How many of you who aren't actively job searching have updated your LinkedIn account since you were hired at your current place of employment (except to update your new job location)? I can't see your raised hands, so I'll just have to guess that it's probably not all of you. Hopefully it's more than half of you, but possibly not! There are a number of advantages to keeping up on LinkedIn and maintaining your profile information and that's what I'm here to share today.
Your Record of Accomplishments
LinkedIn serves as a wonderful platform to maintain an ongoing record of the different projects and accomplishments you've achieved at each of your workplaces. Unfortunately they limit each job experience section to about 2000 characters, which isn't a lot of room for detail, but it's enough to describe major projects and the role you played.
For maintaining a more detailed record of your accomplishments, I suggest creating a private online backed-up journal (i.e. OneNote or GoogleDocs) with the finer details of your roles and projects for your own reference. This will come in handy one day when you need to recall something you built two years ago at XYZ company in front of a recruiter or during a technical interview. You can take time before your job search begins to review all of your projects and have some solid stories to tell about your experiences.
This is also an opportunity to "sell yourself" to an audience who probably has a similar technical background. Your Facebook friends wouldn't understand, but you can certainly share your latest project with your connections on LinkedIn. Keeping people in the loop on what you're working on lets people know what you're passionate about and what you're good at - leading to potential job offers if someone happens to "have a friend who needs a developer like you". But this isn't all about finding a job - sharing your interests and work will help you and your connections feel closer and form friendships.
It's Who You Know
Some people love networking, some people hate it. As an introvert, I find myself somewhere in between. Regardless of your feelings, networking is a fact of life for career-seeking individuals as oftentimes it's knowing the right person that lands you in front of the hiring manager or through the door of your dream company. LinkedIn makes our job of networking much less complicated because we don't have to be in person to build connections - though I do also suggest you attend the occasional meetup and mingle.
Building connections on LinkedIn requires some effort on your part, such as responding to shared posts, sending birthday wishes and congratulations on promotions and new jobs, but your effort will be remembered if it's sincere. When I connected with alumni from my college as I was nearing graduation, several offered to meet me in person as an informational interview to help my transition into the field.
Just as you shouldn't try to throw together your list of accomplishments as you decide you need to change jobs, you shouldn't start networking once you need a job. Desperation stinks and everyone can pick up the smell on you immediately. Cultivate relationships, genuinely get to know the people who could one day be your manager or coworker, and perhaps even make a few friendships.
Don't Ignore (All) Recruiters
Everyone's met that one terrible recruiter - you know the one. They call you 15 times, send you 6 emails, and even had the guts to call your work number! If they leave a message, it's in an incomprehensible accent and the job they're trying to fill is for a Python Specialist... but you're a .NET Developer. Don't bother connecting with this guy, you won't hurt his feelings.
The recruiters you want to connect with most likely live in the area they're recruiting for and work closely with a set of companies to fill the roles they need talent for. They are offered bonuses for filling these positions (it is a job after all), but it is in their best interest to find good candidates who will fit the culture of the company well. I worked with a couple of local recruiters during my initial job search who sought out talent for Microsoft Partners and it was a very good experience. They did not throw my resume at every company, but instead had long discussions with me and determined which would be the best for both myself and the company.
Sometimes you can negotiate a better deal with these recruiters, as well. They become your advocate and serve as the communicator between you and the company until you've been asked to an interview, so they can assist with negotiations and tell you early on what the employer's benefits will look like. Many will even follow up after your interview, regardless of whether you were hired, to help you learn where you may have steered wrong during the interview or what wasn't a good fit. I found this incredibly helpful as I was learning to interview; I was able to use the suggestions from my recruiters to learn and perform better in the future.
Avoid Setting Off Alarms
One of the biggest fears of job searching while currently employed is that your current employer will discover your intentions. This could lead to distrust, worry, and potentially even being dismissed from your job on the spot. The best way to mitigate this risk is to make a regular habit of using and making updates to your LinkedIn profile.
Use LinkedIn as a social network and comment on articles or look up past coworkers to endorse their skills. Change your photo occasionally if it needs to be freshened up. As you complete projects and build up achievements at work make sure to add those shortly after so your memory is fresh (and add them to your journal as well). Your active presence on LinkedIn will be expected by your employer and coworkers, if they are keeping tabs on this, so they won't be suspicious like they would be if you suddenly logged on and made 36 changes in one random sitting.
There's no worse feeling than a coworker walking up behind you and saying "You're never on LinkedIn. What, are you looking for a new job?" Awkwarrrrrd!
Save Time Once You Begin A Job Search
Perhaps the most minor benefit of updating your LinkedIn regularly is the time savings, but I would still consider it a solid benefit. If you wait until you need a new job to spruce up your profile, you may have an hour or three of work on your hands. You'll hopefully have lots of new goals you've conquered, projects you've completed, achievements you've stacked up, and it takes time to update all of these in a succinct and appealing way that will make an employer stop and give you a second glance. If you make a habit of updating all of these as they happen, you'll save yourself a great deal of time long-term because it will be as simple as clicking the "Actively Looking for Work" switch back on.
So get out there and update your LinkedIn profiles, especially if it's been more than 6 months! Add some of your achievements and any new skills you've picked up over the last few months.