By Libby Kane
What do you do with your LinkedIn profile?
Do you check it only every once in a while when a connection request comes through? Have you linked it to your Twitter account? Did you never quite remember to sign up in the first place?
As much as it’s convenient to merge our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram accounts into one large social networking experience, LinkedIn has a special designation: professional networking.
And there is a difference between professional and personal networking, according to LinkedIn Career Expert Nicole Williams: “I see the same mistakes over and over!”
And, on LinkedIn, those faux pas can damage your career.
In fact, data shows that LinkedIn is especially helpful when it comes to landing higher-paying jobs—”informal recruitment” is a favorite of hiring managers aiming to fill positions up there on the payscale.
So whether you’re hunting for a new job, making the most of the one you have or just looking to learn about professional possibilities, avoid these eight big LinkedIn mistakes.
Not Using a Picture
“One of the biggest mistakes I see is no photo,” Williams says. “You’re seven times more likely to have your profile viewed if you have one. Like a house that’s on sale, the assumption is that if there’s no photo, something’s wrong.”
She also makes a great point: If you leave a networking event with a handful of business cards, intending to follow up on LinkedIn, it’s much harder for you to remember who’s who without pictures. A missing photo can easily lead to missed connections.
If you’re worried about unwittingly sabotaging your career through social media, check out the ten worst blunders you can commit.
Putting Up the Wrong Picture
“No dog, no husband, no baby!” Williams says, adding that your photo is meant to show you at your professional—not personal—best. “Especially for mothers getting back into the workforce, a picture of their child doesn’t convey that they’re ready for a full-time job.”
Another photo blunder: Misrepresenting your appearance. “I see older people who are worried about age discrimination use a photo of themselves in their 30s, but an interviewer wasn’t expecting them to look so different. And instead of listening to your answers, the interviewer will think you’re deceptive,” Williams confides. “Unless you’re getting hired for a modeling gig, people are just looking for energy, which you can communicate through great posture, open eyes and a smile.”
In fact, HSN Beauty found that, when paging through LinkedIn profiles, 19% of recruiters look only at your profile picture.
Skipping the Status
Between Twitter and Facebook , people have a pretty good idea of what you’re up to socially. But your LinkedIn status is the right place to update your network about your professional accomplishments and progress. “You could be updating about a colleague getting a promotion or sharing a great article you wrote,” Williams suggests. “Every few days, put something in your status to keep it fresh, and show you’re active and engaged—no one will know what you’ve done if you’re not showing it off.”
Plus, those people you’re updating in your LinkedIn network are valuable. “If you’ve got a great following, it’s part of the assets you bring to the table,” she adds.
Using the Default Connection Request
“Don’t use the standard connection request! People think that LinkedIn is like Twitter, where it’s about quantity over quality, but you’re supposed to be building valuable professional relationships to leverage into career opportunities,” Williams explains.
Even if you’re reaching out to someone you’ve never met, the right move is to do a little research on that person, and tailor your connection request. “Customize your message to make the recipient take notice, like writing, ‘I read this article you wrote [and had these thoughts]. I’m also building a career in [this field], and I would love to be connected to you,’ ” Williams says.
“ People who are using LinkedIn correctly want to be connected to people who make them look good,” Williams adds. “Employers appreciate your connections. They might even hire you because you know people in the industry, and can make things happen.”
Neglecting the Privacy Settings
Many people don’t realize that LinkedIn does have privacy settings—for a reason. “When you’re out looking for a new job, and are actively engaged in your current job, you want to be discreet,” Williams explains. “A telltale sign to an employer that you’re leaving is that you overhaul your profile, connect with recruiters and have an influx of new people. You can tailor your settings so that your boss doesn’t see that you’re looking for opportunities.”
The privacy settings are easy to find: Just sign in, and then select “settings” from the drop-down menu, where your name appears in the upper right-hand corner.
Skipping the Summary
Once upon a time, people were encouraged to write about their careers in an “objective” summary on a resume. That has gone out of fashion … but not on LinkedIn. “Since you’re writing online, you actually have more space than you would on a traditional paper resume. Think of the summary as a way of selling yourself—it’s an opportunity to express your voice and personality,” Williams explains.
Since so many people are competing for the same jobs with similar educations and qualifications, filling out the summary can give you an edge with a prospective employer. Williams recommends that you write it in the first person to give it energy and personality.
Eliminating Past Jobs or Volunteer Work
Even if you’ve changed fields, your latest job isn’t the only important one. “Unlike a resume, where you’re trying to target one page toward a specific position, you should list your entire work history on LinkedIn,” Williams says. “You don’t know what criteria people are looking for, so you want your profile to be as robust as possible. Maybe they’re looking for a teacher with nursing experience or they’re Princetonians looking for fellow alums.”
She even recommends listing odd jobs from your teen years, specifically addressing your responsibilities and accomplishments. “You never know—maybe you were trained as a salesperson at The Gap GPS -0.54% in high school, and the hiring manager looking at your profile went through the same program and wants you for the skills she knows you learned,” Williams explains.
The same goes for volunteer work: While LinkedIn isn’t a place to describe your every hope and dream, employers know that, in this economy, volunteers can be given real responsibilities. Williams recommends listing any volunteer work the way you would a summer job, elaborating on tasks conquered and skills acquired.
Many people think that just having a profile is enough, but employers probably won’t simply stumble across your profile, be struck by your brilliance and offer you a job on the spot. You have to work for it.
“I always recommend joining groups related to your field or even personal interests. It comes in handy! For instance, I’m a new mom and joined a group for them. When I needed an accountant, it turned out there was one in my group who I ended up hiring because of the connection we made over being new moms,” Williams says.
LinkedIn users can also follow companies and keep an eye on who’s coming and going—when you see someone leave a company you want to join, it’s the perfect opportunity to reach out to their HR department.