Meeting professional and business needs in a challenging economy
As originally published on September 2, 2011
Mastering LinkedIn for Successful Career
In our Part I and Part II earlier this week, we focused on the general features of LinkedIn showed how one needs to leverage LinkedIn to for plan their career and business success. In this final sequel, we will showcase a strategy on how one can grow in their job career or business (self employed) areas with significant involvement via the LinkedIn networking process. The LinkedIn business is here to stay and grow regardless of what we do as a member in its hug network. It has crafted a unique revenue based strategy by leveraging its members’ professional profile that can be of value for other members. It has also created different levels of membership some of which are based on an invested fee. Other standard forms of advertising and posting plus publishing are also delivering financial value for the business. In the real world of career (I refer to FT working or job seeking professionals) and business (I refer to self employed and business owner executives) we have to constantly focus on sustaining the growth, profit, and market share of our business. In the global world LinkedIn as a network can contribute to this focus provided we leverage it wisely.
How does LinkedIn fit in with my focus?
Career Seeking Professionals:
When we speak of career professionals I see three distinct categories of professionals in the LinkedIn network. These categories also apply to professionals outside of the LinkedIn network; however, I am focusing within the LinkedIn based on the scope of the final sequel to this blogged topic. These categories can be envisioned as:
- Entry Level Professionals (In College)
- Experienced Professionals holding Jobs (in Organizations)
- Experienced Professionals looking for Jobs (wanting to get into organizations)
There are students in the first category that may be looking for jobs as well as professionals transitioning and for the sake of simplicity we will differentiate across these three broad levels. Each of these categories poses a unique situation with a unique focus.
Entry Level Professional:
In the given economic conditions, this category is probably going to feel the boon and the bane while trying to get hired. For those companies trying to seek experienced professionals, the entry level candidates don’t stand a chance, while those organizations looking to seek someone inexperienced and accepting a lower salary and willing to be trained to get work done, it is likely to be a blessing. So they have to play hard to get to those organizations where their chances are high. On campus interviews are always there, however, with a dwindling demand and increasing pool of candidates in the market, organizations are going to try to hire locally to avoid the candidate’s relocation expenses. In some situations the organizations offer a package sum to the new employee and it becomes a tax burden for the incoming employee. Some organizations otherwise choose to select their candidates from a local talent pool.
- What should this category of professionals do?
- Hopefully they have a clean academic record
- High GPA preferably above average
- Not necessarily a straight A’s student (sometimes can be a negative if all they have to show is their GPA)
- They need to enroll and complete some meaningful internship assignments associated with projects of value to some customer. Several interns get started with assignments and end up with a report that nobody cares to read or had any value to the sponsor’s top or bottom line. It is better not to select such internship opportunities.
- In these days an internship can also be self created and a research based study utilizing the available resources such as a local library to borrow their printed literature as well as browse the net for articles of relevant interest. Finding a problem of their own in a community or society, or city and researching to demonstrate the needed analytical skills is a great resource to bring a silver lining to your candidacy in this category.
- Just because someone is an entry level it doesn’t necessary mean they have no experience and on the other hand if one has the experience he may not be necessarily motivated to get things or he is probably not net savvy, let alone reluctant to change with the times.
- Some traits to imbibe and demonstrate sincerely while executing such internships as well as general behaviors for entry level professionals are:
- High Energy – Physical and Mental – Usually relates to a great “can-do” attitude
- Response to speed in need – doesn’t sit on an email or missed phone call or text message – like the fire fighter responds immediately and understands the gravity of the situation
- Proactive and proposes the plan for feedback and amendments. Will not wait for someone to micromanage and give “ready-aim-fire” type orders. Willing to learn, and not afraid of proposing ideas and timeline planning. This is one of the best that money cannot easily buy in the market today. The next time you take a flight and watch for how many people are really excited to be flying to where they are heading to. Most of the time, they are focusing on how long it is going to take or some uncontrollable delay rather than the great things that await them at their destination and so they forget to enjoy the journey.
- Visual and Illustrative – When you watch them interact within a team they are always up and close to the board expressing themselves with a marker pen (so excited that they sometimes use a permanent marker and continue beyond the embarrassment) and are illustrating instead of sharing the “Death by Bullets” power point presentation going nowhere. They can get the people in the room talking and bring ideas to solve a problem. Again one of the best traits one can expect in an entry level professional.
- Relationship Builders – These are the ones that sustain despite all the other traits and such people will make sure they hold on to the relationships and trust and integrity is vital for their survival. They will feel very bad for someone having lost their money left on a table and also show extreme remorse for a mistake they innocently committed and profusely ask for apologies. They will always be looking to execute something that benefits the other person in a selfless manner and yet achieve their own goals. Selflessness and gregariousness is a scarce personality commodity these days and even if their subject matter expertise has gaps they are usually a quick study.
- These traits are not a “country quack’s” solution to seeking a job and they must be practiced sincerely and seriously that they become part of your DNA all those good habits our parents taught us to maintain and so did our elementary school teachers. Pretending will never work as fake personalities cannot sustain without leaving traces of doubt.
- When entry level professionals develop such skills for which they do not need anyone to hire them during their college years and utilize a mentor for the same, they will go places that even experienced professionals will not be able to touch with a 40-foot pole.
- On LinkedIn, they need to accelerate their network building rate with the right type of members and professionals who belong to the category of professionals having jobs. They can offer their time to get short term projects or assignments done even under non-stipendiary conditions unless the employer insists he has to pay based on some internal policy or procedure. Just make sure you are not breaking your bank account paying for the associated transportation expenses with this assignment and try to get something that is also “virtual” based. Display the traits of a global leader in your behavior and chances are you could be on their list of recruits for the upcoming opening in their organization. At this point refer to part I on your “8Es toward a high Rate of Networking (RoN).”
Experience Professional Holding Jobs:
This category was shrinking in population at least in the western world hit by the recent recession and is remaining at a steady level without any significant growth. At this point, such professionals are in a great situation no matter what unless they are performing so bad that the company where the organization wants to layoff has them on the top of their list. First, assuming they are performing well, they just need to sustain the relationship part on the traits as all other aspects can be managed or improved upon. If they want to change their career they are also in a better position than the other two categories as they get to pick and choose given that they do not need something desperately.
- What should this category of professionals do?
- First rule is never rock the boat – meaning they stand to lose because of something they said or did that was in direct conflict with someone either at a peer or upper management level. Given that the management had them all along shows that they are doing something right unless they are the blood relative of the chairman (which even these days are becoming more of a liability). Get the work done, sustain by increasing the value add and get net savvy if you need to. I kept saying this to myself even as an employee during my days “there is always a faster gunslinger than I” who is willing to work twice as harder and take less of a pay if necessary. That kept me from becoming complacent and arrogant in the corporate world.
- Watch out for “career limiting steps” such as direct confrontation with your immediate manager or higher levels especially in an open meeting or forum no matter how logical or intelligent your views are. Right content, but wrong place and the wrong time. Yes, they will even violently and equivocally quote “yes we are open to questions” and what they are really saying is let us find out who the problem child is among this herd and find ways to suppress them. Don’t fall for this. Yes the workplace ideally is one with free speech, however, with deeper consequences. You probably will never know where the shot came from, let alone taking one under the belt (a cheap shot). I had one of my colleagues share with me that knowing he was sick and lost about 7 pounds was criticized by a peer who didn’t get along very well in the privacy of a rest room acquaintance (obviously this peer chose the place with slight as he couldn’t do it in the open) that “wow that was a great way to take a vacation and get paid” while he very well knew that my colleague was going out the door soon in a “to be announced layoff.” The writing will be on the wall and signs will flash all over the place and he said suddenly he felt that nobody wanted to even talk to him as they were willing to give up their free speech knowing that that lynching is on the rise.
- Hopefully you have been networking enough that you have a significant network built out there and often testing the waters to find out who is willing to hire you. Ensure that your referrals are outside the company or organization you are working with unless you have a loving manager or peer who can be tight lipped and understand your intentions and will not go beyond what is discussed. in order to execute this successfully at work, your variance in thinking and philosophy with your immediate manager should be far less significant than the variance he holds with his management. If for some reason he gets let go you can be sure that he will take you along where he goes assuming you are also gone and he has the worldly power to negotiate your inclusion in his package. Gosh, many professionals in this category just didn’t get it and they developed a deep rift between themselves and their managers and lost on both ends bitterly. Don’t let this happen in 2011 and beyond.
- In your network there are some activities you need to manage carefully and willfully. On your 8 Es with the recommendation, go ahead and get them left and right, however, do not display them as they will become your dirty linen as someone in the organization will take this special cause event and dig dirt and spread the news that you are looking. So while LinkedIn is a great source to display your recommendations, it is wise to keep it in storage and not launch it till you get the offer. However, you can share the content of your endorsement provider with the new and potential employer (assuming you are serious about transitioning) on an email by just copying and pasting it. Apparently someone on LinkedIn decided “you know what let us give some time to the guys maybe they want to use it but not flaunt it.” Several experienced professionals fail in this part of the 8Es process to a high RoN.
- Myth – Seeking recommendations mean I have to publicly display it. Fact à It is False! Just let the person know that you are intending to store it and use it discreetly with the potential hiring managers who will anyway call them and so it is not going to show up on your profile for the gossip or tell tale mongers. Eliminate the problem at the root!
- Myth – I am not going to seek a recommendation because someone may think I am using them. Fact à False! Yes you may think you are using them like you use a ladder, put it back in its place, store it and preserve it and provide the needed environment to keep it functioning for others and yourself in the future. Someday you may become a step ladder to this and someone else could go to a greater height using two ladders. So does that make you feel better? In fact they would first be happy that you shed your ego and had the courage and humility to ask them and honor them by doing so. If they gave it voluntarily it is another thing and so call and speak with them about it before you Link them for an endorsement. Calling them or emailing them separately and preparing for such a need is better instead of jolting them all of a sudden. You can also control the language that you may be sending it and if for some reason you find that the conversation was colder than expected, just move on to another person that you delivered your blood, sweat and tears to. Have confidence that some of them will respond better than you think. Will you respond when someone in your network that has done great things with you for your benefit if they ask for a recommendation? So keep the playing rules even and don’t play “God.”
- Myth – I will let people think high of me and wait for their voluntary endorsements to pour in. Fact à False! Unfortunately this could reveal several holes in your personality. First, you may not be proud of what you have done, let alone believe that it truly made a difference to some KPI. Second you think that people should come to you on a guilt trip and owe you a golden endorsement and do so the first thing in their morning. Fact à False! People are busy running with their devices in one hand and their other belonging on the other when they are away and can’t even get to their emails. So look for someone with that global trait discussed above that you delivered in delight. They will take the time and make it a mission in their next day to get this done. Don’t send them any reminders as that will get them to feel that you don’t trust their word. If you tell them it is urgent they will respond. By the way the same guy on LinkedIn also made sure you can edit the content with the permission of the person giving the recommendation and request for either a grammatical or language or even content dilution or concentration based on mutual concurrence of facts. So start off your “8Es” going toward a high RoN! In your desperation do not sign someone on LinkedIn and pounce on them for a recommendation as that is tacky.
- Now that we know how to benefit from LinkedIn the ongoing step should also include networking with the people at the level they need to be – namely with the authority of a hiring manger. Screen their titles and experience and what others say of them in their endorsements. Look at their alumni an alma mater and search for their hobbies and other interests and get introduced through someone in their network also common to you at the 1st level. It is much easier and much more professional to keep it that way. In your cover letter while requesting an introduction within LinkedIn make sure you are specifying a discreet interest on job enquiry and they usually treat it that way.
Experience Professional Holding Jobs:
This category is increasing in its population and strength by the day as organizations are beginning to layoff as they get hit by the undesirable economy. While they have a strong point in experience that is treasured in the industry they have undesirable factors going against them that one doesn’t need an astrologer or palm history reader, or a clairvoyant to even assess the damage. Here are some aspects to keep in mind:
- Assuming you are expecting a layoff or have gone through one you have about 6 months to get a back into the employed category, lest the hiring managers make an emotional decision that your qualifications are not worth it if you have been unemployed for more than 6 months. Even while it is difficult to prove discrimination based on gender preferences or age or race, it is extremely difficult to prove that a hiring manager has rejected you because of this 6 month lull in your employment status. In fact one of my closest recruiting professionals cautioned me that while all other areas of discrimination are written into the US law this one is yet to even get on the desk of the US justice for being written into law that one cannot discriminate someone based on the length of time they have been unemployed leading to a rejection for a job interview. So get busy and work the LinkedIn system and even hire a counselor or career advisor to leverage on LinkedIn.
- If you have come past the 6 month limit, then the only trump card you have is to leverage your known network where this is not relevant as they have an idea of what you can do. While leveraging on LinkedIn remember the following don’ts:
- Do not communicate in casual terms while inviting new members. Be professional as if they are strangers meeting for the first time.
- Do not display any sign of arrogance such as I am getting other opportunities but do not want to settle for something less. First of all it is totally irrelevant as their role is to find a match for you not matching your ego.
- Do not claim you can get jobs if you want but need the one you deserve as that would directly insult their intelligence as to their choice or wisdom in advising or assisting you. I had a conversation with a consultant asking me for help in FT opportunities and then when I proposed different options including FT positions, started saying he is busy and booked. The worst experience in the conversation was what do you do? This was after he researched my profile on LinkedIn. Isn’t it all over the virtual place as to what I do and have accomplished? Asking a potential networked member as to what he is doing is pretty much digging your own grave as to the next step in the process. It is frozen for sure and the networked contact is like a potential buyer of a car not coming back to the dealership come what may. This is a fatalistic move for us professionals while we tread this journey toward a gainful employment via the LinkedIn route.
- Do not even start the conversation with your unemployment blues. He has taken the time to show concern for your future and so thank him sincerely and ask questions like:
- What has worked best for you in such situations?
- What are your expectations as we work together on these types of engagements? Heck, he may be even expecting some kind of reward for introducing you to his contacts that he has generated and treasured for a long time. You can always be moral, ethical, and principled and yet reward them in several ways within the law. In fact by asking that question upfront he will have more respect for you as you have clearly stated that nothing comes for free. Secondly if he is a self employed professional, then it is all the more critical that you respect his time while he is not billing you for this conversation.
- Some of the dos are also listed here for your benefit:
- Discuss his/her needs first and your needs will automatically get taken care of.
- Follow through your telephone conversation with a nice note as most people show a surge in initial contact and when they think it is not worth barking up this tree, they just drop off like a sack of potatoes. At that point your misguided assumption probably cost you an opportunity.
- Treat your network on LinkedIn like hiring managers especially through the stage of segregation while you are getting to know them.
- Networking for this category should not be about getting a contact to give you contacts or names of hiring managers to seek an interview. That is the worst form of networking which could end up not-working for you.
Now that we have addressed the three core categories of networking members on LinkedIn, one has to remember to find a mentor who can guide, challenge, and validate your path. Have you ever heard of a doctor performing a surgery with a book on one hand? He needs a face-to-face coach to get him through. Likewise with all the publications, and case studies plus examples when you find a coach or mentor you are on the first step to succeeding with LinkedIn as you work your way to your career success.
Business Owner Executives (Includes the Proud Self Employed):
While the career seeking professionals out there are stumping to sustain their success or penetrate at entry levels, we business owners and self employed have a two edged sword. On one side we are our own bosses and so are answerable to ourselves. However, since we are our own bosses we may start becoming complacent and arrogant too in our own ways. So what can we do to offset such business debilitating impacts as we network with professionals of different background?
Most of the techniques and tools we use are similar to the ones for the three categories above, except we look for contract closures and efficiently delivered projects on time with the expected ROI for our clients. Thus while we get on LinkedIn it is important to patiently help our members as it they have a dire customer need with what we have. Even in our pre-LinkedIn days some of us have segregated our contacts into a few categories such as:
- Paying customers – Charge them a fee and show value – no pay no product or service
- May Pay Customer – Give them a sample as a marketing investment – may buy!
- Will market for you – Give them a sample and let them know what the value is. Let them know upfront it is a gift and you value their opinion and feedback.
- Give away books, articles, tools, templates, intelligently as a marketing strategy.
- Ensure you follow through with them diligently!
Your paying customers will take care of all the investment associated with the other categories. Thus the last two categories are likely to move into the “paying customer” category down the road after an experience. Likewise on LinkedIn while you network with members who have a high potential of seeking a contract with you usually at the “C” level or equivalent with a P.O. signing authority, it is wise to find out what their problems and constraints are upfront and start addressing them.
While we look for business, we are trying to do what they say in the film “Boiler Room” “ABC” à Always Be Closing. Of course the movie shows how aggressiveness can also lead to high risk and fraudulent practices as depicted in the movie and by any stretch we are not advocating that, however, we have several professionals on LinkedIn within our network and so worshiping one customer is not a great way to market our services and products in this globally competitive scenario. Some aspects we need to keep in mind could be:
- The invitation is preferably sent via the connected member, a 1st level to the one you invite.
- The reason category when chosen shows honesty, and pride in what you do as a business person.
- A letter of thanks to both professionals involved in the introduction piece is advisable.
- A thorough profile review is essential to script a letter of invitation to his interest, not yours.
- Ask your connection on the telephone or LinkedIn Inbox as to what you could say and write!
- On several occasions, members list their email ID and mobile telephone number on their profile!They even list their email IDs on their LinkedIn name area. Unless you are trying to get someone’s attention like the guy who promised a free pizza for a contact with an executive, this is not advisable! Even in this case I am not sure how you would get the Pizza to him and validate if it is the person. So don’t put such banners on your profile area on LinkedIn!
- Once your invitation has been accepted, try to get a personal meeting as n a cup of coffee or a light sandwich lunch at a local place (preferably invite those that are within an hour’s driving distance). Set it up so that there are no distractions for either of you (unavoidable is the mobile phone of his going off. Turn yours off! Do the talking and let him eat to his heart’s content! He is better listening so long as he is ok with you talking and sharing some visuals. Focus on your results and endorsements primarily instead of anything else and the questions will come on the how and why of everything. As you can see it is like an informational interview back in the late 1990s.
- Do not take your laptop to such meetings or at least refrain from opening it. First there isn’t much table space and second how are you going to view the screen together which has a small font size. Keep the complexity out and use the good old paper and pencil technique! Have a three-pin binder with critical information that is smaller than an 8 x 11 size and fits well into your office like bag!
- Offer and preferably insist to pay for the lunch and do your billing privately with the waiter and tip the waiter duly. Ask your guest if he wishes coffee or a dessert even if you are a teetotaler with respect to such beverages. If you are a vegetarian take him to one such place after checking with him otherwise go to a common place like Subway Sandwiches place.
- There is no guarantee that this will turn into a contract, however, you fed him lunch and spent some quality time with him talking about his issues and needs hopefully. That will get you on the side of his good books. Follow through a day or so later and call him about whether he had a chance to review some of the information you shared or sent him? Regardless of his response, thank him and ask f it is a good time to proceed to the next step or should we defer it to a point. Be flexible and don’t rush! Recall he doesn’t even belong to your organization or report to you and owes you nothing, but he will turn out a whole lot more valuable as a contact person than you can imagine.
We know now that for us self employed folks and business owner executives, LinkedIn can be like oxygen offering us new avenues to revenue. Although the process takes longer in time like sipping tea for hours and days in Asia before inking a contract, we have the flexibility of sipping virtual tea with many senior executives at the same time. Since we can intelligently choose our tea party attendees, our chances of getting to that revenue is much higher than the traditional physical telephone calling or mass emailing strategies that are in vogue.
Again get a mentor and coach who can be of guidance, set a time, understand the benefits the mentor will get and don’t expect anyone to offer a free lunch and value their time.
Conclusions and Recommendations:
In conclusion we see that most professionals are misled not because of the website in itself, but more due to their own assumptions that doing something will get them something. Since it doesn’t cost them out of their pocket they tend to have a random pattern in their networking strategies. However, if LinkedIn were to ask for a cost for each invitation you send that doesn’t get accepted and the invitee didn’t know of it, how many invitations would you send? When would you send it and in what format etc? Who would you pick? An approach with excellence in mind like how we devote ourselves to your customers should also be integrated into the networking process for a higher chance of success. Most of us need guidance and a humble approach to find a mentor regardless of our previous achievements so that we don’t fall a victim to the complacence and arrogance syndrome. Good luck networking on LinkedIn!