You need to start using LinkedIn more frequently

  Credit: Kaboompics.com

Credit: Kaboompics.com

LinkedIn.

There's a good chance that you're one of those people that forgets he even has a LinkedIn account until he has to find a job. Once you have a job again, your account returns to its state of hibernation until the next time it has to return to save the day.

Don't worry, I also used to be like that, until I realized that LinkedIn is a) not so bad and b) pretty useful if you use it correctly. It is one of those tools you have to use in a way that works specifically for you. How do you do that? Let's find out in today's blog post.

But first, the basics

This is blatantly obvious but I still need to say it. For the love of God people, clean up your profile, update it, and keep it up-to-date. Also, get a professional picture taken (a headshot), add a cover picture to your profile, and, again, have all the information be current. Seriously, this is such basic stuff that I feel embarrassed that I need to say it, yet I still see a shocking amount of people with out-of-date profiles.

Anyway, on to the more interesting stuff.

Part 1: Engagement

First of all, you need to start interacting and engaging with people on LinkedIn. For example, if you see someone post an interesting status update in your feed about a topic you have some thoughts on, why not post a well-thought out and engaging comment that stimulates good discussion? Yeah, yeah you're scared of being judged and of what other people might think about your intelligence. Believe me, nobody cares about judging you anywhere near as much as you think they do. Don't let the spotlight effect mess with your head.

One approach that has proven incredibly useful to me for engagement and interaction is the “What people are talking about now” bar on the right side of your LinkedIn homescreen, which the company describes as the following:

The top professional news and conversations of the day. These stories are surfaced to help you stay informed about topics that colleagues, partners, peers, and other members may be talking about today. These topics are selected and curated by our news editors, leveraging data on and off LinkedIn.

Every day I look through these stories and comment on those that I have some background knowledge on. If you're among the first few people to comment on a given story, you have a high chance of showing up on the "top comments" on the frontpage of the story, which gives you some great exposure (more on why that's important later in this post). Nevertheless, frequently checking the top stories and discussions of the day through the “What people are talking about now” feature and contributing with educated opinions are key aspects of increasing your engagement on LinkedIn. You just have to get over the fear you have of putting yourself out there on the Internet and being judged by other Internet humans. Unfortunately, that is a battle you'll have to wage with and by yourself.

Part 2: You will be Googled

As Dan Benjamin from 5by5 once said, you will be Googled. In this day and age, it's an absolute given that employers (or potential lovers/stalkers, for that matter) will run an online search for you if you're applying for a job. Employers want to do some background research on prospective employees to get an idea of who they might be dealing with beyond what their CVs show. The greatest sin, therefore, is for someone to Google your name and find few or no results! Not having an online presence won't necessarily disqualify you from prospective employment, but it will make you look very poor from a professional perspective.

As a result, you not only need to make sure that you've gotten rid of all those embarrassing pictures, tweets, and comments from your drunken teenage years of high school and university, but you also need to make sure that you have a clear, relevant, and visible online presence. This way, when you go job hunting you won't look like Casper the Ghost reemerging from his slumber to look for jobs. When someone looks you up, you want the search results to direct him/her to a clean and professional representation of you instead of to our friendly little Ghost.

Tip: To really boost your online presence and visibility, start your own website! Squarespace gives students 50% off for the first year while you can get up to 62% off new webhosting packages with Hostgator! If you have an easy name, make sure the URL of your website is your name (e.g. johnsmith.com). Then, if people Google your name, the first thing that should appear should be your beautiful and professional-looking website.

I've always found it interesting that people say that LinkedIn is useless because when they look for jobs they never manage to get anything. Yet these are the same people that are never active and never engage on the platform; of course it's going to be useless if your account is a fossil for 364 days of the year! This is why staying active on LinkedIn is so important; when you're looking for a job, you'll have far greater reach because people will already know you, your profile will already have plenty of exposure, and it won't feel like some stranger is reemerging from the darkness to post his/her first update in years.

Moral of the story: You will be Googled, so you better make sure that what you find is of high quality and looks professional. In fact, you better make sure that you find anything at all!

Although I'm just talking about LinkedIn here, I also suggest being active on Quora or starting your own blog on Medium (or on your personal website) in order to boost your online presence and visibility. To use that dreadful term, you have to build your 'personal brand' online.

Finally, try Googling your full name to see what shows up. Are you happy with what you see?

Part 3: Being "authentic"

That dreaded word. Authenticity. For better or for worse, it has become quite the buzzword lately.

Based on my feed, there has been a pretty strong on LinkedIn towards being authentic, honest, and vulnerable in your professional life. That is, many claim that LinkedIn should be a space where it's acceptable to share about topics like personal struggles, difficulties balancing work and life, mindfulness, and other topics along those lines instead of it being an uptight "suit-and-tie-professionals-only" platform. The key to this, as I hinted at, is to be authentic in everything that you do on LinkedIn.

But what does that even mean?

I first thought it meant being really open, emotionally-puking out all your feelings, and recounting every emotional experience from your life. As much as I like being open though, this all seemed very excessive to me and made me feel painfully uncomfortable. Then I felt guilty for feeling this way, which in turn made me feel not as good as all the other people that were being authentic and genuine on LinkedIn. Quite the death spiral of emotion and guilt, I must say.

But then I thought "hold on a minute, the entire point and essence of the word authentic is that your actions are genuine and real to you." Hence, forcing yourself to be authentic, quite obviously, completely defeats the point. This revelation was very liberating to me and instantly removed the aforementioned guilt that put so much pressure on me.

Now I've found something that does feel authentic to me. A few times per week, I share interesting or fun quotes under the hashtag #precursorthoughts (which was inspired by a videogame that I really enjoyed playing when I was younger). Furthermore, as I stated earlier, I also comment on interesting current event stories (under the “What people are talking about now” tab) that I'm qualified enough to offer a reasonably educated opinion on.

Tip: Find stories that interest you (e.g. self-driving cars), post a status update where you comment on them and, importantly, post a link to the topic or story in the first comment of your status. Why in the first comment of your status? Posting a link in the status itself makes it look messy and can harm its searchability/SEO. Obviously, do remember to mention that you posted a link to the story in the first comment.

As cringeworthy as I find (the excessive use of) hashtags, there's no doubt in my mind that they're very useful for searchability and SEO purposes. Therefore, I strongly recommend you use them if you have a series of status updates that follow the same theme. Just make sure to stay consistent with your use of hashtags by using a specific hashtag for a specific theme of posts (#designtips for design tips or #selfdrivingcars for anything regarding self-driving cars).

All in all, don't forget the actual definition of the word 'authentic': true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, sincere, with no pretensions. It sounds obvious, but you really need to be authentic in the way that is most comfortable to you, both on LinkedIn and in your daily life.

Part 4: Expanding your network

Don't be afraid to connect with people you don't know. If you follow someone on LinkedIn and you really like his/her content, just be honest when you send an invitation to connect. Hi [Name], I'm trying to expand my LinkedIn network because it's very limited at the moment. I really like your content and would love to connect with you. Thanks! Or something along those lines.

Note: You obviously need to start following interesting people on LinkedIn. You can do this by clicking the "Improve my feed" option on your homepage. Check out this link for instructions.

You'll probably have to expand beyond just the people you know personally because there's a good chance that, like you, they aren't very active on LinkedIn (yet) either. As a result, your feed might be a little dull or empty. Connect with people beyond your immediate "known" network in order to spice up and populate your feed a little.

For example, I connected with Jordan Harbinger (whose podcast I'm a huge fan of) on LinkedIn by simply sending him a message saying "Hey Jordan, I've been following your work for a while now and I really love it! The work you do is great and I just wanted to reach out to you to connect on LinkedIn because I'm a huge fan of what you do. Take care!"

He accepted and now we're connected on LinkedIn. It really is that simple guys. Being honest, polite, and friendly on this platform (and in life) should get you pretty far.

[Edit: I found a great 'Feedback Friday' podcast episode of Jordan Harbinger on his podcast where he talks exactly about LinkedIn etiquette. He gives some very useful tips about it, so I would highly recommend you check it out. It's from approximately minute 13:45 on episode 35 of Feedback Friday.]

Part 5: What are you waiting for?

Seriously, what are you waiting for? Stop wasting time and get started! LinkedIn is a really underrated and underappreciated platform and, along with Quora, is the platform where I spend most of my time (certainly far more than Facebook, which is really just a logistical tool for me). I really hope that you give it a serious shot and, more than anything, use it more frequently than just when you're looking for a job. On that note, I hope I made it loud and clear that if you only use it when you're job hunting, it will absolutely never help you get a job.

Good luck on your newfound adventure and feel free to connect with me here!

See you, Space Cowboy.