Julie Malmstrom is no stranger to the power of LinkedIn.
As head of talent acquisition for Raley’s, Malmstrom uses the professional networking platform as the primary recruiting tool to fill 20–30 percent of the company’s vacancies.
But in recent years, how Malmstrom — and Raley’s — uses LinkedIn has shifted. It’s no longer just a resource to research and reach potential job candidates. The platform, which now boasts more than 590 million users worldwide, has become an increasingly influential component of the company’s recruiting and marketing efforts.
Malmstrom turns to LinkedIn for everything from reading industry news to publicizing Raley’s philanthropic efforts. New hires and employees in high-profile roles work with a social media manager to optimize profiles and ensure the language they’re using to describe the company and their role reflects its institutional voice and mission.
“It’s about building relationships with different professionals — even if they’re not looking to job hunt at this time — and really vocalizing our employer identity,” Malmstrom says. “It’s a free way to advertise what it’s like to work at our company.”
That outlook reflects a bigger shift happening in the Capital Region and beyond. LinkedIn is no longer just for job seekers. At a time when social media and search engine optimization can make or break a business or career, professionals and companies looking for a branding boost are focused on polishing their presence on the platform. While some, like Raley’s, keep efforts in-house, the demand is also fueling a new cottage industry of profile-makeover services aimed at helping clients stand out in a sea of digital resumes.
“You need to do everything in your power to vault yourself over the competition. Anything you can do to cut through the noise and be more of a signal is better,” says Sacramento-based career coach Kolby Goodman, who offers individual and group LinkedIn sessions through his company, The Job Huntr. “That professional LinkedIn profile counts toward that.”
THE RISE OF LINKEDIN
Seeking the counsel of a professional while on a job hunt (or, if you’re a hiring manager, candidate hunt) isn’t a new concept. Resume writers, interview coaches and headhunters have successfully helped people navigate those waters for decades. But in today’s digital world, it’s rare that a resume and cover letter are the only (or first) exposure a company has to a potential applicant or recruit. Since it launched in 2003, LinkedIn has become a major player in professional development. With so many users worldwide, it’s impossible to ignore. One 2015 survey found that 87 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find applicants.
“In 2019, a paper resume and a business card, they’re not extinct, but they’re heading that direction,” Kurt Shaver, a LinkedIn consultant with the Bay Area-based firm Vengreso, says. “At the same time, LinkedIn really has continued to grow and grow and grow and grow. It’s just become a critical part of doing business.”
Enter the LinkedIn Makeover. Much like those resume coaches of the past, these professionals add finesse and flair to ensure a profile stands out. But unlike it’s ink-on-paper predecessors, a LinkedIn profile is a living and breathing online document. Making the most of its features, including optimizing keywords and other aspects for search, can take some mastering. The 2,000-character summary field, for example, can (and should, experts say) be much more than the “objective” section atop many resume templates. Experts recommend approaching it more like a wordsmithed mission statement for your personal brand and business offering. Digital-first elements like headers, headshots and recommendations from fellow members can make or break a profile.
“It’s a lot of hard work to do a professional LinkedIn profile correctly,’” says Shaver.
Caryn Moloney experienced that firsthand. For much of her career, the Elk Grove-based account executive didn’t pay much attention to LinkedIn. She had a profile, but the spartan page featured little more than her name and a few job titles.
For years, she didn’t even use a photo.
That changed after Moloney’s employer, global insurance brokerage Woodruff Sawyer, hired Vengresso to upgrade profiles across the company. Type Moloney’s name into the LinkedIn search box, and you’ll find an eye-catching cover photo of the Woodruff Sawyer logo superimposed next to the Golden Gate bridge, a polished professional headshot and a succinct yet informative bio in the header: “Providing Expertise to Make Informed Decisions for Employee Benefit Plans,” her tagline reads.
“I’m so proud of it because it looks so professional,” Moloney says.
A snazzy look isn’t all these services offer. Users need to remember that the audience isn’t just potential employers or members of their professional network. Whether you work as a teacher or in constituent services, people searching your name online will likely come across your profile. And for those in banking or sales, clients or other prospects might turn to LinkedIn before seeking your services. In fact, experts caution that one of the biggest mistakes they see is users not considering the audience — or goals — when crafting a profile.
“Everyone is on LinkedIn for different reasons,” says Donna Serdula, one of the pioneers of the LinkedIn makeover industry. “Not everyone is on LinkedIn for job search. A lot are for sales and prospecting. Some are there for thought leadership, others for reputation management.” Different reasons require different approaches in customizing a profile, she says.
Demand for such services has increased. Serdula launched her business, LinkedIn Makeover, in 2009 after writing the book “LinkedIn Profile Optimization for Dummies.” Today, she has a staff of 30 profile editors to meet demand. The company has overhauled more than 5,000 profiles to date, including for clients in the Capital Region. Goodman, the Sacramento-based coach, has also seen a big uptick. In addition to offering LinkedIn consulting as part of his individual coaching packages, Goodman hosts workshops for companies and colleges.
While the price tag for profile makeovers, which can range from $400 to thousands of dollars, may seem high, clients say the investment can make a difference.
Scott Loy, who worked with Goodman over several years, credits the service with boosting his connections and helping him land jobs at tech startups in Silicon Valley.
“Not only did I gain a significant amount of connections, but I think just building the network in a specific industry and posting updates on the profile made a difference,” Loy says. “Someone should have an ability to get to know you before connecting, so having that strong bio is a must.”
A BOOMING BUSINESS FOR BUSINESSES TOO
It’s not just individual job seekers looking to ramp up their presence and popularity on LinkedIn. In fact, a lot of the rise in makeovers comes from companies looking to grow their presence and branding on the site. “We’re getting more and more companies that come in and say, ‘We need help,’” Serdula says.
Given the popularity of the platform and its high rank in search engines, employee profiles have, in a way, become an extension of the company’s website and online presence. According to one survey released recently by LinkedIn, nearly two-thirds of users will search for a person on the platform before agreeing to take a meeting. Another estimate suggests that, by 2020, 30 percent of all business-to-business purchasing decisions will be influenced by LinkedIn.
“If you agree and you buy into the approach that a LinkedIn profile should be more like a website, then you start to think about it like how a marketer thinks about a webpage,” Shaver explains. “It needs to be keyword optimized, and it needs to speak to your ‘buyer’ — whoever that is.”
Woodruff Sawyer, which has employees in Grass Valley and Sacramento, has also seen the benefits. Executives saw upgrading the profiles of public-facing employees as one component of larger rebranding initiatives. Last fall, the company hired Vengreso to help shape roughly 100 profiles, including one for its CEO.
The experiment was so successful that they’re planning on doing another round soon. Jeff Fenigstein, vice president of marketing and sales operations for Woodruff Sawyer, says LinkedIn was an essential part of their new marketing rollout because “that’s where many of our clients are.”
“That new brand, it’s not complete until we address how our people are showing up online, particularly our sales team,” he says. “It’s important that people know who they are.”
That doesn’t mean all profiles should read exactly the same. In fact, copy-paste jobs are discouraged, even for large companies looking to streamline branding, according to experts. They say leaving room for a little bit of individuality can go a long way.
“It’s sort of a balance or a compromise because LinkedIn is your professional persona, so you are representing your company,” Shaver says. “[But] you want to show a little bit of your personality. Don’t be a corporate stiff.”
It’s not just how people use LinkedIn that’s changed. The service continues to roll out new features and offerings, including an increased emphasis on link and blog sharing. Those updates are expected to make the service even more crucial in the years to come. For Malmstrom, that time is already here.
“I use LinkedIn more than any other social media — more than Facebook or even Instagram — because I use it for networking, to see what’s going on in the world and for ideas for what other companies are doing,” Malmstrom says. “I’m on my phone on LinkedIn when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning. I’m that obsessed.”
When we’re talking about social media, LinkedIn typically takes a backseat to more leisure-friendly platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. But for professionals, particularly young professionals, that could be a mistake. We asked Catherine Fisher, LinkedIn’s director of corporate communications, for some tips to get the most out of the career-oriented networking site.
Why should an ambitious person ever be more selective in their association? Because being indiscriminate with your connections can have consequences, too.