What follows is the first of two blogs written as an interview in collaboration with a woman re-entering the workforce after a long gap she took to raise her family. The client is now ready and excited to re-establish herself professionally but needs to position herself to show her expertise appropriately on LinkedIn.
Coach: Tell me about yourself. What’s your background and your current goals?
Client: The last time I seriously looked for a job, LinkedIn and Facebook hadn’t been invented. This is hardly surprising, as Mark Zuckerberg was only a year old then – yes, he’s smart, but he wasn’t that precocious.
Despite the lack of LinkedIn, I was able to find a good job during that last search, and I stayed with it for over a decade. I might still be there, had I not decided to take time off to raise my children. But I did take a very long hiatus, and now I need to get back to work. Searching for a job in this new environment is a thrilling but daunting experience. The process of job hunting has changed so much, and LinkedIn is a huge part of it.
Coach: I can see you’ve done a few things with LinkedIn. Tell me your experience with using it so far.
Client: The first time I looked at LinkedIn, I knew that figuring out how to use it best was going to be a job in itself. I’ve already taken the baby steps – I’ve got a profile and a picture, and I’m (slowly) working on growing my network. I’ve still got a lot of work to do, though. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be working on my profile – I’ll be reading the tips and blogs, and getting some expert advice from you. You’ve encouraged me to share my journey with other people re-entering the workplace after a gap. Being public is uncomfortable for me but I know there are many people out there who could learn from my experience.
Coach: I really admire your courage in sharing your journey with us. What’s going to be the most challenging aspect of this do you think?
Client: The hardest thing about this, for me, is that it feels so public. I tried social media briefly, a few years ago, but gave it up quickly. I didn’t have much time or incentive to use it, and I didn’t like the way my privacy settings kept changing without my permission. I didn’t see much point in sharing mundane details of my life, particularly when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to restrict the sharing to just my close friends. I am back on Facebook again. I do like to hear what my friends, and their kids, and their pets, and their second cousins are doing, but I don’t check in every day.
Coach: LinkedIn is different though, isn’t it?
Client: It’s more focused and purposeful. I see a very good point to sharing details about my experience and skills with employers, and I certainly like being able to find out who’s hiring, and whether or not I have any contacts at the companies that I’m interested in. I expect the LinkedIn groups will also help me reconnect to my areas of interest, and joining the online discussions will help me forge new connections.
Coach: You’ve got the right idea. It seems like something is still holding you back.
Client: It’s still very difficult to put myself forward in this environment that feels so public. I‘m trying to keep some perspective, of course. It feels very public, but, for most of us, it really isn’t. Yes, a lot of people could see what I post, but how many actually will? Even if people check my profile when we first connect, they’re unlikely to read it carefully, unless they have a pressing interest in working with me right away. And for now, the people I’m connected with are family and friends. They actually know me, and they’ll filter whatever I post with that knowledge. It’s a good time to be experimenting. If I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m sure I will, I might as well do it while my network is small and forgiving.
Coach: You have such an impressive background and I know you’ve stayed in touch with your industry. I’m excited to work with you to showcase your expertise so that everyone can see all that you have to offer. Are you ready to begin?
Client: I am nervous; I want to look good on LinkedIn, and I’m worried about making mistakes in front of potential employers. But I’m very excited to be working in a new environment. I like the fact that LinkedIn is so dynamic. A profile is a living document. I can experiment frequently, keep what seems to work, and change what doesn’t as soon as possible. With any luck, the successes will be much more memorable than the mistakes.
Coach: One time when I was doing a talk I accidentally said when talking about working on their LinkedIn profile that they should “Put a stake in the sand.” It was a slip. Of course I meant to say “Put a stake in the ground.” But sand is actually much more accurate. Who you are and how you want to appear on LinkedIn is going to change and you just need to get started and then be willing to change. Most of us want everything to look good – or perfect – before we show anything publicly. I had one woman contact me but then keep postponing her complimentary discovery session. She was so anxious about everything being perfect that she had opened a LinkedIn account but had absolutely nothing on it. She was putting everything in a Google doc and planned on adding it to LinkedIn when it was perfect. She then postponed her appointment again as she was working on her resume and wanted that to be perfect first. It’s now nearly 6 months later and her profile is still blank. When (if) she finally does complete it, who will care since she has zero connections to notice? I know that’s a little harsh but I like to make the point that you have to put your imperfect self out there.
Many of us grew up doing things like ballet or piano and tried to be perfect before we showed anyone else. If we made a mistake, we were mortified and didn’t have a chance to try again for months. Now we need to be more like our soccer-playing daughters – fall flat on our faces, pick ourselves up covered in mud and keep on going. Mistakes are forgotten and forgiven as we quickly move on to the next play. If we become comfortable looking not quite perfect on LinkedIn, we’ll find that we’re on a great team with people surrounding us, supporting us, and helping us to be successful. This new risk-taking attitude will also serve you well in the modern workplace.