Question: “Is LinkedIn worth a damn?”

Ha ha — I couldn’t resist phrasing the question in such stark terms, since the above sentiment pretty much sums up the frequent line of questioning I get about this notorious social networking website and its usefulness in a modern job search campaign.  And while I’ll be elaborating further, the equally stark response is “yes” — and I’m willing to state unequivocally that searching for work these days without LinkedIn is tantamount to searching with one hand tied behind your back.

Having reviewed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of websites that relate to careers and the employment process, I would say that LinkedIn is one of the very few pieces of technology that actually “gets it right” and adds significant value to the job search process, as opposed to complicating it or making life more difficult for all involved.  I’ve had several clients tell me, in fact, that this website was the single MOST productive channel for job leads they utilized during the course of their search and that they were simply amazed that they hadn’t heard of it before — and that other people they know aren’t using it!

For those doubters out there, however, or those who may be unfamiliar with the site, let me share just a couple of key reasons why this tool is so uniquely powerful — and why its capabilities are almost impossible to duplicate through the more traditional “low-tech” networking alternatives…

1)  LinkedIn allows job hunters to “see” up to several layers out in terms of the networking process, greatly expanding their ability to locate useful contacts and referral sources.  In other words, while you certainly could contact everybody you know and ask them if they know anybody at XYZ Company, there’s absolutely no way using conventional methods to determine whether your current contacts “know somebody who knows somebody” at this same company, or other companies — which is an extremely useful feat you can accomplish in milliseconds using the LinkedIn system.

2)  LinkedIn allows you to search a real-time pool of company/contact data that is significantly fresher and more accurate than virtually all other sources of data out there, including old standbys such as Hoovers and Dun & Bradstreet.  What’s more, people don’t just list their current positions on the site, but usually also include details of their entire background.  So if you’re interested in identifying anybody in Seattle with “branding”, “web analytics”, or “CFO” in their job title — or anybody who used to work with you at previous organizations — this functionality makes these tasks a piece of cake.

3)  Lastly, and perhaps the most important and underappreciated aspect of the website, of all, is LinkedIn’s unsurpassed ability to allow you to do favors for other people.  What’s that, you say?  Are you telling me that lots of people are going to be bugging me for referrals and potential favors if I join this website?  Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying!  And this is critical, since the single most common hurdle job hunters face is their lack of an effective network and the fact that over the years, many professionals haven’t done enough favors for other people to allow them to “make withdrawals” now in the form of requesting help with their own unemployment challenge.

So if you’re one of these people, and have found yourself out of work and woefully short on allies, LinkedIn can be your saving grace, since it will provide you with a steady stream of chances to lend help, aid, and comfort to those around you — in order to earn the right to their assistance, in return, down the road.  Sound crazy?  Don’t knock it.  This is the stuff that great careers are made from…

Now granted, LinkedIn continues to add new bells and whistles constantly, and the above three benefits are just a small subset of what a true “power user” stands to gain from the site — but I’d still argue that none of the other features comes close to the significance of the three uses highlighted above.  Additionally, I hear many people expressing concerns that they will be pestered or overwhelmed by abusive networking requests if they add their profile to LinkedIn.  Such fears, however, strike me as completely groundless since you have total control of who you link to, at all times, as well as the types of requests people are allowed to forward along to you to begin with.  It’s a completely self-policing system in this respect.  Nobody can link to you without your permission and nobody can force you to grant a favor that you’re not comfortable performing.  So as long as you practice common sense, and avoid linking to hundreds of strangers at random, you shouldn’t find these occasional requests for help to be more than a minor inconvenience — and as stated above, if you’re looking at it this way to begin with, you need to ask yourself some tough questions about the fundamental nature of networking and why other people out there should ever bother paying attention to your requests, in return!