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Changing Careers? 5 Tips to Tap into the Power of LinkedIn

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For mid-career changers, including those recently laid off, the task of finding a new job might seem daunting. But over the past few years, LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional networking site, has made that task a little easier.

Where it once took days or weeks to track down former co-workers, attend job fairs, assemble a portfolio, collect recommendations and send out your resume, now you can do all that in hours on LinkedIn – especially if you use it effectively, experts say.

The Reach of LinkedIn
For starters, the sheer numbers are in your favor. Forbes magazine recently wrote about the growth of LinkedIn, which now boasts 300 million professionals worldwide. Some 41 percent of users have over 500 connections on LinkedIn, an increase from 30 percent in 2013, according to Wayne Breitbarth, a LinkedIn consultant and expert, who spoke with Forbes. Almost half of users spend two hours a week on the site, and 18 percent spend seven or more hours. Over 70 percent of professionals use LinkedIn to reconnect with past business associates and colleagues, and close to 80 percent use it to research companies and people.

“People are starting to get that connections on LinkedIn are the ‘gas in the tank’ of their networking efforts (and the equivalent of high octane type of gas in its ability to help you connect efficiently with your target audience),” Breitbarth explained.

With access to millions of professionals on LinkedIn, mid-career changers have a wealth of job-hunting resources at their fingertips, said Mary Beth Barritt, assistant director of the University of Vermont’s Career Center. That’s not something that was available until a few years ago.

How to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out
Yet not all professionals are tapping into the power of LinkedIn. Barritt offered these five tips to make sure you do:

  • Don’t be staid: Unlike a resume and cover letter, “your LinkedIn profile can be snappier,” she said. “One of the nice things about LinkedIn is that the format is such that you can think about marketing the things you want to stand out.”
  • Decide on an approach: There are several schools of thought about LinkedIn, Barritt explained. Some people see it as a snapshot of their professional skills and experience, allowing them to connect with potential co-workers and employers and set up meetings and interviews to delve into more detail. Others want to include much more so people can get a full view of what they have to offer. If you’ve decided how and why you’re using LinkedIn, she said, you’ll know which approach is best.
  • Include examples of your best work: “The nice thing about LinkedIn for the career changer is that you can include your projects or web sites,” she noted. “It really gives you a chance to enhance the employer’s experience of you to provide things that typically wouldn’t go on a resume.”
  • Research potential employers and peers: If you’re wondering what others are doing with the same college major as yours, then connect with them and check out their career paths, Barritt said. Similarly, see what skills and experience they highlight. How do they tell their story? And make sure you connect with alumni from your alma mater and former co-workers as well. Often, they are the best people to help you find your next job. Join groups to make connections and expand your networks. UVM Alumni LinkedIn groups serve as a great resource to other UVMers.
  • Set up informational interviews: “LinkedIn can help you identify people you want to connect with for informational interviews,” Barritt said. “That’s something you wouldn’t have had access to prior to LinkedIn.” Breitbarth’s research backs that up. He found that about 41 percent of professionals use LinkedIn to effectively connect with someone before they meet face-to-face

It’s pretty clear that LinkedIn is a great place to hang out if you’re looking for a job. The key is to think of your LinkedIn profile as more than just an online resume. Instead, think of it as an ongoing job fair where the goal is to meet as many people and exchange as many “business cards” as possible so you can find your next employer and, more importantly, they can hire you.