I've been to a lot of job talks over the years, and if the speaker is outside of academia, at some point they always throw in the advice to "Use LinkedIn. You know, make sure your profile is up to date and such." Dutifully, I signed up and started a profile. And.... nothing happened. With it's professional style and audience, LinkedIn is intimidating to interface with; sure, I could spend a lot of time harassing strangers, but what are normal professionals doing on this site?
I've done a few things to figure this out, I read some articles (5 Tips for Leveraging Your Network, 5 Tips for Finding a Job via Social Networks, 5 Tips for Professional Online Networking and that genre), I looked at more polished profiles and I joined some groups. I'm not sure I've got this right yet, you can look at my profile and see what you think. LinkedIn isn't just about the profile, but we'll start there.
Your profile page is organized to look like a resume, but the people I think are using LinkedIn well have more than just an e-CV up there. So my profile shows the things I've done, even things I'm fairly confident I wouldn't be hired to use in the future ("identify more than 100 bird species at distances of up to a mile"). But, I have tried to highlight the things that I've done and enjoyed that I might like to do more of in the future, as well as highlighting successes (developed novel techniques for... supervised... designed... I'm a thesaurus of good resume and cover letter words right now). I've described my research experience as separate from my education; I'm educated as a virologist, as a professional I'm a collaborator and teacher. I've put up keywords. I've gotten recommendations- and this is WAY fun. On LinkedIn, anyone can recommend anyone- so your old boss, your current coworkers, your unofficial mentor, it goes both ways. There certainly is some cache to having recommendations, and it makes you feel great. (If I know you and you are working on your profile, I'd be happy to write one.) My profile has been through several iterations, and I'm still not convinced it works. I recently upgraded my account so I can see who looks at my profile (awesome) and how people find my profile- they mostly find me by looking up my former boss. I'd love to hear some tips.
BUT, as I mentioned, I think LinkedIn can/should be used for more than a CV hosting site. I signed up for a couple groups to highlight my interests (BioCareers and AWIS), but I think that is where the magic happens. If you can find a group that shares your interests and is reasonably active, this is an easy way to make connections with like-minded folks. And let's be straight, everyone in these groups is hoping to make connections. In all of these 5 Tips articles, the authors allude to the idea that recruiters are always lurking to see who is active, professional and interesting. I've got no evidence of that yet, but it's nice to hear form people with a slightly different perspective.
Finally, my favorite feature of LinkedIn is the Jobs Board. Most often, jobs are posted by a specific person, so it's easier to start the cover letter. I actually use LinkedIn, so I know my CV is up to date and there are really high caliber posting on the jobs board. Making it easy to apply for good jobs is huge, and if that's all the more I get out of LinkedIn, that's cool. But I still get the sense I am missing something. There are features that I've never been brave or insightful enough to use- like getting introductions. When would I decide to do that?
The HR/Recruiter types I am following on twitter are desperate to find ways to mine LinkedIn for better candidates, which sounds like a good reason to at least try it. My other endorsement for LinkedIn- when you Google my name, it's among my first hits. I'm glad to have my professional profile being along the first things you see about me, instead of the Petition to Clone Elvis I signed in high school.