It’s not just about what you know; it’s about who you know.
As professionals, don’t we all know this statement to be as true as it gets? The guy with the biggest bonus or pay cheque may not be the best in the business, but he may have known the right people at the right places to get him the breaks. After all, as has been well documented, people prefer doing business with those they know. And trust.
ILLUSTRATION: MALAY KARMAKAR / MINT
The name of the game is networking, left best to those most adept at working the floor at business conferences and at cocktail parties. No longer. The power to do so has now come to the desktop; making it possible are professional networking sites. And if you have to be on one of these, you will be best off devoting time to LinkedIn, a clear leader with more than 14 million members globally, a significant number from India, too.
Perhaps the biggest gathering of professionals and entrepreneurs we have seen at a global level, it is like a chamber of commerce successfully giving its members a forum to freely exchange ideas and opportunities in their own comfort zones and in a trusted environment. It’s a place where people meet online and convert these interactions to strong offline associations.
Starting off: Your profile is everything
Setting up a LinkedIn account is as simple as creating a new email account. For LinkedIn to be at its effective best, make sure your profile talks about your work, education, memberships, awards and skills completely. This site is all about networking; what people read about you will decide if they want to do business with you or move on to the next person. With a strong profile, you will be amazed by how LinkedIn works automatically for you while you sleep as people find and connect with you.
Your network is defined as the group of LinkedIn users you can contact through your connections up to three degrees away.
#Your direct connections make up the first degree of your network.
#The people connected to each of your direct connections make up your second degree.
#The people connected to those in your second degree make up your third degree.
The 10 commandments
Like everything else, LinkedIn is just a tool—its effectiveness is only as much as the user can get out of it. Here’s how you can get LinkedIn to work for you:
1. An ever-expanding Rolodex
LinkedIn is all about building your network. Start off by importing your address books into LinkedIn, and the site will tell you who among them are already members you can invite to connect with you. As they accept, your network grows. And as you use LinkedIn’s various features, you will meet more people to connect to.
And where do you strike a balance between the quality and size of your network? Says Sanjay Negi, CIO at Technology for Business Solutions: “You can have a huge network loosely and statistically interacting with you, or you can have a small network with intense interchange of ideas and information. An optimal approach would be to have a large loose network for broad coverage and then a smaller focused group for taking ideas to conclusion.”
2. LinkedIn Q&A: A global focus group
The most popular feature of LinkedIn is its ‘Answers’ section—a forum to exchange expertise and knowledge, and meet new people to connect with. You can also call it a global focus group giving you access to some of the best minds in the business. And if your answers get rated the best, you gain expertise points which get reflected in your profile.
3. Finding people and staying in touch
LinkedIn is a repository of talented and smart professionals you may want to connect with; use it to find people you share interests with or those who can help you at work; it even reconnects you with former colleagues and classmates by matching profiles.
The best people are usually not the ones looking for a job actively; the chances are you will find them on, or through, LinkedIn, and not on job portals. The site has become a happy hunting ground for recruiters who use their network for this purpose or choose the paid advertising options to cast the net wider. If you have a good network, why not make some money on the side by charging a finder’s fee from recruiters or your own internal HR?
5. Finding a job
If you can hire people through LinkedIn, why not get yourself that dream job too? Keep your profile updated, participate in the Q&As and work on improving the quality of your network—the next break will not take too long coming. The current CEO of LinkedIn, Dan Nye, did not post his resume anywhere, but was picked by the founder Reid Hoffman through the site itself!
6. Branding and marketing yourself
Did you know your profile is optimized to come up on search engines such as Google? If the world is looking at you, you might as well put your best face forward. Your profile, quality of contacts and what you say in Q&As all determine your personal brand equity. As do recommendations that can be left on your profile by those who have worked with you.
7. Sales and brand building
For T. Balaji, vice-president and head of the global division of Feedback Business Consulting Services, LinkedIn is his professional lifeline. “My job entails business development overseas, and it is not easy to identify who does what in large companies in the West; my LinkedIn network often does this for me. I met 30 people on my last trip to the US, all appointments coming through because of LinkedIn. And I expect at least 10 to give us some business,” he says.
With LinkedIn full of decision-makers and influencers, it is attracting more users by the minute for its ability to provide sales leads on a global scale. Users themselves, mostly the higher-income group, are a market tough to emulate; they are also the right target group to help create a buzz about your brand. Go get them.
8. Finding vendors and service providers
Sometimes, finding vendors can be even more challenging than finding customers—you may need expertise not easily found. The ‘Services’ section on LinkedIn ranks professionals based on recommendations they have received from others. If this does not help, references from other members surely can. “I suggest people whose work I am confident about and who I know well enough. For instance, Kim Brame does amazing work with video marketing and Devesh Dwivedi with Web development,” says US-based Sheilah Etheridge from SME Management Anchorage, who has earned more expertise points on LinkedIn than anyone else till date.
And yes, you can also find personal trainers to help you shed those extra pounds.
9. Background checks
Do you need to run background checks on prospective employees, business associates and even future bosses? Work on your network to provide you the desired information and opinions. Or, use the ‘Reference Check’ tool—a paid service—which allows you to contact people who may know your candidate by matching career graphs. Even the candidate’s profile can be quite reliable. “Rarely would anyone fudge their profile since one is conscious about it being viewed by people they know, and anything misleading could be highly embarrassing,” says Sanjay Sarma, co-founder and CEO of Design Worldwide India.
10. Entrepreneurs: Get opinions and investors
Ajit K. Sharma, a publishing consultant to authors, says he quit what he was doing to set up BookWorldCentral.com, relying only on only LinkedIn to generate business for him, somewhat like entrepreneurs who trade full-time on eBay. Not too many might be going his way, but entrepreneurs have found LinkedIn the ideal place not only to find customers, but also as a sounding board for ideas, finding partners and, you guessed it, investors.
Conducting oneself on LinkedIn need not be very different from the real world; fortunately, there are enough checks and balances to keep the site largely pure. “Users need to conduct themselves in a thorough and professional manner on LinkedIn; we have to realize the differences between this and other social sites. This is a no-nonsense, hard core networking site. If used well, the results can top any other tool for business networking and ‘getting ahead’,” says Rahul Chopra, heading logistics at Globe Hi-Fabs.
The world is a small place. LinkedIn just made it smaller, and more profitable.
Ajay Jain is a technology analyst and journalist who blogs at www.TechGazing.com.
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