If you haven’t logged into the “Settings & Privacy” section of your LinkedIn account in recent weeks, brace yourself.  Without any advanced fanfare, the powers-that-be at the site have suddenly unveiled a set of new settings options that appears, at first glance, to be more than twice as long as the number of options available in past years — and to provide users (for better or worse) with a much more comprehensive set of choices to consider regarding how they interact with people on the system.

While I don’t have the time to go through every last setting in detail (and frankly, most of them are pretty mundane and self-explanatory) here’s a quick breakdown of what I feel the most critical ones are for LinkedIn users to concentrate on — especially if they’re in job hunting mode.  Note, however, that to find all these settings, you’ll have to poke around within the three sub-menus (Account, Privacy, Communications) that come up on the main Settings & Privacy page.  Trust me, though, they’re all in there if you hunt for them!

So again, here are the key settings I’d encourage you to focus on — and how I’d recommend you configure them:

  • Share Profile Edits: This setting hasn’t changed at all with the new interface, but remains the single most important one for confidential job hunters; simply put, I’d recommend you switch it to “no” so that all of your contacts on the site aren’t notified every time to adjust your profile, which is annoying (at best) or a dead giveaway to your boss/colleagues (at worst) that you might be on the hunt for a new assignment
  • Viewers of This Profile Also Viewed: Again, this isn’t a new setting, but all this option does (if enabled) is display the profiles of your competitors on the right side of the page when somebody looks you up on the system.  So since there’s really no positive benefit, and highlights your competition, I’d put “no” for this one.
  • Who Can See Your E-Mail Address: Whoa, big change here! Historically, your e-mail address has ONLY been visible to your 1st Degree trusted acquaintances on the system.  Now you have the option to have your address visible to 2nd Degree connections, as well, or to anybody on the entire LinkedIn system.  The ideal choice here will vary from user to user (since some people may want full exposure, while others will be afraid of being pummeled by vendors and such) — but I’m going to run with the “1st & 2nd Degree Connections” option myself, for now, and see how things fare.
  • Who Can See Your Connections: Again, not a new setting, but an important one if you don’t want to share your “Rolodex” too openly with other people.  Personally, I keep this setting on the “Only You” option, since while I love helping people network, I don’t want folks to be able to just thumb through my contacts in a casual and indiscriminate way, looking for targets of opportunity.  Instead, they’d need to first run a search on LinkedIn for the specific types of individuals they’re seeking to meet (by company, title, industry, etc.) and then if somebody I know turns up, you bet, I’m happy to make an introduction.
  • Representing Your Organization: This new setting reflects LinkedIn’s focus on getting employers to use the site more and more as a powerful, centralized recruiting tool.  As a result, individual users can now choose to have their profiles/photo show up on their company’s LinkedIn page — associating them directly with the organization and inviting potential job prospects to reach out to them.  It’s totally up to you whether you’re comfortable, or not, enabling this feature.  It will be interesting to see going forward, however, whether companies try to compel their employees to enable this feature, even if they’re not comfortable in doing so.
  • Microsoft Word: This weirdly-named setting option (as you’ll read) is just designed for one purpose, which is to allow LinkedIn to share your profile data with Microsoft Word so that you can use Word’s new “Resume Assistant” feature.  To me, this is the first obvious instance where Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is starting to make a mark and resulting in some new integrated functionality being released between the two companies.  Note, however, that you need to have an Office 365 subscription to use the above new features, so for many users (including me) this setting isn’t really relevant yet.
  • Manage Active Status: Like many social sites, LinkedIn recently added an inconspicuous feature on their Messaging page that tells you when any of your connections are actually online at any given moment, logged into LinkedIn.  It’s an “instant messaging” kind of thing and if you don’t want people to know this information about you, just shut the setting off, as I’ve chosen to do.
  • Download Your Data: This important feature gives you the ability to export your LinkedIn data (e.g. connections, messages, profile content, recommendations, etc.) to an offline Excel file so that you can use it for other purposes — or simply as a backup, in case your LinkedIn profile gets hacked.  Good to know this setting is there, and probably smart to use it once in a while.  Sadly, I just had one client have his LinkedIn account hacked and he almost lost all 8,000 connections he’d built over the years — but luckily, the LinkedIn tech support folks were able to verify his identify and transfer his connections to a new profile.  Still, never hurts to have backup…
  • Let Recruiters Know You’re Open to Opportunities: This feature has been around for a year or two, but for those who might have missed it, it allows you to signal to recruiters whether or not you’re open to being approached about potential job leads.  Confidential job hunters need to read the fine print, however, since it can’t guarantee that recruiters at your current company won’t notice your availability and potentially punish you for your disloyalty, as a result. Still, for job hunters in all but the most precarious situations, I think it’s a good idea to turn it on and fill out the “titles” and “locations” boxes on the page to maximize your chances of being approached for opportunities.
  • Read Receipts & Typing Indicators: Ever been left wondering what might have happened when you sent somebody a message or referral request on LinkedIn, but never heard back?  Did they get the message and just ignore you — or did they never actually see it?  This cheeky new setting will purportedly inform you whether or not one of your contacts did — or did not — get any messages you sent.  The catch, however, is that they have to have this setting turned on and enabled, too!
  • Messaging Smart Replies: Are you too lazy to actually type a polite, friendly, and personalized note back to people who contact you on LinkedIn? If so, then the new “smart replies” feature is your friend, since it will provide you with boilerplate responses to common messaging and networking situations!  Outside of very high-volume users like recruiters, however, I’d recommend turning this setting off so you’re not tempted to go the easy route.  Good networking, in all forms, doesn’t involve sending people canned notes and soulless templates.  Turn this setting off and take the time to say something customized and meaningful to people, when they contact you.  You’ll get much, much better results…