With LinkedIn continuing to surge ahead as a major hiring and recruiting engine in the modern job market, the question commonly comes up among my client base — and among the professional community at large, I’d reckon — as to whether (or not) a person should indicate in some way on their LinkedIn profile that they’re unemployed and looking for work.

If this isn’t your situation and you’re not looking for work, of course, this tip doesn’t apply to you.  And if you’re employed and looking for work confidentially, that’s a no-brainer and you probably don’t want to trumpet your availability directly on your LinkedIn profile in any way.  But for the rest of you professionals out there, who actually ARE between assignments and on the hunt, this can be a very confusing issue, especially if you’re fairly new to the LinkedIn system.  So let’s talk about your options and weigh the alternatives.

For starters, I’d emphasize that historically there have been two schools of thought on the matter.  There are those folks (I’ve been among them up until now) who feel that it’s unnecessary to directly call out your employment status on your profile, since if you don’t show a “current” job under your Experience section, it’s pretty much assumed you’re looking for a new opportunity.  Those in this camp would also argue that stressing your availability for work, in a brazen way, weakens your brand and adds a tinge of desperation to your efforts.

Then again, there are equally as many people who say this is a silly, short-sighted way to go about things — and who would suggest that an “ask and ye shall receive” philosophy is much more likely to yield positive results.  They’d argue that any stigma around unemployment went out the window in the 20th Century and that people today need to basically shout from the rafters — virtual or otherwise — that they’re available for hire, if that’s truly the case.

Want to hear the full range of arguments?  You’ll find some pretty interesting Q&A threads on this subject here, here, and here where over 50 people have debated this issue, in detail.

My current take on things?  The more I’ve thought about it, and watched the issue evolve, the more I’ve become convinced that job hunters (aside from confidential ones) DO need to indicate on their profile, in some fashion, that they’re seeking employment.  There are at least four ways one could do this, however, so let me walk you through the range of different possibilities.

#1.  List a “Current” job for yourself, even if you’re unemployed (recommended)

While you’re technically not supposed to “fudge” a current job if you don’t really have one, millions of people do it — and you pretty much have to these days, since so many recruiters and employers search exclusively on the “current” employment status of LinkedIn members when they go hunting for candidates.  So I’d suggest you add a current position to your Experience section, if you don’t already have one, indicating your target job title in the “Job Title” field and “Looking for Work” or “Seeking Work” in the “Employer” field.  As you’ll discover, when you go to enter your company name, both of these wording choices — plus dozens of similar ones — show up in the built-in LinkedIn menu, which tells you just how many people are going this route these days due to necessity!

Something similar that you SHOULDN’T do, in my opinion?  Insert a Current item in your Experience section indicating that you’re a consultant or freelancer, if this truly isn’t the case.  Not only do most recruiters see right through this gambit, but this approach actually puts you in the “lying” category as opposed to the more defensible “using the system for a purpose other than it was intended” category that goes along with my advice in the first paragraph, above.

#2.  Mention Your availability and contact info in your Summary section (recommended)

In addition to the step above, I’d also recommend that active job hunters include a final short paragraph under the “Summary” section of their profile that says something like: “As I’m currently on the hunt for my next assignment, I’d welcome all appropriate leads and conversations at (insert your e-mail address).”  This not only reinforces that you’re seeking a new job, but makes it as easy as possible for hiring managers to contact you, if they want to talk further.  Should you include a phone number, as well?  That’s totally up to you.

#3.  Call out that you’re seeking work in your Headline statement (not recommended)

I know it sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, but at the same time I’d suggest items #1 and #2, above, I don’t personally like it when people directly insert language in their “Headline” section indicating that they’re unemployed or seeking work.

I suppose it’s not the end of the world to do this, and I come across many people who do so, but to me trumpeting these facts at the very top of your profile — in the prime real estate right under your name — DOES come across as a bit grasping and desperate.  To me, it’s more elegant to just concentrate your Headline on what you do for a living (e.g. Senior Financial Executive – Consumer Products Focus) and leave your employment status to be ascertained in the Experience section.

#4.  Purchase a “Job Seeker Premium” package to highlight your availability (not recommended)

Last but not least, there’s always the option (which LinkedIn would endorse strongly!) of spending $19.95 per month (or more) to purchase a Job Seeker Basic or Job Seeker Premium package on the site, which adds a little “orange suitcase” icon at the top of your profile indicating you’re in active job hunt mode.  While not necessarily a bad thing, again, if you’re openly looking for leads, this seems like quite a high price tag for a smidgeon of functionality that you can basically replicate, for free, using the techniques above.  And as for the laundry list of other special features you get with a paid subscription, while they sound awfully tempting, I’m well-acquainted with them all — but have found them to be of questionable and tangential value to the needs of the average person looking for work.

So there you have it.  There’s my breakdown of the different ways one could conceivably address their unemployment status on their LinkedIn profile — and my personal recommendations on which approaches currently make the most sense for the average job hunter.

As stated above, however, there are plenty of dissenting opinions out there on the subject, so don’t feel you have to take my opinion at face value without doing your own research.  Check out those three article links I posted above, if you really want to understand the true pros and cons involved in tackling this important issue — and make the best possible decision about how to handle your situation!