There are 277 million users on LinkedIn, according to the company’s latest results, and many of them — though not all — are probably competing for the same jobs. To improve your chances of scoring the next great gig, it helps to know how recruiters use the site.
Recruiters scour the world’s most popular professional networking site looking for the perfect candidate, but there’s a lot they do before they even get to your profile page. Some 93 percent of hiring managers search LinkedIn for recruits, according to a 2013 survey by career website Jobvite; 65 percent search Facebook, and 55 percent consult Twitter accounts. Another 18 percent of recruiters search Google+ and, in case there are any homemade videos lurking about, 15 percent will type your name into YouTube. Rule No. 1: “Your LinkedIn profile should be public,” says Jenny Foss, president of the Ladder Recruiting Group in Portland, Ore.
Most people spend so much time crafting their pitch, they forget about how they appear in a search result. “It’s the first thing that recruiters look at,” says Nicole Greenberg Strecker, managing director of recruitment agency STA Worldwide in Chicago, Ill. Your bio should include title, industry and location. “If you want to work in Silicon Valley and live in Kansas, change your location to Silicon Valley on LinkedIn. Recruiters search zip codes.” And the title should be razor-sharp. “Don’t write senior analyst at Ernst & Young, write hedge fund financial analyst at Ernst & Young,” says Jeremy Roberts, editor of Sourcecon, a blog and conference series for recruiters.
Recruiters punch in keywords, not buzzwords. When fine-tuning their initial search to find high-performing candidates, for instance, they’ll look for terms like “won,” “sold,” “achieved,” “built” and “president’s club.” No software is too old to mention. Technology recruitment consultants look for people who are proficient in WordPress because many companies don’t have the latest programs, Roberts says. And if you use in-demand open-sourced software like Ruby on Rails, say so. “It will save you a lot of spam,” he says; recruiters also recoil at buzzwords like “maven,” “guru,” “prophet” and “ninja” (unless you’re a black belt or a mutant turtle).
Leave a trail of virtual crumbs that lead to your profile. Hiring professionals lurk within LinkedIn industry groups and blogs, says Tamryn M. Hennessy, a vice president of career services at Rasmussen College. “Join them, especially if you want to change industries,” she says. “It’s a tremendous way to get smart about an industry and get on a recruiter’s radar.” Take part in the conversation, Hennessy adds, but only if you have something to say. Beware of criticism, says Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president for marketing at Dale Carnegie Training. “Never complain or express sour grapes,” she says. “It’s not Facebook (FB), it’s a professional network.”
Once they arrive on your page, you want to keep them there. “LinkedIn is speed dating for professionals,” says Grace Killelea founder and CEO of Half The Sky Women’s Leadership Institute. Recruiters are looking for reasons not to court you and anything that appears odd will be a red alert. “If there are gaps in your work history, fill that in, otherwise recruiters are going to get nervous,” she says. “Many people who were laid off are not comfortable filling in those gaps, but they absolutely need too.” Include details of volunteer work or, if it’s true, add “consulting,” she adds. Killelea’s golden rule for LinkedIn (and life): “If you can’t hide it, decorate it.”
Older job-seekers need to walk a fine line. Unless you made the cover of “Time” or discovered a solar galaxy, experience has a shelf life on LinkedIn, says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor. There’s no need to wax lyrical about a job that’s more than 10 years old, he says. And those who graduated from college a decade ago may want to exclude the date they graduated. “Your college graduation date will age you,” he says, “and although ageism is illegal, it’s happening all the time.” On the other hand, if you’re applying for a job as CEO of a Fortune 500 company and you graduated in 1986, it’s okay to leave the date, Dobroski says.
Most recruiters won’t care whether you have 1,000 endorsements, experts say. They’re regarded as the confetti of the digital world: Scattered too randomly and, as such, they lose meaning. Recruiters are actually looking for thoughtful recommendations from a well-respected peer or former employer, Palazzolo says. “I get endorsed for things that I don’t know how to do,” she says. “People want to see you’ve developed solid relationships.” That said, Foss says people should manage their skills and endorsements, rather than letting other people choose them, and an endorsement from a very big name could help.
Employers will also try to gauge your personality from your presentation. There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence, Roberts says. Some tips: “Don’t put you’re a member of Mensa,” he says. “People have to seek out Mensa membership. Most hiring managers don’t want to hire someone who’s smarter than them.” But it’s smart to write, “increased conference attendance by 40 percent,” instead of a passive job description like, “conference manager.” People don’t want to read a LinkedIn profile that resembles a self-published memoir. “Don’t pompously refer to yourself in the third person,” Foss adds.
Recruiters assess photos differently, depending on the industry, says Killelea. Only include your dog if you’re a dog walker or dog groomer, she adds. Photos over two years old should be updated, she says. Selfies are a no-no, says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. “Ask yourself, “If my grandmother looked at this picture, would she be proud?’” Sackett has seen LinkedIn photos of a woman dressed in an American flag and a man in blurry selfie taken in his bedroom.
Quentin Fottrell is a personal finance reporter for MarketWatch based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo. This article originally appeared on MarketWatch.com and is reprinted by permission from Marketwatch.com, ©2014 Dow Jones & Co. Inc. All rights reserved.