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Leveraging LinkedIn for business networking and career development September 28, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
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1 comment so far

The economy is supposedly improving but people still continue to lose jobs. The unemployment rate being a lagging economic indicator is predicted to increase through the rest of the year and beyond even though it is decelerating. California with one of the highest unemployment rates (12.1%) as of the end of July 2009 among the US states, and higher than the average national unemployment rate, will probably continue to bleed more, longer. In certain counties in California the unemployment rate is even higher than the state average. For example, as of the end of July 2009, LA County is at 12.5% and there are counties where the rate is as high as 30%!

A friend after over five years at a chip company in Orange County lost her job last week. An acquaintance (electrical engineer) recently got laid off from his high-tech job in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are still hundreds being laid off from various companies. What is even worse is the thousands of state employees who have recently lost their jobs, especially in the education sector. And we thought that government jobs were safe! For a frequently updated statewide layoff statistics in California see http://www.sfgate.com/webdb/jobcuts/ by San Francisco Chronicle. For updates on job cuts in general on Twitter follow or see @jobcuts.

I remember my own surprise lay off back in February 2009 and the five months of tough unemployment that followed. During that time, while I was actively on a number of job sites and used the services of Right Management (www.right.com) which was useful, I spent most of my useful job search time on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). And eventually I found my current job through LinkedIn; or rather my current employer found me on LinkedIn as they contacted me first through LinkedIn.

In the hope that my experience may help someone else out there land a job, here are a few suggestions on how to better leverage LinkedIn for business networking, job search, and professional development:

  1. Complete Profile — Make sure that your profile is as complete as it can be; preferably 100%. This includes many things such as education, experience, recommendations, groups and more. There is a status bar that shows you the percentage complete so you have a sense of how far along you are. Include any relevant websites such blogs or your Twitter account. Click throughs on those links will improve your Google rank. Consider signing up for LinkedIn premium services which provides you with extras such as send InMails to people you are not directly linked with.
  2. Customize Public Profile — Create a public link to your profile with your name. You have a public link by default with a unique account number, but no one will remember that. Customize it with your name. Mine is www.linkedin.com/in/farshidk. And expose as much as you can on your public profile page. Not everything is on by default. Include your public profile link in your resume and possibly in business-oriented emails as part of your signature. This customized link will also improve your search engine ranking. It should also come up when you google yourself.
  3. Write Summary & Specialties — Write good thorough “Summary” with “Specialties”. These two are important and you should spend some time polishing it, with focus on what you have experience in as well as where you want to go. These two may not always be the same. In my Summary I have focused on job titles such as product marketing and business development, while in specialties I have listed the technologies I have worked with such as BPM, SOA and eDiscovery.
  4. Expand your network — In addition to looking up individuals you know, search for people in your past employers (people search with a company name as the search term) and invite those you know to join your network. Explore beyond your first degree network by browsing looking at those who are 2nd degrees (linked with someone in your network but not with you). If you are indirectly linked with anyone (2nd degree or higher), LinkedIn will show you how you are connected to her so you can ask the people in between to be introduced.
  5. Give and get Recommendations — Request recommendations from people you have good professional experience with and trust. You should also recommend those who did good work when working together. Most employers don’t trust really these recommendations much. When you get close to getting a job offer you will still have to provide live references. But not having LinkedIn Recommendations in your profile is definitely a negative.
  6. Join Groups & Associations — Just about any career and industry you are in, there are lots of relevant groups on LinkedIn that you should join and actively participate in. These groups may be specific to a technology (e.g. SOA), profession (e.g. marketing), region, association (e.g. AIIM), alumni groups for universities or ex employers, and so on. Some are moderated and to join the group administrator must approve you. You can customize your membership in a group as what type of communication you prefer; e.g. receive individual emails or daily digest. You can choose to show individual groups in your Public Profile. But don’t just wear the label. Browse the discussions and news in the groups you are in once in a while, start a discussion, answer or comment on someone’s question to increase your exposure. I am a member of over 35 (too many) LinkedIn groups relating to BPM, SOA, ECM, eDiscovery, product marketing and management, social media and Twitter.
  7. Update your Status — If you are out of your last job, I suggest you update your employment history accordingly. But just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn also provides you with a status field which many do not utilize. Even if you keep your last employment current, use the status field to say that you are looking and update it regularly to show activities. The more updates and changes you make, the more exposure you will get. I update mine with my new blog posts, attendance in a conference or working on a big not so secret project. Nothing personal. That is for Facebook, not LinkedIn.
  8. Add Applications — Similar to Facebook and iPhone, LinkedIn provides you with a few useful pluggable applications that you can add to your profile. For example, if you have a good sample work such as a presentation you can add one of the presentation applications and then upload your presentation to it. If you have a professional blog on WordPress, there is an application for it that once added will show a summary of your blog as a widget in your profile page. In fact I use this application so if you go to my LinkedIn page you will see a window to this blog there. There are other useful applications such as ReadingList by Amazon where you can list the relevant books that you are reading, recommend, etc.
  9. Search and apply for Jobs— Actively search the job bank and apply for positions directly from LinkedIn. Certain jobs get posted only to LinkedIn and are not available elsewhere. If so they are marked as such. Experiment with search terms. You can search by title, company name, location and more. You may get a very long list in multiple pages, in which case you may want to narrow your search terms. Else, don’t give up before you get to the end of the list.
  10. Network while employed — I consider this the golden rule of networking. We’ve all heard it, but it is important enough to reiterate. You should be doing all these (except possibly #8) while you are employed and working. Networking should be done over time on an ongoing basis. Not after you have lost your job and are desperate for work. Networking is a give and take process — in that order. Before you ask people for help, reference, job, etc. you should be helping those you can so you build reputation and trusting relationships. People need to see value in networking and associating with you. It’s an age old wisdom: help people, and hopefully on a rainy day in the future those whom you’ve helped, will return the favor.

LinkedIn itself also provides tips for building a strong profile, that you may want to review. My guidelines above are inline and complementary to this list. Are there other items that you think belong to this list? Feel free to comment. Thanks.


On Etiquette and Math of “Follow” in Twitter September 5, 2009

Posted by farshidk in Social media.
Tags: ,

TwitterWatchdog.com in a post recently had some advice on who to follow and not to follow on Twitter. See this. However among them there were the following:

  • “I follow everyone who follows me because I think that’s the cordial way to use Twitter.
  • If I’m following someone and they won’t follow me, then I’ll give them a few days but then I’ve got to unfollow them.”

There have been other posts on this topic claiming that if you don’t follow the people who follow you, you are a “Twitter snob”.

I disagree. I don’t have to follow everyone who follows me. And I certainly don’t expect everyone whom I follow, to follow me. Here is why.

Non-Twitter Social Networks

On social (or business) networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, there is a single simple relationship between two people: you are either “friends” (or linked), or you are not. LinkedIn also formalizes the notion of “degrees of separation”, but that is another topic for another day. For the sake of this discussion we are only concerned with first-degree relations, those whom you are directly linked with. The way this works is that typically you add a person to your network (e.g. send a friend request) and if that person accepts it then the two of you are linked or “friends”.

If you are mathematically inclined, in terms of graph theory, Facebook and LinkedIn networks result in undirected graphs, where each edge or link connecting two nodes is an unordered pair or set such as links {A, B} and {B, C} in the graph in Figure 1 below. In this graph A and B are linked (friends) and B and C are linked.

Figure 1: An undirected graph showing a Facebook network segment

Figure 1: Undirected graphs represent Facebook or LinkedIn networks

Twitter Social Networks

Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, a relationship in Twitter is 2-way where each direction is independent of the other. You can follow someone, and by default you do not need her approval to follow her. Independently she may or may not decide to follow you. Twitter networks are directed graphs, where edges or links are ordered pairs and directed such as (A, B) and (B, A) in the graph in Figure 2 below. Here A follows B and B follows A. B follows C, but C does not follow B. Note that some refer to people who you are following as friends. So C is a friend of B in this example. But I prefer not to use “friends” in the context of Twitter and stick with Twitter’s own terminology “followers” and “following”.

Figure 2: Directed graphs show Twitter netoworks

Figure 2: Directed graphs represent Twitter networks

Of course you can make your Twitter profile protected so that you must approve anyone who wants to follow you. Or you can block a follower at any time. You may choose to follow that person or you may not. You do not have to reciprocate. And that is a very important concept in Twitter.

Who do I follow?

I follow many news and media channels from BBC, CNN, NPR, and NY Times among others such as (@bbcworld, @CNN_top@nprnews, and @nytimesarts). I also follow @TED_TALKS for updates on fascinating TED talks which I think are among the best things on the internet). But for obvious reasons I don’t expect them to follow me. In fact many of these accounts don’t follow anyone even though they have thousands (in some cases millions) of followers.

Among notable individuals, I follow Evan Williams, Twitter CEO (@EV), serial entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson (@richardbranson), well-known internet guru and evangelist Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), the famed MIT linguist and political dissent Naom Chomsky (@noamchomskymit), and President Barack Obama (@BarackObama). Guy (and his team) is one of the most active accounts on Twitter with a lot of worthy and interesting tweets on regular basis. I don’t expect any of these people to follow me (though Guy is kind enough to follow me).

On the other hand, there are certain friends and strangers who follow me whom I don’t follow for various reasons. Maybe they are primarily readers and not contributors, or maybe I am just not interested in their tweets. And that should be just fine. This is not an ego trip, nor it is a popularity contest. Though a friend of mine thinks that it actually is for a lot of people!

How do I decide whom to follow?

The pool of potential candidates to be followed for me comes from those whom you run into browsing the net and reading blogs and news, those who are already following me, and recommendations  from various sources such as (Twitter suggested users, TweetDeck suggestions and directory, #FollowFriday tweets from those whom I am following already and Mashable lists (http://mashable.com/category/twitter-lists/) which has very interesting lists, such as authors, comics, and foodies on Twitter. But I still have my own criteria to apply as follows:

  • I look at her or his bio on the profile page. For me it is important that they say something interesting, informative (or funny) about themselves. Blank bios do not interest me, unless of course the subject is a well-known person who doesn’t need an intro.
  • I check the vital statistics — number of followers, number of people s/he follows and the number of tweets s/he has had. Generally the bigger the numbers it is, the better. But there are exceptions. I know famous tweeples (a Twitter user) with million+ followers and thousands of tweets, whom I’m not following. For me they have nothing interesting or relevant to say.
  • More important than the number of tweets, is the quality of tweets. Syntactically I generally value tweets that include hashtags and links. Unless I am particularly fond of someone (e.g. a real friend) I don’t care for tweets about one’s daily chores, or personal replies to others that probably should be direct messages. To get around this problem Guy Kawasaki has a separate reply account @GuysReplies that he uses to reply to followers. Semantically I like tweets that provide useful information or insight, that I can learn something from.
  • I do not follow spammers, but I don’t see any harm in them following me.
  • I don’t just blindly follow people in the hope that they will follow me. I am not in it to build a large following to sell them some goods or services. I go for quality over quantity.