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Career Advice, Part 3 – LinkedIn and breaking the Algorithm

In Capacity Building, Career Development, International Development on April 26, 2013 at 3:25 pm

If you’re involved in a job search in any way, you are dealing with a cold, heartless, unrepentantly automatic tool.  I’m talking about an algorithm.  The algorithm helps recruiters sort through candidates – both with the thousands of CV’s that applicants upload to various organizations sites, and with recruiters looking for viable candidates.  You want to be ready to make sure you work with the algorithms to make sure they’re working for you.  You may be the best candidate in the world but you’re not getting any recruiter attention.

So you’ve looked around and you have an idea of the kind of job you want to have.  Look at the job postings; after a while you’ll hopefully get an idea of the skills and past experience required to get you from points A to B.  It would follow that if you have any of those skills or experience, that you should try to match what you write in your CV and cover letter to what your target organizations have posted.

LinkedIn has become the go-to resource for recruiters, it’s where they go to look for passive candidates.  As I mentioned in previous blog posts, international development recruiters live on LinkedIn.  They check in every day, and most of them have a special recruiter account that gives them access to pretty much everyone – they can cold-email anyone and see anyone’s complete profile.The main thing about LinkedIn is that you want to make sure you’re hitting all the various keywords a recruiter would use – make the algorithm work for you.  You need to make sure how you present your positions and expertise is generally aligned with how recruiters post and describe the jobs they’re recruiting for.  Make yourself easy to find.

The other thing about LinkedIn is to make sure you’re using the name of the organization as LinkedIn prompts you to enter it.  So, when you enter an org name, as you start to type it, the system will give you some options, they’ll start to show up in a drop-down menu, and you pick the correct option.  That way you’re automatically associated with organization alumni or current staff.  This is useful as it strengthens your profile, linking you to more people through common organizational associations.

Once you feel confident that your LinkedIn profile is looking good and is ready for prime time – I recommend going on a connection spree.  Try to find someone you know reasonably well who’s connected to a ton of people you probably know, and start inviting people to connect.  Start with people you really do know that are likely to connect with you.  When you connect with people, go through their connections to see who you might want to connect with.  Also, the “People you may know” function is well developed and is disconcertingly accurate, I’ve found.

Then, as you’ve built up your LinkedIn connections to reflect your true connections, your people start helping you connect to new people and new opportunities, much like in the old days, but more automated (a sad but true fact of modern online life).  So, for instance, you find a new job with CARE that you like – you then go through your personal connections and LinkedIn connections who work for CARE, and they help you connect directly to a CARE recruiter who you want to see your CV.

Once you’ve built up your first-degree network, I also highly recommend connecting with as many recruiters in your target organizations as possible.  When you’re searching for people, do the “Advanced Search” and look for people by position, use the word “Recruiter”, and, assuming that you’re connected to lots of people in a similar industry, many recruiters in your industry will be within 2 degrees of you.  These recruiters will, at a minimum, take the time to look at your name and profile, which will then be a useful little neural pathway in their brain, waiting for the right time to connect you to a new opportunity, should one arise.  If they do actually connect (and they probably will if you’ve got a serious profile and at least a couple hundred connections) then, as you connect to new people and update your profile, they see your name often in the various regular updates that LinkedIn shows them, in their news feeds.

Modern online life can be a blessing and a curse.  LinkedIn is the current professional social network of choice, for most industries (at least in my international development world and my Bay Area dot-com friends).  You might as well jump in and swim with the school on this one.  There are lots of tools to make your profile awesome and have it reflect whatever you want – but you also want to be found.  Make the algorithms work for you.

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