Starting out on LinkedIn

When I signed up for LinkedIn a few weeks ago, the setup process confused me when it asked to do things which I didn’t consider part of LinkedIn’s scope. I emailed an engineer friend of mine for clarification, and I found his thorough answer to be quite useful for anyone who wants to get to know this networking service from a professional’s perspective.

Me: Hey man, quick question. You’re the expert on LinkedIn. I made an account a week ago, then it asked me to add pretty much everyone I know from Facebook and my email contacts. But that seemed strange to me because I thought LinkedIn was just for professional contacts. Should I add all the people I know? Is there are benefit to it?

His response:

Hey man,

I think LinkedIn has turned into a typical social networking thing, and some people use it for that purpose. I keep my contacts to people who I’ve worked with, who I know are proven professionals and not jokers. I also keep some recruiters as contacts in case I need to look for jobs or they are looking for people to fill jobs, etc.

Not in all fields, but in my field, people take it seriously, like I will check someone’s LinkedIn if I’m thinking of hiring them, to get an idea of their experience and their credibility. The best indicator I find is the skills that people endorse you for. When you see skills endorsed by some Joe Blo, then it doesn’t mean much, but it means a lot when highly known and respected people give endorsements. Large numbers of these shows that it’s unanimous, not just one person’s biased opinion. Also, people give recommendations to speak about your management skills, technical skills, personality, etc.

I get lots of people who want to add me to their network, who I know only socially but not from something professional. I avoid those for 2 reasons:

  1. It makes you look bad if you’re an engineer when your contacts, endorsements, etc are from non-engineers who don’t know the field.
  2. Some of them want to use you to make themselves look good, and once they are in your network they can say and do stupid things to embarrass you in the professional community. So it’s best to keep it to your professional network, not social network.

Of course engineers use it differently than some other fields, for example a musician wants to be connected to producers, suppliers, etc, but again not to some jerk who knows nothing about music and who’s just trying to be a groupie.

Best Regards,

Shortly after posting this conversation I was contacted by another friend of mine, one who works in communications this time. She wanted to share her thoughts with me from the perspective of her own field of work:

I think your friend had good points relating to technical fields. And you don’t want to add everyone in your Gmail, because that will include random people such as spammers or people you don’t really know.

However, I will add anyone I am friends with, worked with or went to school with for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you work in a social field, non-industry endorsements can actually be a good thing. For example, in my line of work, it’s to my benefit to have people endorsing me for blogging, because even if they’re not experts in the industry, they’re the audience.
  2. The more people you have in your network, the wider your reach if you’re looking for work, and even if people in your direct network aren’t in your field, they may work for a company that has a position suitable for you. They can forward your profile to the appropriate people or even just let you know about an upcoming position.

So it can be really professionally useful to have a wider network.

Companies are using LinkedIn more and more, and it’s also a good way of keeping track of companies you might want to work for. You can also join groups, either based on industry, alumnus, or interest, and you can join in discussions with other people in your field and get to know them a bit. You might make connections that might be helpful in the future, or just ask questions of people who have more experience than you or learn about topics you’re interested in. So that’s a whole new side of LinkedIn that I think people are now finding useful.

LinkedIn has become the most important asset for employment in many fields—in many cases it has completely replaced the résumé/CV as a much more legitimate and current document of work history and skills. My takeaway from these conversations is that your usage of LinkedIn will vary depending of your field. For an engineer, limiting your contact list is important, so it’s best to skip the automatic friend-adding steps in the signup process. But if you’re in a more social field, your social contacts can be your most important asset. It should be good to know this important distinction before jumping into the service.

If you have any thoughts or insight on this topic please feel free to discuss in the comments below.