LinkedIn is by far the most developed business- and career-oriented networking site and service out there; it’s the way millions of career-minded people will find their next jobs.
An efficient way to connect with an enormous reservoir of professionals from just about every industry. Easy-to-use search and filtering features. Lets you create a detailed professional profile others can search.
Dense, busy interface. May encounter promiscuous linkers.
The Web is teeming with social-networking sites that emphasize the “social,” but what if you’re a business-minded individual more interested in the networking end? Where do you go? The answer: LinkedIn. Since PC Mag‘s first serious look at the beta three years ago, the site has swelled to over 9 million registered users and become the most feature-rich business networking service of its kind.
I’m tempted to say it’s not only feature-rich, but feature-heavy. The sheer mass of capabilities takes a toll on the site’s looks—the interface is busy in the extreme. That all should change soon, however, as the company says a design refresh is coming in the next month or two. Though I’ve seen only one page of the redesign (it’s in our slideshow)
The service helps you make the most of your current professional relationships by letting you link with your closest work contacts, and that, in turn, can give you access to their contacts. I say “can” because you don’t automatically get to connect with everyone under the sun; part of the beauty and tantalizing nature of LinkedIn is that you get to see more than you directly have access to. While you can see the basics about people who are linked to one of your direct connections, you must first get an introduction, a referral from your direct connection vouching for you, before you can connect with them directly.
When you register, the site uses the information you enter to start your personal profile —basically an expanded curriculum vitae. You can (and should) add to it, though; you do this via a form that combines question-and-answer format with free-text entry. The quality of your profile heavily influences the results you get. The more fleshed-out it is the better, since members can search the site for others who have similar backgrounds, attended particular schools, have certain professional experience, worked at a particular company, and more. The rich detail that profiles can contain increases the chances of a search turning up people who can provide expertise and even career opportunities, often in industries far different from yours.
New LinkedIn Features
I find the features added since we last reviewed LinkedIn among the site’s most appealing and powerful. The Jobs/Hiring section powered by SimplyHired tops my list. Tools you access via the Find jobs tab in this section let you search for opportunities based on keywords that describe the type of position you want, and you can narrow your search geographically. Positions available through people in your network appear first in the results. Those who have jobs use the site to search for candidates or advertise openings (one of the main revenue streams for LinkedIn).
Another recently added (and highly useful) capability, LinkedIn Answers, gives you a great way to build your network without really trying. Questions you post go directly to the inboxes of contacts within three degrees of connection to you (you know someone who knows someone who knows them), and others can find your questions on the Answers pages. The tool should let you get valuable input without all the chatter and garbage that collects on sites such as Yahoo! Answers. I recently asked what PC Magazine‘s next Site of the Week should be, and within an hour, I had 4 solid responses; in three days, I’d received 13.
Another new feature, available within LinkedIn and from toolbars for Internet Explorer and Firefox, lets you upload your e-mail contacts from AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail. A Microsoft Outlook toolbar lets you upload its contacts also. For now, users of other software, such as the Palm desktop OS, will have to export their contacts to a webmail service, then upload them to LinkedIn. After I shipped 752 contacts to LinkedIn, the service told me that 259 of them were already using it. Not bad.
The new Reference search, which you reach via the People menu tab,) gives you a good way to find out about potential employees, employers, and business partners. Enter a company name and the years a person worked there, and you’ll be able to cross-reference this information with matches from your own network.
Unfortunately, the free and open nature of LinkedIn, along with its search capabilities, can lead to abuse by what some call promiscuous linkers, people who compete to see who can build the largest networks. PC Magazine ran a column about the problem two years ago, in fact. Promiscuous linkers don’t really know you or even strongly connect to you with a single degree of separation, but they try to flatter and cajole you into adding them as direct connections, expanding their networks.
By failing to question whether warm and cold callers have strong connections to them, many kind-hearted members have inadvertently fostered this problem. Some shady operators even pretend they’ve met you or have some other connection. LinkedIn has built defenses against this sort of thing—for example, you can request that a mutual connection send a referral to you—but they still depend on honesty.
LinkedIn lets you easily report people you believe to be abusing it; the service will flag them and can limit their ability to send link invitations. Those squeamish about declining an invitation out-right can click on Decide later, so the other party won’t receive a notification of your rejection. And, of course, you can remove a connection if you think you made a mistake; the person won’t get a notification of that.
The free version of LinkedIn gives you an unlimited number of invitations from others to connect; you are also able to have five open invitations sent out at a time. You can receive InMails as a free member as well. InMails, as the name might suggest, are internal e-mails sent by premium members as a way to connect to any type of LinkedIn member directly.
There are also several LinkedIn premium packages: Business, for $19.95 monthly or $199.50 yearly; Business Plus, at $50 or $500; and Pro, which costs $200 or $2,000. The key differences among the levels are how much ability you get to perform searches beyond your own connections and network, and the InMail feature, which lets you directly contact other users from within the service. You can also purchase some features à la carte—if, for example, you want to contact someone not in your network, you can buy an individual InMail for $10.
Business class members can send 3 InMails per month, Plus users get up to 10, and Pro users up to 50. Similarly, premium accounts give you a wider net for search results as well. For instance, Business users are provided 100 results beyond those in their own network when they perform a search for something (names are not included, just a profile summary, you’d then use an InMail to make direct contact). Plus users get 150 additional results and Pro users 200.
Other important premium features include one-business-day customer support, unlimited reference searches, and OpenLink Network membership. These features would be of most benefit to hiring managers, recruiters, or companies doing a lot of hiring.
Does LinkedIn have competition? Yes and no. Ryze shares the ability to network with others, but has a much smaller user base (around 300,000) and fewer other options. Career Builder, HotJobs, and Monster compete in job-search capabilities, but lack the networking features. The major search engines compete on general searches for people, but the results lack the detail you get from LinkedIn. No other site or service provides everything under one umbrella.
More of a well-heeled social club than a friendly free-for-all, LinkedIn is the most exclusive site we reviewed. This professional-oriented site is also the least likely to bother members with trivia. Like Ryze, LinkedIn targets business users, but at a higher level—meaning upper-echelon managers and executives.
A quick search of LinkedIn’s 40,000 members revealed over 700 VPs, over 140 CTOs, and over 500 CEOs; such stats might cause executive recruiters—or job seekers—to prick up their ears. If LinkedIn can maintain its cachet of exclusivity, it’ll be an impressive way to make important contacts for those in senior positions.
A more common option for beginners is to search for current and former colleagues and contacts already linked up to LinkedIn. A handy feature lets you compare your Outlook address book against a list of current members, expediting the process of inviting people from the outside and building your business network from the ground up.
LinkedIn has a no-nonsense, all-business user interface. There are no forums, specific listings for job opportunities, or extra content here (as with Ryze and Tribe.net) beyond statistics about your network, including percentages of users who fall into categories (like job seekers and hiring managers) and distribution by industry and geography.
LinkedIn gives you excellent control of searches by name, title, geography, and industry type. You’ll see only people in your network (those you’re linked to by a chain of friends), however, so it’s important that you cultivate connections. Once you locate a source, you can approach contacts about a job or other opportunity via a request page. In this beta version, users can have three outstanding requests at a time.
The governing principle is that persons of influence will be selective about passing along references, which are handed off to other contacts for approval. For three degrees of separation, you need two people to approve your request to approach a potential employer with a rèsumè, for example. When you sign in to your account, you’re informed of outstanding reference requests, which you can accept or reject. Should a request be rejected, the person who asked for it is never informed who rejected it. This decreases the chances that inappropriate requests will be simply rubber-stamped.
While there are no profile photos for LinkedIn members, testimonials in the form of endorsements from other members can add weight to user profiles. According to LinkedIn, such endorsements significantly increase the odds of making successful contacts. Favorite contacts can be stored in an address book, though unlike the other services, LinkedIn doesn’t have an extensive messaging system.
LinkedIn could change the way executive recruiting is conducted. As a general-purpose job site, it can undoubtedly work. And if you’re fortunate enough to gain entrèe to its elite client list, it’s a great resource for tapping venture capital, senior management, and technical expertise.