Brand Me a Journalist

Using Social Media to Create a Professional Niche

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17 LinkedIn tips, or what I learned from doing #26Acts of LinkedIn kindness

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An out-of-work microbiologist.

A mental-health clinician in private practice.

A marketing director who resorted to driving a truck for Wal-Mart to support his family after being downsized.

These are just three of the friends and family members whose LinkedIn profiles I enhanced – and, in some cases, created –  as part of the 26 Acts of LinkedIn Kindness project I embarked on in January. At the time, I took on this effort because I wanted to honor the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings and do something nice for the people I care about. I had no goal beyond that.

Little did I know this experience would teach me so much about harnessing social media as a career-advancement tool – regardless of your profession – and how quickly having a completed LinkedIn profile could affect the course of these people’s paths.

It changed lives.

Without a doubt, the most profound lesson I learned from this experience was how many people are out of work because employers can’t find them, and these workers, unfortunately, don’t know how to be found. People who last applied for work before the turn of the millenium and social media have little experience with online resumes much less the nuances of job-search platforms and tactics.

But with a little LinkedIn love, my loved ones who had been part of the long-term unemployed found work in their chosen fields. One friend who wanted to grow her emerging private practice found multiple opportunities waiting in her inbox, while another who had nearly given up on her career learned her LinkedIn profile was enough to produce an unsolicited offer for her dream job.

I didn’t anticipate such dramatic outcomes, and I certainly didn’t expect it would lead to a side-business opportunity for me that fits so nicely with the reasons I became a journalist in the first place: to share information, to tell people’s stories and to have a positive impact on their lives.

All around me, people were saying I should make this into a business. As my son put it, “You’re helping people, Mom, and that’s what you want to do more than anything!” I’d been looking for a niche that would take advantage of my social media skills but also allow me to connect with people, unlike my ironically lonely circumstances working as a social media producer, glued to my TweetDeck. Through word of mouth, I now have clients paying me to tell their stories on LinkedIn, coach them with social media and teach them social selling.

It changed my career.

Beginning with the first profile I worked on, I was struck by how little I knew about the professional lives of people I’d known for decades. The resumes didn’t surprise me; the stories they told me, however, blew my mind.

How did I not know that my sister-in-law had traveled to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan as part of a post-Soviet dairy-industry outreach effort? Or that she’d gone to Switzerland to acquire the smear for the first domestic production of Gruyère cheese?

I said, “This makes you sound like a really interesting person!”

She replied, “I am a really interesting person.”

We laughed about it, but the sobering reason she wasn’t finding a job was crystal clear: The resume she’d been using for a year as she looked for work didn’t tell her story.

And then there was my brother-in-law who had written a paper in grad school that led to his being asked to help rewrite the early-education certification curricula in Wisconsin. That’s impressive! With each profile I worked on, I discovered the professional accomplishments of people I’d only spent time with socially.

It changed my relationships.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law got a job within three weeks of my redoing her profile. My brother-in-law found a marketing-manager job back in his niche field within two months.  All of which led my brother and sister to move their families back home near my mom in Green Bay, something she had longed for since all of her six children had moved away decades ago.

It even changed my mom’s life. 

I never could have imagined how sharing what I know could have such a dramatic ripple effect on 26 people and the people in their lives. And those are just a few of the stories. I’ve helped students seeking internships, recent grads getting their start and mid-career professionals too busy or unfamiliar with social media to tend to their profiles (and, their professional relationships.)

Along the way, I’ve discovered many new LinkedIn features, tools and tricks, so in the spirit of random acts of kindness and paying it forward, here are 17 tips for quickly improving your LinkedIn profile:

  1. Don’t assume LinkedIn isn’t valuable in your profession or life stage. LinkedIn search features include filters for entry-level to niche professional positions, and targeted features and tools have been developed to address the needs of studentsveterans and salespeople. (They don’t yet have a section for military service, but I’ve reached out to their product manager to suggest they get one.)
  2. Selfies – or worse, no photo – are LinkedIn dealbreakers. If you can’t afford a professional photo, look for a clear, in-focus solo pic (not one that shows you’ve cropped out others of it) or have someone take a picture of you in professional attire.
  3. Your headline defaults to your most recent position, but you don’t have to leave it that wayYou can edit that section to reflect the work you do and even include that you’re seeking employment. (That’s what got my sister-in-law an interview.)
  4. If you have a common name, use your maiden name, middle name or middle initial. Few people would have the patience to click through 84 Dan Clancys, so add an initial and be the only Daniel B. Clancy.
  5. Customize your LinkedIn URLs and use it elsewhere. These neat little www.linkedin.com/in/yournamehere URLs are intended for use on business cards and email signatures. They also allow people to access your profile in Google search results without logging in or being LinkedIn members.
  6. Use your summary statement to tell your career story – in first person. Let me repeat, in FIRST PERSON. Not in phrases like a resume, and absolutely not in third person like Jimmy from Seinfeld. Use the Summary section to share why you do what you do, what your goals are and what makes you different from others who do the same work you do, like you would in a conversation or an interview. There’s plenty of room for your detailed work history and job descriptions in the Experience section.
  7. Limit the first paragraph of your summary statement to be 1 or 2 sentences long and clearly tell what you do. Only five lines of your summary show up on the LinkedIn mobile app, so you want to lead with the most relevant part of your story. View it on your phone to make sure it fits nicely.
  8. If you’re only listing your current job title and length of employment, you’re missing the point of LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s algorithm seeks to match your keywords with search terms. If you’re leaving your job description sections blank, you’re likely not showing up in recruiter’s (or anyone else’s) search results.
  9. List every job in your career. LinkedIn aggregates the length of your employment, so if you’re only listing your most recent positions, you won’t show up in search results that seek extensive experience. Also, people from throughout your career will be looking for you. Help them find you by including those early-career jobs and associating your profile with past employers.
  10. Using the prompts to set up your page isn’t enough. The prompts don’t fill in all the fields. For example, they don’t include the location of the positions you post, and many LinkedIn users select location filters when searching its database. Go to the Profile Edit tab and fill in as many sections as you can.
  11. Instead of using bullet points for your job descriptions, tell stories. LinkedIn is a social network, not a resume forum. You don’t speak in bullet points, so don’t write in them. Think of the hiring managers and recruiters who read dozens and dozens of profiles with the same boring buzzwords. Offer them an anecdote that shows your unique experience or accomplishments.
  12. Include your interests, volunteer experience and causes you care about. LinkedIn is about connections, and you never know when a shared interest will spark contact.
  13. You don’t have to be fluent to list language skills. The section allows you to select a proficiency level ranging from elementary to fluent/native speaker.
  14. Maximize the Skills section by listing up to 50 skills. Think of each skill as a keyword that might be featured in a job description. As you type in each skill, check out the terms that autogenerate to see if you’ve overlooked any. And make sure you list the software you’ve used.
  15. Take advantage of the option to upload links or documents to highlight your work. Link to websites that mention or feature your work or presentations you’ve given that highlight your expertise.
  16. Don’t forget to look over the sidebar that lists additional sections. You can include projects, publications, test scores, certications, honors and awards– and even patents!
  17. Remember that the purpose of LinkedIn is professional networking. Once you have an All-Star profile, start connecting with people from your personal and professional life, and take advantage of your entire network.

Whatever your area of expertise is, don’t take it for granted. Find a way to share that knowledge with people outside your field, and you’ll be amazed by how much more you learn.

Committing (to) 26 acts of LinkedIn kindness

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As news organizations marked the first anniversary of the Newtown mass shooting last December, I noticed the revival of the #26acts and #26actsofkindness hashtags on social media. You may recall the hashtags originated when NBC’s Ann Curry appealed to her Twitter followers to commit 20 acts of kindness in honor of the shooting victims:

She eventually included the six adults who died, and the #26acts campaign went viral. Curry’s appeal inspired gestures from around the world. I loved seeing such an outpouring of kindness, and my family decided do our part by focusing on Hurricane Sandy relief. (I tweeted about it to support the effort and, to my surprise, ended up getting picked up in local news coverage of the acts.)

When the hashtags reappeared last month, I knew I wanted to join in again. I had recently given a talk about strengthening your LinkedIn profile and at the time was in the middle of helping my sister-in-law update hers. It felt really good to share what I knew to help with her job search –I’m an ESFJ, remember? – and in both of these instances, I realized how much I take for granted what I’ve learned as a social media specialist. What for me is a daily task can, for some, be an overwhelming obstacle. So I decided to help 26 friends and families members update their LinkedIn profiles and was really pleased to see how quickly people accepted the offer.  (Full disclosure: This tweet may suggest I’ve completed all 26 profiles, but I still have a few to go.)

A friend saw my tweet and encouraged me to blog about this experience, but at the time I didn’t see how it might be relevant to this blog. I really just wanted to do something nice for people I care about. That said, as I’ve worked with the first wave of profiles, I’ve already realized how this experience does, in fact, apply to an essential element of personal branding I’ve written about so many times: if you want to find success in your career in the age of social media, share what you know. That generosity of spirit builds trust and strengthens relationships, two essential factors in a successful journalism career. You may not immediately recognize the value of that sharing, but it will pay off.

I already have learned so much from this experience – yes, about LinkedIn and personal branding, but even more so about the rich stories within the professional lives of my friends and family. I’ll blog more about this surprisingly rewarding endeavor when I’ve completed my commitment.

Update: My sister-in-law got a call from a connection the day after I posted this. A former student of hers had seen her updated LinkedIn profile, which included the words “seeking position” in the headline and “willing to relocate” in the summary. The colleague said her company had an opening my sister-in-law was perfect for and that it needed to fill the position immediately. I generated a resume from her profile, and she got an interview. Two days later, they hired her on the spot.

Written by Jennifer Gaie Hellum

January 7, 2014 at 3:06 pm