(CareerBuilder.com) -- Used right, LinkedIn can be a job seeker's golden ticket.
Savvy job hunters can use the site to gain all kinds of advantages: information on the types of people a company hires, the name of the hiring manager for a particular job (and if they're really lucky, an email address) and even the ultimate "in," a personal connection at a company of interest.
But, for every job seeker that expertly navigates the online networking scene, there are plenty of others who fumble their way through it, often over- or underestimating the role the site should play in their searches.
"LinkedIn is a valuable tool, but sometimes when people search for a job they can confuse activity with productivity," says Tony Beshara, president of Dallas-based placement firm Babich and Associates, and author of the book "Unbeatable Résumés," for which he surveyed more than 2,000 people about their LinkedIn use.
"No matter what activity you're doing, whether it's writing your résumé or browsing profiles on LinkedIn, if that activity isn't actually getting you an interview, it's not as productive as something that would get you an interview."
If your online networking has been less than productive (read: if it hasn't actually lead to a connection to or interview with an employer of interest), then you might need to revamp your LinkedIn strategy. These guidelines will help ensure the time you spend on the site is most effective.
When reaching out to your contacts:
Don't be shy
The whole point on LinkedIn is to connect with people, so if you're hesitant to reach out to a former co-worker you haven't spoken to in a while, don't be. She's on the site for the same reason you are -- to network with people -- so she probably expects the occasional introduction request.
"Interestingly enough, everybody that's on LinkedIn expects the same thing out of everybody else," Beshara says. "[The thought is] 'What I do for you today, you'll do for me tomorrow.' People are a lot more open to responding to you because they know that somebody else is going to do the same thing for them, or that you're going to do the same thing for them the next time."
Don't be needy
When you do find someone in your network who has a connection or works for a company you'd like an introduction to, your approach will play a big part in the person's response.
"Make it known early in the process that you're not expecting your networking connections to do the hard work for you," says Diane Crompton, author of the books "Seven Days to Online Networking" and "Find a Job through Social Networking."
"In other words, if you want them to introduce you to a contact at their employer, say something like 'I'm not expecting you to endorse me for this position or intervene on my behalf.' This will take the emotional burden off of them should they feel too much ownership in your job search process."
If your networking contact is new, or someone you don't know very well, it's especially important to make it know that you'll be the most active part of the equation, Crompton says. For example, "Ask if you can use your contact's name as a door opener to get the conversation going with your desired end recipient. By doing this you've taken them off the hot seat in terms of their involvement," she says.
Take it off line
InMail, LinkedIn's messaging function, is great for making initial contact with someone. But once that's done, move the conversation to email or a phone call. Not everyone checks their LinkedIn profile consistently, so communicating this way is often ineffective and slow.
If you're browsing your connections and find out that someone you know pretty well works at a company or has a connection of interest, you can even skip the InMail message altogether.
For example, says Beshara, "Once you find somebody you know at an organization, call them up and say 'Hey Mary, this is Tony, I understand you work with Leroy, and I'd like to get a hold of him. Can you tell me a little bit about him, or what's going on at your organization?' That sort of thing."
When making introduction requests:
Let your contact know it's coming
If you plan on asking a contact for an introduction and have his email address, send him a "heads up" to let him know it's coming. Doing so will help you gauge his reception to your request, Crompton says. "[Plus], not everybody is active on LinkedIn everyday and this will ensure that your message doesn't sit in their LinkedIn Inbox for a long period of time," she says.
Make a good first impression
Something that not all job seekers realize before they send introduction requests: "When using the 'Request an Introduction' function on LinkedIn, you'll need to create messages to your 'bridge' (middle) contact as well as to the end recipient," Crompton points out. "Keep in mind that both people receive both messages, so if you're on a casual name basis with the introducer you'll still need to keep the communication more formal and professional, knowing that your end recipient will also get the message you sent along to the middle connection."
When researching companies:
Find the hiring manager
If you're interested in a particular job, try finding the hiring manager for the position on LinkedIn. Job descriptions will often include the title of the person the job will report to.
If the position reports to the director of marketing, for example, pull up the company page, and see if you can find the person with this title. If you do find the hiring manager, "it's absolutely OK to reach out to him or her directly," Beshara says. If the person's email address isn't listed, you can often find the company's email format online (for example, FirstName.LastName@companyX.com), and you can plug his or her name into this format.
Look at who they hire
Browsing company profiles and looking at the company's LinkedIn page will not only give you a better idea of whether or not you're the type of person the company usually hires, but will also clue you in about potential alumni connections you may have missed.
"You can look at employee profiles and find out what kinds of people the company has hired in the past, what companies employees come from, if you went to school with any of them, etc.," Beshara says.
If you find a common bond between you and someone you'd like to reach out to, "Use the transparency of LinkedIn to assess the best approach for communicating with your end recipient," Crompton suggests. "Customizing your message by using these commonalities will build rapport and make your initial approach that much more 'warm.'"
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