“…everyone is now a marketer.” – Seth Godin
I have heard engineering students say that they are going into engineering because they don’t like to write. Meanwhile, I have heard professional engineers say that they went into engineering for the technical work and had no idea how much of their time would ultimately be dedicated to communications.
To be effective, to be successful in any meaningful, long-term way, you must be able to communicate well.
Today begins a two-part series about communicating on LinkedIn. In Part One, we’ll look at the best ways to build your LinkedIn profile. In Part Two, I’ll talk about LinkedIn etiquette and give you tips for making respectful, productive connections.
So, what is LinkedIn? It is a social media platform for professionals, yes, but I like to think of it as a sort of online, ongoing conference. Like a conference, it’s a place where you can meet potential employers, potential clients, and potential recruits. For these reasons, you should keep your profile, the content you share, and the content you interact with (giving a thumbs-up or liking) in check. LinkedIn isn’t Facebook but rather a forum for professional interaction.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume your primary focus is engaging with, if not attracting, a potential employer. What do you need to do to put your best foot forward? I have four major points to help you steer your career ship in the right direction.
- Know why you’re on LinkedIn; know your specific goals.
If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, certainly no one else will. The way you present yourself on LinkedIn should first and foremost align with your career goals.
Are you looking to stay in the city you reside in, or are you open to relocating?
Are you hoping to work for a small company or a large one?
Are you hoping to work for a government entity/municipality or a consulting agency? Do you want to work in the industrial setting, such as with a manufacturer? Or perhaps a construction firm?
If you’ve laid the groundwork for your desired path, you will have the content necessary to market yourself toward these goals.
Pragmatically, LinkedIn offers the option to let recruiters know many of these details.
Go to your own LinkedIn profile and navigate to the Career Interests section. This lets you show yourself to recruiters who use the site as being open to positions or new opportunities.
After clicking this to select on/off, you will see a “Notes to Recruiter” section. This is a small text box that allows you to give important information to recruiters viewing your profile. Whatever is most important to you about your job search – the talents and skills you want to use, location, compensation, etc. Write a succinct message to recruiters about your priorities or what you think they need to know about you.
From there, you should choose in the dropdown box what stage your job-search process is in:
Then, you must answer “What job titles are you considering?” In this space, as you start typing, LinkedIn will automatically generate guessed options, and you must select from among those options. You will be able to find things like “Environmental Engineer,” “Civil Engineer,” “Structural Engineer,” and “Geotechnical Engineer.” Select the options that are most appropriate for your search.
The remaining questions are pretty self-explanatory. However, in my experience, recruiters will still reach out with positions that are somewhat in alignment if they believe your background fits the need.
2. Use a professional headshot on your profile and make the photo public.
It is best practice to use a photo that aligns with how you want to be viewed in the professional setting. Most civil/environmental engineers work in a fairly conservative professional environment. Therefore, a headshot with plain background showing only yourself, wearing professional attire, is ideal. This means no group photos. Remember that you may be making a first impression with a potential employer; they will want to see that you can represent their company well, and that means representing them as a polished professional.
I also recommend smiling in the photo, or at least presenting an amiable expression. We are naturally attracted to those we believe are approachable. So put on professional clothes and think of something that truly makes you happy when that photo is being snapped.
- Maximize the “headline and summary” sections.
The headline and summary portions of LinkedIn are your place to shine. It’s your opportunity to show your uniqueness and to grab the attention of your target. These portions of your profile should clearly convey who you are and what you’re looking for.
For headlines, you can take the pragmatic route with something like a title only – “Civil Engineer” – or you can add more flavor in representing yourself. Be sure that you write this in line with the culture of your target. One of my connections on LinkedIn has the headline “SOMEONE WHO GETS THINGS DONE.” Personally, I think that’s a bold, impressive move. She is gainfully employed and this aligns with the brand she has made for yourself. It’s worthwhile to ask yourself, “What do I want my brand to be?”
Your summary should be an engaging, albeit short, story of your differentiators, what you bring to the table, and/or the types of problems you’re looking to solve. This would also be a good place to articulate the types of people/companies you are hoping to connect with. Do not make your summary a list of skills. There is literally a section for “skills” on your profile. Don’t do that here.
- Don’t be afraid to go into detail about your education and work experience, but make sure it serves your purpose.
LinkedIn can be different than a resume in that there is a lot of space for detail. With a paper resume, my advice is always to target, target, target. A paper resume will not get you a job, though it can be the key to an interview. A resume should therefore be tailored to what you are specifically going after and should not contain extraneous details that will detract the reviewer. The estimate of time you have to capture someone’s attention with a resume is 6-8 seconds; so you have to decide what you’re going to highlight strategically.
Conversely, with LinkedIn you can add more detail – as long as it serves your purpose. Whether we’re talking about a resume or LinkedIn, try to avoid these two traps:
- Task orientation versus achievement orientation – Description of the work you have done, including internships and school projects, should be outcome and achievement oriented. Here’s an example:
Task Oriented: Conducted sampling and completed complex laboratory tests.
Outcome Oriented: Contributed to wastewater treatment research under the direction of Dr. James Mihelcic. After completing sampling and running a test, I analyzed the results to determine the effectiveness of a proprietary membrane treatment process. Through this work, I was able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the treatment on specific waste streams, highlighting a new treatment option for industries with high-organic waste. This research was published in a peer-reviewed journal and aided in ensuring the research team garnered another $1M in grant funding.
- Vanity – Although recruiters need to know about you and what you bring to the table, you need to master the art of the humble brag. No one enjoys a braggart, even on-screen. The lens to look through is the lens of “How can I help my future employer?” When you think with a servant attitude about how you want to help others, how you want to contribute to a team and organization, this will help you frame the skills and achievements that you need to showcase.
Do not expect your LinkedIn profile to land you a job. It’s great if it does, but I would not put all my chips on that bet. There is literally nothing that comes as close to working effectively at landing a job as your network – human beings whom you actually know and interact with. So get out there and talk to people. People are looking for connections and, more often than not, are interested in helping out other people.
“This is your online reputation. Take control of it.” – Donna Serdula
Check out Part 2: The Art of Making LinkedIn Connections Count
Mel Butcher runs a career support group for women working in male-dominated fields called CollabSuite. She has shown her enthusiasm and dedication to supporting women in these fields through producing the Empowering Women Podcast. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter as @MelTheEngineer; you may reach her directly at [email protected].
Mel Butcher holds a B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering, and a B.A. in language. Ms. Butcher specializes in industrial water sustainability and conservation. At Arcadis, she has played a central role in Water Research Foundation (WRF) projects related to industrial water conservation; she has conducted global water risk studies for multinational clients, and water conservation assessments focusing on the business value of water conservation. In addition, she assists large industrial and retail clients with corporate sustainability initiatives, driving outcomes that are positive for both the environment and the company’s shareholders. In 2017, Ms. Butcher was recommended for and subsequently selected for an apprenticeship under Arcadis’ Executive Vice-President of Client Development. Ms. Butcher has been recognized as a Rising Star by the Tampa Bay Association of Environmental Professionals and a New Face of Civil Engineering–College Edition by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and was selected as a 2017 lab talent for working on the UN Sustainable Development Goals through the UNLEASH program. Recently, she completed the Water Leadership Institute program facilitated by the Water Environment Federation (WEF).