Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Q+A: LinkedIn profiles and personality

As published in Cynopsis Classified Advantage
Questions from our Readers
Answered by Michael Pollock

Q: Recently, I lost my job due to my company's financial state. Downsizing was a must, and I, unfortunately, got the cut. The thing is, it was almost a blessing in disguise. After leaving, I was happier, not something you'd expect after losing one's job. After re- evaluating my industry and the role I played, in the pursuit of happiness, I have decided to career change. It's not been easy, as the unstructured freedom during the work-week has lost a little bit of it's glitter, but I still think I'm heading in the right direction. I have chosen a new career path, but my question is this: how can I make my Linkedin profile reflect my career change? I of course want to put down all of my prior work experience, however, I also want to prove that I can do another job and that my skills translate. If I post my past experience, won't a potential employer think, why would I hire this person from X industry, when we're looking for someone who has experience in Y industry? Does that make sense? Please let me know what you would recommend.

A: I suggest you think very carefully about the skills and experience that will be desirable in your new career. Consider the needs of your potential new employer and find the angle on your past that could be relevant and persuasive. Make the fact of the change and your prior experience an added value. Use the summary section to express this  emphasizing the relevant and unique strengths that come from your rich background in other fields that makes you a stronger candidate than the pack of straight-liners you'll be competing with. Reframe the skills section as well as the details on all your prior positions to support your new positioning. Certain things that were awesome in your old field may have to be dropped because they are no longer relevant, or worse, contradict your new story. With a strong but unusual background, you are most likely to appeal to a smart employer who thinks outside the envelope, and that is likely to be someone you would want to work for.

Q: I find that LinkedIn is so business oriented, that it doesn't have much opportunity for one's personality to come through. Is this a good thing? Or is there something I can do with my account to make it seem less like a cover letter and resume, and reflect other aspects of my life?

A: LinkedIn is primarily a source for business connections. If you really want to express your entire personality in a social media setting, Facebook may be a better vehicle for you.

That said, on LinkedIn, the writing style you use for your summary section is an important way to let your personality shine through. Casual, jargony, straightforward, insightful  all these attributes will tell your reader something important. Different employers and industries have different codes and standards. The formal, passive writing style that appeals to academe is anathema to media people.

Another way to express your personality is through the updates you can post near the top of your profile, though do bear your target audience in mind when you update and remember what qualities they are looking for. By all means if it supports your business case you can mention your hobbies or other interests. If you are an ex-Marine, or a nonprofit board member for example these could certainly be important to include.

But do be sure not to make it look as if your eye will always be on the clock and your mind not on the job.

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