[Update 3/29/13: This post was part of the basis for Lebson, Cory. "Care About Your UX Career? Network Now!" User Experience Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (First Quarter 2013).]
It was 2003 and a good friend from high school who had moved to Japan sent me a LinkedIn invitation. It said that he wanted me to connect on LinkedIn as a way to stay in touch. Phone calls were particularly expensive back then, not to mention the time difference, and while we corresponded via email from time to time, it was happening less and less. So although I was dubious about getting involved in this new platform, I decided to give it a try, and I created a LinkedIn account. I was member #46,886 (now there are over one-hundred million members!)
Evolution of My LinkedIn Strategy
At that point, I had no social media strategy. But, since I was on, I developed the strategy to send to everyone in Outlook and see what would happen. While a few people were on LinkedIn, most of the people did not have LinkedIn accounts at that point, but some did create an account. And my LinkedIn connections started to grow. I still wasn’t quite sure of the business value, but I let it grow anyway.
A few people told me that they would have none of this silliness, and eventually I decided that I wasn’t going to solicit new members for LinkedIn. Instead, I’d only send invites if people already had a LinkedIn account. But send I did. Whenever I went to a conference, or exchanged business cards, the first thing that I did when I got back to my computer was see if the people that I met were on LinkedIn. If they were, I’d send them a note and connect. Most of them did reciprocate and accept the connection.
Eventually, LinkedIn started asking me if I knew people. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t, but if they looked interesting – particularly user experience people who professionally did jobs that were similar to mine, I sometimes sent a note and had LinkedIn email invitations anyway.
At this point, I have nearly 2,000 connections and have really started to really see the business value of LinkedIn. I can look up just about anyone of professional interest, particularly in the UX field, and I will often see that they are a second degree connection – often multiple times over. I sat next to a woman on plane (with wi-fi) who said that she did market research. While we were both online on our computers, I challenged her that given her profession, I was pretty sure that we’d be second degree connections. Sure enough, we were. I ended up trying to help her get a job at a company where another one of my connections worked.
Tips for User Experience Professionals
Most of the user experience professionals that I’ve met use LinkedIn and create profiles that are reasonably robust. If you build your LinkedIn network, not only will you learn more about primary connections, but you will also quickly see the UX professionals at any given company.
So, my recommendations on LinkedIn for UX Professionals:
- Usability of your LinkedIn profile counts – Everything that you might design or recommend for a website is true for your LinkedIn profile as well. Make it easy to skim, and make sure that key information pops out.
- Structure your profile so that the UX experience stands out. If you’ve done other types work, and you add these work items, make sure that you deemphasize them. Someone who wants to hire you may appreciate your diverse background but will still like to see your core user experience focus.
- Think like a search engine optimization expert and remember findability is critical! Use keywords in your profile that people are going to be using to look you up. Doing this in the “Skills & Expertise” section is very important but carefully sprinkling the right words throughout your profile is also important. Here’s my personal list of skills (pulled from the LinkedIn master list) if it helps give you some ideas:
Usability, Usability Testing, Usability Engineering, Usability Design, User Experience, Information Architecture, SEO, Mobile, Requirements Gathering, Accessibility, Section 508, Market Research, Marketing Research, Survey Design, Survey Research, Survey Development, Focus Groups, Web Analytics, Card Sorting, Quantitative Analysis, Qualitative Research, Qualitative Market Research, Wire Framing, SPSS, Excel, Access, MBA, Psychology, Sociology, Plain Language, Training & Development, Teaching, Data Analysis, Heuristic Evaluation, User-centered Design, User Scenarios, Contextual Inquiry, Quantitative Research, User Interface Design, Heuristic Analysis, Human-computer Interaction, Site Maps, Task Analysis, Iterative Design, Ethnography, Questionnaires
- Create a profile that accurately and descriptively reflects who you are professionally but focuses on your UX skills and experiences. This doesn’t have to be a resume, and this doesn’t have to be all inclusive.
- Get recommendations whenever possible, and don’t be embarrassed to explain to your recommenders how you think their recommendation can best align with your profile. While a generic “great to work with” recommendation is fine to sprinkle in, for the most part, these recommendations should highlight your UX skills and experiences. Be ready to give a recommendation back for anyone who you requested a recommendation from.
- Give unsolicited recommendations when you really think someone has done a great job. It really feels good to get these.
- Connect to anyone you meet in a UX context. My experience has been that UX people are very apt to connect to other UX people. But of course, don’t just consider UX. Even consider personal connections too – you never know how others are connected.
- Consider that many weak ties are often more valuable than a few strong ties. Your network is just that much stronger for it. If you are looking for a UX job, and the hiring manager is also a UX person too, having a large network of other UX professionals will often mean that you are connected to the hiring manager several times over as a second-degree connection.
- Look other UX professionals up – via the web or on the fly with the mobile app and learn about them this way. Don’t be afraid to let them know – you’re not spying, this is information they are putting out there to let you know who they are. Referencing something you saw on LinkedIn can also potentially be a good conversation starter.
- Build up your network and perfect your LinkedIn profile when you are not looking for a job. I have a relative who didn’t care about this and said that he only realized too late that he should have been working on building up LinkedIn in the years that he was happily employed.
- Don’t be ashamed to check off that you can be contacted about new employment opportunities. In this day and age, a job is not a marriage and no one expects you to be faithful to a job beyond the point that it is mutually beneficial for both parties.
- Be helpful – even if not for yourself, don’t hesitate to leverage your connections to help others that may need it. Make sure that your network is visible to your connections. If someone sends you a request to forward to one of your connections, by all means forward it. Perhaps it’s a “pay it forward” strategy, but at a minimum, it just feels good to help colleagues in this way.
- If you are a consultant and have a number of contracts with different clients, consider posting the larger ones as separate employment entries. I’ll often do this in the form of “Client (via My Company).”
I’ve done job talks three times for two non-profits that help job seekers to find jobs. The talks have been titled “The Brand is You.” Remember that you are your own brand, and as this is a user experience-oriented post, I should also stress again that just like any company needs to make sure that their website is user friendly, you also need to be sure that your LinkedIn profile is user friendly too and can achieve the goals that you want it to achieve.
And please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn too!