LinkedIn for Contractors

Click the play button above to view this video. 

The guide below contains some of the advice on the above video, for a full review please watch the videocast.

So. . . how can you maximise the potential of LinkedIn

Well, we'd all like to think LinkedIn is valuable and important, indeed some people join groups and are very active but how can you be sure you're doing everything you can, to make the most of this vast networking site?

Most people have the following on their minds when logging on and connecting:

  • Finding a new contract 
  • Keeping your skills up to date
  • Having your finger on the pulse of the going rates for jobs
  • Keeping on top of your business admin
  • Whiling away the time whilst being bored in the office seeing what all your old colleague buddies are up to (sadly we can't give much advice on this)

So let's focus on the one you're probably most interested in. . . 

Finding a new contract

Why is a very visible profile helpful?
A very visible profile means that LinkedIn Search will favour you, i.e. return your name high on the list of search results if you match the search criteria. Therefore if a potential client's recruitment team decides to search LinkedIn for a person with your skills, you are more likely to be found.

What contributes to a very visible profile?

  1. The most basic requirement is to have a 100% complete profile as defined by LinkedIn.
  2. LinkedIn favours results from close connections - so if the person undertaking the search is 2 degrees removed from you, you will appear higher up the results than an equivalent person out of their network (4 degrees removed or more). You can increase the likelihood of being part of their network by increasing your connections.
  3. If you have more connections than an equivalent contractor, you will appear higher up the results list - another reason for increasing your connections.
  4. Activity on the Questions and Answers section of LinkedIn and activity in Discussion threads on the Groups also increase the visibility of your profile (so make sure you join and are active members of relevant groups).
  5. All of the effort you put into the first four items is wasted if the potential client uses different words to describe what they are looking for than you have used to describe yourself, but even the risk of this can be reduced. At the simplest level if you describe yourself as a "facilitator" and the client searches on "facilitation", you will not be found.
  6. Finally, update your status at least once a week with meaningful information.

1. A complete profile
Having a 100% complete profile means that the information you provide to LinkedIn must include as a minimum, responses in the following fields / groups of fields:

  • Current Position
  • Two past positions
  • Education
  • Summary
  • Specialties
  • Profile Picture
  • At least three recommendations

Current Position (& Title)
You can have several Current Positions, this means you can have "Self Employed Contractor" and "Currently working on a contract with London Underground" at the same time. Unfortunately LinkedIn is dogmatic about which of these appears at the top of your Current Position fields; it is the one you started most recently, probably "Currently working at ..." which is ok if that's what you want, but if you want "Self Employed Contractor" at the top, then you have to resort to non obvious manoeuvres. However, when someone searches for skills that you match, and gets your name in the search results, the additional information provided on the results page is your Title, not either of the Current Positions. So you also need to complete your Title field which can be different again to your Current Position, and the field is long enough for you to add a catch phrase or a deeper, but pithy description of your capabilities e.g. "Self Employed Contractor with huge experience of all aspects of Oracle software old and new".

If you are available for a new contract why not say so in your Current Position. It may not look good if you have this as your Current Position for several years but it is perfectly normal to see this for several months.

At least two past positions
This can be difficult if you have had only one, but think laterally, split the role into two aspects. If you are a recent graduate, include an internship. LinkedIn does not care if a period of work experience overlaps with dates associated with Education, it is very relaxed about those details. LinkedIn uses your past experience, and the dates associated with them to suggest as possible connections, names of people who worked in the same place at the same time. This helps you to increase your connections. It works both ways. If there is an episode in your work experience that you'd prefer to ignore, and you do not want to connect with people from that organisation, then leave it out. What you put in LinkedIn should be the truth, as you may well be interviewed about it, but it does not have to be the complete truth.

Education
When you go to fill this in, LinkedIn offers you a drop down menu of educational establishments. This can be useful to ensure that everyone who was at the same place, calls it by the same name e.g. you are listed as University of Warwick, and not Warwick University or Warwick Uni etc. Again, LinkedIn uses this as a means of offering names to you of people who may have been classmates with.

You can put in secondary schools and primary schools; you can put down several universities. If you have had no education whatsoever, you still need to enter something in this field for a 100% complete profile. You can enter what you want e.g. "None what so ever", "Self Taught", "School of Life" etc.

Summary & Specialties
Summary, Experience and Specialties are three fields (or sets of fields) which can contain essentially the same information expressed in different words. The LinkedIn Search Engine scans all of these looking for your skills and competencies. And so might a potential recruiter. It is best to be consistent in style and content within the Experience fields e.g. either use bulleted points or joined up sentences; either focus on achievements or role descriptions; but stay with the choice once made. Summary is best viewed as something that a potential recruiter will read and Specialties as targeted more towards the LinkedIn Search Engine will. To address the "facilitator" / "facilitation" / "facilitating" issue, you can either adopt a writing style such that one form appears in Experience, another in Summary with Specialties used as a catch-all. Or write what comes naturally and use Specialties to list the variants.

Once you have completed these three sections to your satisfaction have a look at some fellow contractors with similar skill sets and see what keywords they use, if relevant add these to your Specialties.

Profile Picture
Some people do not like having their photo in their LinkedIn profile, or elsewhere, for various reasons. So don't. You are required to have a profile picture not a photo. It could be of Van Gogh's sunflowers, give or take IPR issues. It could be a sketch or an avatar that you use on other social networking sites. One of its uses can be to confirm to people who think that they know you, that you are the same person that they are thinking of. If you have had chess as a hobby since school and most people who know you, know that, a picture of a chess piece could admirably serve the purpose of a profile picture. That said though a human face goes a long way in reminding people of who you are.

Three recommendations
Some people are reluctant to ask for recommendations. You just have to do it. Two tips to make it easier a) ask a friend for a recommendation, preferably one who has given and received recommendations before b) provide recommendations for a load of people, and then ask some of them for a recommendation if they haven't already reciprocated. A recommendation should be specific to a role and ideally specific to an aspect of that role, short (5-6 lines), and honest.

2 & 3. Increase your Connections

Four tip: 

  • In order to get LinkedIn working on your behalf, looking for and presenting you with candidates to connect to, have a complete profile in terms of all of the companies you have worked for with dates, and then review the names offered as possible colleagues by LinkedIn.
  • When you make a new connection, review their connections to see if they have any that you know, if so invite them to be your connection.
  • Include your LinkedIn profile url as part of your email signature block and business card,. Before you do this, tidy it up. You will start with something like http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/nick-odoherty/34/21/598 but you can tidy it to http://uk.linkedin.com/in/nickodoherty by using the Edit Profile functionality.
  • Do all of the other things to make your profile visible as this will make it easier for others to find you, and invite you to connect.

4. Answer Questions and take part in Discussions
LinkedIn favours participators. It automatically gives you a higher ranking in search results if you are seen as a community player. That's why some people answer 3-400 questions a week (begging the question of when do they find time for their day job, living, or sleeping). You could just play the game and throw some random text into an Answer to a Question, or as a Discussion thread contribution but LinkedIn has certain natural checks and balances and if you did:

  • Your connections would know as your contributions of this kind are highlighted to them.
  • The Group managers whose discussion area you were abusing would throw you out of the group.

There are other sanctions that might be used but these seem enough. So if you participate in this way your contribution needs to be relevant.

Use the LinkedIn Search capability on Answers, or browse the categories to find questions that you can answer. Then answer them. 1 or 2 a week is sufficient. In the usual Social Media way, before you launch yourself into this, look and listen first. Have a look at some Closed Questions (Questions are left open to answers for a finite period, then closed, so that no more answers can be provided) that you could have answered. Review the Answers provided, review the ratings provided by the questioner of the Answers and get a feel for what kind of answer people are looking for.

Discussions are a feature of Groups. Most groups are either:

  • Alumni - past and present workers of an organisation or educational establishment.
  • Professional Interest - people with the same roles - e.g. HR, Copy Writers, Contractors.
  • Personal interest - e.g. beekeeping, working in Sussex etc.

Find a few that genuinely interest you, preferably with a fairly active discussion area, and join. Then participate in the discussions. Again a contribution every week or so in one or other of the groups will be useful to your profile's visibility.

5. Use the right words to describe yourself
This has been partially covered before, in describing how LinkedIn Search works, and how you need to respond to not be disadvantaged by it. Other activities worth considering are:

  • After you have completed your profile to your satisfaction look at the profile of colleagues with similar backgrounds. If they have described some competency, and you feel: "I can do that!" make sure that your profile reflects the fact. To use the alleged and controversial catch phrase of Knowledge Managers: "Steal with Pride".
  • Look at LinkedIn Job Adverts for permanent or contract roles that you could apply for and look at the keywords they use. Check out how well you come out in the search results when using the keyword. Amend your profile accordingly.
  • Repetition of use of a keyword seems to increase your position in the search results.

6. Update your status
As you come to the end of an assignment, this is a particularly important time to update your LinkedIn Status:

"My role here is nearly complete. Starting to think about a new contract. Something in London starting in October would be good - I need a few weeks holiday before working again."

At other times just a brief conversational note is all that is called for:

"Going to Apple Mac conference in Olympia Friday."

This makes it possible for connections to respond, and maybe for you to meet up. More importantly it ensures that you get a mention in the weekly update that many LinkedIn users get by email, on their iPhones etc. As a LinkedIn user you are informed when a connection updates their profile, or status, or answers a question. This means that you can regularly but subtly remind your connections that you are here and working, and it is one of the best ways of keeping your profile visible.

Finally remember that if you do everything above, it will help you get an interview. You can also use LinkedIn to investigate the organisation and the people you are going to meet in the interview, but LinkedIn is not a silver bullet. It cannot impact the first impression that you make as you walk into the room nor how you handle the interview, although other Social Media tools can help you .......

You might also find the following guides helpful and of course another great source of information would be to follow SJD Accountancy on LinkedIn here:

If you have any further queries about contracting or working through your own limited company please do not hesitate to contact us on 0500 152500/ 01442 275789 or email: jessica@sjdaccountancy.com

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If you have any questions about contracting or would like any further advice please call our new client services helpdesk on 01442 275789 or email: janice@sjdaccountancy.com. Our new client services helpdesk is open Monday to Friday (8am to 6pm).

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