present answers to the toughest LinkedIn questions posed by more than 75 PSGCNJ attendees on February 24, and to lead yet another LinkedIn and social media training class on March 5. In addition, the iRelaunch seminar that I attended on February 28 touched heavily on LinkedIn and social media for those who’ve been out of the workplace for a while.
Out of this highly interactive, in-person dialogue emerged several “inconvenient truths.” One of them is brevity, so I will state these truths as crisply as I can:
- Job seekers say that they are interested in using LinkedIn and social media more effectively, yet I have found very few that are willing to do the ongoing “care and maintenance” required. Case in point: In both of my classes, I offered to provide copies of my presentations and source materials, but only about 10 percent of attendees actually took me up on my free, no-obligation offer.
- Job seekers have difficulty grasping the concept that you need to be “findable” and visible online before your connections can produce any value and convert into actual networking relationships. Very few seem to understand how to use keywords strategically so that their LinkedIn profiles can move up higher in search results.
- Job seekers underestimate the importance of professional “optics” and visuals in attracting favorable attention to their profiles. Far too many profiles either provide no photo, or one that is clearly not reflective of the person who will be showing up on an interview. Far too much emphasis is placed on adjective-laden job description language which tells rather than shows.
- Job seekers cling to the mistaken belief that LinkedIn is a “jobs” site, when it is clearly morphing into more of a news and information hub. The best networking for “hidden” jobs is done by cultivating relationships in offline, face-to-face meetings. LinkedIn provides an incubator for helping this process get off the ground, but it is not particularly well designed to sustain those connections.
- Job seekers also cling to the mistaken belief that LinkedIn is an altruistic site that provides a public service, when it is clearly revenue-driven. As with most social websites, LinkedIn may have started as a provider of a public service addressing an unmet need. However, since its May 2011 IPO, LinkedIn has aggressively pushed its Premium subscriptions while cutting back on access to contact information and community Q&A. It has also created an entirely new market for “passive recruiting” (i.e., data mining of those currently employed), which actually makes it harder for the long-term unemployed to find meaningful and steady work.
- LinkedIn has added to the content/information explosion, and has increased the dysfunctionality of the “black hole” employment process. In seeking to become a news and information hub, LinkedIn is encouraging users to divert their own blog- and microblog-related content into the LinkedIn news/information aggregation “machine.” The resulting dilution of quality prompts users to filter even more questionable content from their already overwhelmed devices, and to rely on “snippets” of information rather than deep dives. LinkedIn also continues to make it easier to apply to jobs with the push of a button, thus further overwhelming the already “broken” system of automated resume screeners.
- Job seekers are hesitant to create content on platforms under their own control, yet are willing to pony up their entire email contacts lists to LinkedIn and other social media sites, which feeds a vicious cycle of disempowerment. Job seekers tend to “set it and forget it,” simply transposing their resumes into LinkedIn profiles, and then waiting for the leads to stream in. The net result is that LinkedIn becomes their de facto “personal” website, accounting for the highest placement in search-engine results pages, yet produces a relative paucity of valid job leads. According to Career XRoads, only 2.9 percent of hires are attributed directly to social media, even though it influences, drives or combines with referrals, company career sites, job boards, direct source, college, temp-to-hire and career fairs. Meanwhile, LinkedIn aggressively prompts users to dump their email contacts lists into LinkedIn, so that those not currently in the job market can be “captured” for further exposure to targeted advertising, etc., while diluting the pool of quality job candidates even further.
- Job seekers are increasingly being encouraged to “link” their current LinkedIn profiles to other social media platforms, which provide even more opportunities for job seekers to be screened out, while producing more inbound marketing clicks for LinkedIn. In the battle for advertiser “eyeballs,” LinkedIn’s 277 million users still pale in comparison to Facebook’s 1.23 billion, YouTube’s 1 billion and Google+’s 300 million, while Twitter’s 243 million sits right in its rear-view mirror. So it is in LinkedIn’s best interest to have its users provide links to their other social media content through LinkedIn. Meanwhile, most job seekers are less than savvy when it comes to consistent “personal branding.” This may end up working against them, as (according to a recent Microsoft study) 70 percent of employers rejected candidates because of information that was uncovered online. Conversely, for those who are skilled at personal branding, 85 percent of employers factored in a positive online reputation to influence hiring decisions.
- Most career assistance and outplacement services do a substandard job at helping job seekers use LinkedIn and social media most effectively. In my role as a trainer/coach for LinkedIn and social media on behalf of the Professional Service Group of Central New Jersey (PSGCNJ; http://psgcnj.org/training_curriculum.html), I am constantly keeping tabs on changes with relevant online job-seeking resources and platforms, as well as what other community resources (libraries, networking groups, etc.) are offering in the way of instruction, guidance and support. About 90 percent of what I see is a lukewarm rehash of typically outdated and overgeneralized maxims, for which some opportunists actually have to gall to charge exorbitant prices. It’s actually a prime opportunity to offer what LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman calls “small goods” (lagniappes) to others, as an “olive branch” to nurture networking efforts while building one’s personal brand as an experienced social media user. So many struggle with using LinkedIn effectively, that those who master it can position themselves to exert a respectable level of influence.
- TL;DR (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Too_long;_didn’t_read). Odds are that you did not make it this far since attention spans are continually shrinking as information overload is now reaching our personal devices 24/7. This has troubling implications for job seekers whose story is complex and multifaceted. As just one example, I recently tested the effect of keywords in LinkedIn profiles, and found that it is the relative concentration of those keywords and character strings to the entire amount of verbiage that seems to determine how high one ranks in LinkedIn advanced search results typically used by recruiters. So, if your profile is relatively short, but invokes the desired keywords almost to the point of absurdity, your profile is more likely to be viewed and scored positively than is a profile with a more diverse array of experience that also uses those keywords. Even though the latter candidate brings a more comprehensive value proposition to the table, he or she is less likely to be found in today’s extremely focused job searches, resulting in candidates who are more likely to wash out once the job description changes (as they almost always do).
If you are interested in keeping on top of career-related social media, I encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/andyohearn.