Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ask Cloud: Basics of LinkedIn

Back in December, I wrote a post about exploring alternatives to an academic careers. Kristen C left a comment asking for some more concrete advice on the basics of an industry job search. I promised an Ask Cloud post on the topic... and here it finally is. Or rather, here is the first in an eventual series. I have not been feeling very well, and am only up for writing a short blog post tonight, so I will focus on only one of the basic topics, namely, using LinkedIn. Future posts in the series will cover the basics of an industry resume and an industry cover letter. Feel free to suggest other topics in the comments.

I've noticed that if academics talk about LinkedIn at all, it is to laugh at it. I think this is because academic networking is done in such a different way than industry networking, and from the academic perspective LinkedIn is this weird unfun social network that claims to be able to get you a job, which is obviously ludicrous. On the surface, I agree with them: LinkedIn is not a network I use for fun, and it will never land you a job. But I disagree that this makes it useless or scorn-worthy. It can be very useful, because it can help you land yourself a job.

In academia, there is a lot of emphasis on your formal pedigree, and you publish papers that serve as detailed calling cards for your work. People can judge the quality of your work by reading your papers. In industry, we don't publish as much (or, in some fields, hardly at all- my publication record is sparse, to say the least.) Most of the juicy details of our work are covered by non-disclosure agreements, so even in an interview we can't talk in detail about them. Therefore, if we want to evaluate someone's work before hiring them, we try to find someone whose opinion we trust who can vouch for the person. This is where LinkedIn comes in.

I use LinkedIn in two ways: (1) if I am seriously evaluating a resume, I do a LinkedIn search to see if I know anyone who knows the applicant and might be able to give me an indication of whether or not I should interview the person, and (2) if I am looking at a job opportunity, I do a LinkedIn search to see if I know anyone at the company of interest who can perhaps help my resume get a little extra attention. I see another very valuable use of LinkedIn that I have not used myself: (3) if you are someone considering different fields (or making a career change) and trying to identify people for informational interviews, searching your LinkedIn network can identify second level connections to whom you want to ask to be introduced by your first level connections.

Note that in none of these cases, does a LinkedIn connection get anyone a job. It gets someone a little extra consideration for a job.

Nor does the LinkedIn connection alone tell anyone anything- it just identifies people to contact for some in person networking and/or discussion.

Once you have had an industry job, you will populate your LinkedIn network with the people you worked with at that job. I do not worry about growing my LinkedIn network now, because it grows organically as I work with more and more people. However, if I were fresh out of academia, it would be a very different story, so I can see why LinkedIn is a bit intimidating.

Here are my ideas for how to use LinkedIn to help transition from academia to industry:

1. Build a starting network. Search LinkedIn for your email contacts and make as many connections as you can. Search for former labmates and connect with them.

2. Grow your network. Some people will accept LinkedIn connection requests from people they don't know, but those are basically useless to you. You only want to connect with people who will feel comfortable introducing you to someone else in their network. If they don't know you at all, chances are they won't make the introduction. You can still grow your network by connecting with new people you meet. For instance, after you go to a conference or networking event, send connection requests to people you met (but only if you had a conversation with them and exchanged cards- don't spam everyone on the conference list).

3. Keep it professional. Since I blog and tweet under a pseudonym, I obviously don't link my blog or twitter account to LinkedIn- but I wouldn't do that even if I were using my real name here, because I frequently write about things that are not relevant to work, or at least not relevant to a job search. I do know some people who connect their twitter accounts to LinkedIn, but those people tend to only tweet about things relevant to their field. Basically, don't connect things to your LinkedIn account that aren't about work.

4. Search your network for help, as I outlined at the start. When you're just starting out, look for people with whom you can have informational interviews. (Remember to connect with them on LinkedIn afterwards- I have recommended someone I met through an informational interview for an open position at a friend's company. It is rare, but it happens. I would not have been able to find that person if I didn't have a LinkedIn connection.) Once you're actively searching for jobs, don't apply for a job before you search your LinkedIn network to see if you know someone at that organization who might be able to put in a good word and/or hand your resume to the hiring manager.

I can't emphasize that second part enough- it is much better to send your resume in via someone who will put in a personal recommendation than to just submit via the online form. You will usually be asked to submit via the online form, too, but send via your connection first, for two reasons (1) this may make your resume seem like a "find" and therefore garner it more attention (sad- but I think this is part of human nature), and (2) your connection might get a referral bonus, which is always nice.

And that's it. LinkedIn is not magic and it will not make this brutal job market any less brutal. But it is a helpful tool for an industry job search.

Feel free to ask follow up questions or add your own advice in the comments.


  1. Zenmoo2:11 AM

    I've been on the fence about LinkedIn for a while, but I've had enough requests to 'connect' that I finally joined up today. The advice to send your resume in via someone you might find in the network is a good tip - I'd forgotten about referral bonuses. They were pretty substantial in a few of my previous jobs.

    But I'm still very much figuring it out!

    One thing is also to follow organisations you might be interested in - some seem to provide news & job postings

  2. Anonymous4:51 AM

    Economists don't laugh at linked in. It is the only social network I belong to.

  3. Anonymous7:17 AM

    LinkedIn was the most valuable tool in my job search.

    However, I think the biggest tip missing from the above is that when you send a connection request- PERSONALIZE IT!!!

    I go to lots of networking events and panel discussions, and people who see me there or hear me speak send me connection requests with no info!

    I have no idea who you are, I'm not connecting with you. You have say who you are, how we met, etc.

    As a general rule, if I don't recognize you (even if I can guess you heard me speak at an event the night before because you are student/post-doc there) I won't accept the request.

    It's a form of networking. Don't send a generic form letter and expect a stranger to go out of their way help you!

  4. Thanks Cloud! Your post prompted me to finally put information on my Linked In profile, which I still hadn't done since I posted that question. I have heard how valuable it is in industry, and I also have a lot of academic contacts on LinkedIn. So while LinkedIn is not as actively used in academics, the idea of informational interviews or contacting people at an institution if you're applying there still seem great.

    I have been hesitating to actually use it until my profile is 'perfect' though, which was part of my delay in updating it. I wasn't sure what to put there, so I didn't put anything. Still working on updating it and the "don't let perfect be the enemy of good" thing, but it's a step. :)


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