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7 Tips For Boosting Your Career Through Online Social Networks

Online social networks are an excellent way for mid-career professionals to boost their careers, experts say--but workers should heed several tips before getting started.

Stephen Weinstein knows about the power of online social networks. He landed his current job, manager of marketing communications at Cooper Power Systems in Waukesha, Wis., through LinkedIn.com, an online social network for professionals. A recruiter at Cooper contacted him earlier this year, asking if he knew anyone interested in the position; after reading the job description, he pursued the post and was hired.

Of LinkedIn he says, “I swear by the site, and encourage my friends and colleagues to ‘get connected’ on the site. … I've expanded both my personal and professional networks as a result of LinkedIn.com, and have been extremely successful in connecting others who may not have had previous knowledge of each other, using the site.”

If you’re a mid-career professional wanting to ramp up your career by similarly leveraging the power of online social networks like LinkedIn, experts offer a wealth of tips for getting started.

1. Join online social networks!

“I think a lot of people don’t understand what LinkedIn is or the power it has for them. It costs nothing to join at the basic level,” says Marty Fahncke, president of FawnKey & Associates, a consulting and project-management company in Louisburg, Kan.

2. Establish goals and a strategy for online social networks.

Diane Crompton, senior career management consultant at Right Management Consultants in Atlanta, says it’s important to determine what your objective is and what you hope to achieve with joining online social networks—and in what timeframe.

3. Think through your personal and professional identities.

Determine how you’ll brand yourself on online social networks, and keep your personal and professional identities consistent with it, says Mrinal Desai, the California-based co-founder and vice president of sales and business development for CrossLoop, a new startup focusing on technology support and training. “A lot of younger people tend to not think it through. They write a lot of stuff on a blog or Facebook, [but] they don’t understand that everything online is visible,” notes Desai, a former business development manager at LinkedIn.

4. Develop and update your online profile.

Don’t expect to spend a few minutes setting up your profile on online social networks, experts say; take enough time to perfect it. For example, use the summary section of LinkedIn to craft a compelling introductory letter about yourself that gives people a reason to read the rest of your profile, says Christopher Penn, chief technology officer at the Student Loan Network in the Boston area. Fill out as much information as possible, including your work experience, education, and additional information, such as groups and associations you belong to and links to your blog and/or Web site(s).

5. Make connections on online social networks.

Once you develop your online profile, reach out to others on social networks. To make connections, Desai suggests starting by adding contacts in your e-mail address book. LinkedIn allows users to check their Web-mail and Outlook contacts to see who is already using the site. If a contact is on LinkedIn, send him/her a request to get connected. If a contact isn’t on the site, send an invitation anyway, prompting the person to register and set up an online profile, etc.

6. Join groups inside online social networks; ask and answer questions.

“See if there’s a group you want to join, or if not, start one—it’s a great way to network. Join alumni groups. They’re a great way to stay in touch,” says Weinstein of Cooper Power Systems. Fahncke urges LinkedIn networkers to participate in the question-and-answer section to get information from and gain exposure to the more than 23 million professionals using the site. “The more you show your expertise, the better you look to prospective employers,” he says.

7. Explore the Jobs tab on LinkedIn.

The site lets you search for jobs by variables like location, experience level, job title, company, job function, and industry. You can also sort job-search results by degrees away from you, which helps you determine potential contacts for a particular position. For example, if a job is posted by someone two degrees away from you, you could request to be introduced by one of your first-degree contacts who knows him/her directly.

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