Making LinkedIn Work for YOU

The crucial strategic decision three years ago to use LinkedIn as a virtual venue for conversations on Foreign Service life for career-oriented accompanying spouses propelled PROPS: Professional Partners & Spouses of the Foreign Service into a growth trajectory beyond what I could have imagined at the time.

I’m often asked how one can best utilize LinkedIn to project their own profile, career, or business — and how to maximize interaction as a group, not just as another “electronic bulletin board.” With FSI Transition Center’s next edition of “Portable Careers” (MQ706, which since 2012 has become a staple course for Eligible Family Members (EFMs) and Members of Household (MOHs), upcoming in mid-March, here are a few timely LinkedIn tips for both newbies and those looking for more visibility of their profile, activities, and personal enterprises … or who have aspirations to a new career field.

By 2012, LinkedIn had already become THE professional networking and job-seeking platform, eclipsing Monster (remember them?) and recommended by career counselors, head hunters, and HR professionals as the must-do, must-be-on venue. With dynamic innovations keeping it ahead of the pack ever since: taking the company public, going truly global, and adding tools to provide 360-degree visibility and functionality to managing one’s own career and online image, LinkedIn continues to evolve.

Forbes covers the history and utility of LinkedIn well from generic standpoint, but here are some tips on WHY and HOW LinkedIn is relevant as you re-invent yourself at each new post, return to the U.S., or explore tangents in your career path, by seeking to find communities of interest in your professional fields across geographies.

Joining LinkedIn groups established in your new country/city in advance of your move (or bid) can help you research activities there, while making very real connections. You can set the notifications and permissions to receive a weekly digest of group activity until you decide which are worthy of more timely notifications (like immediate e-mails or daily digests)–or quit a group altogether if the discussions aren’t relevant. Search for key words, like a city or country, or use filters on other search functions, like companies, jobs, associations, and individuals.

Remember, the power of LinkedIn grows with your extended network, as the people you already know provide reference points for those fitting the criteria you are searching. Within groups, you can search for members: for example, within PROPS you can search your new post’s name and see who has served or worked in that target country. Within a particular company, you can see if anyone there knows someone you already know, who can make a personal introduction.

Finding communities of interest or professional associations across geographies helps those of us with professional certifications find peers, mentors, and local contacts, while expanding the “social safety net” of like-minded individuals when you arrive at a new post and “nobody here seems to think like me” — something I often hear from artists, engineers, other non-foreign-affairs types thrown into a new situation. Knowing there are individuals with similar interests out there can bolster your mood as you navigate a new part of the world. A lifeline in a similar time zone is great when your career mentor is in a different time zone!

Establishing your credentials and “thought leadership” in a field — even a new field — begins with commenting on others’ discussion threads, then initiating your own. LinkedIn has also grown its toolset for creating and tracking your own following by self-publishing your own posts, blogs, photos, tweets — or attaching articles you’ve published recently (or in the distant past) into discussion links or associating them with your personal profile. (For example, I even found a TV appearance I did in the 1990s streamed via C-SPAN’s archive and attached it to my profile, as I did with Op-Eds I authored and Think Tank studies and industry/trade association conferences I had participated in or spoken at.)

Start a group, especially if you can’t find one you’re looking for. If there’s not already an alumni organization for your university in your location, LinkedIn is as good (or better) a venue as Facebook for establishing one, because your purpose isn’t just social … it can be business networking, or public diplomacy, whatever you choose! (I just helped my wife’s alma mater re-establish a local club in our new host country, so that we can network as we did with her peers at previous posts. My college is next!)

Managing a FS move is time consuming, but most of us usually find some discretionary down-time that we don’t have when working our normal routine. During these periods, re-connecting with folks whose e-mails may have changed is easier through LinkedIn searches. With endorsements/recommendations, birthday reminders, notifications someone has moved jobs, or enjoyed a work anniversary, I find that a few minutes each day helps me re-connect and remind folks scattered across the continents that I still exist, my work is still relevant, my ideas are still fresh, and I’m worth “following” just as much as other interesting thought leaders I “follow” on LinkedIn, Pulse or Twitter. When I see something worth re-posting from Twitter, I rarely re-tweet. Instead, I paste it over to LinkedIn on a status update and tell it to include my Twitter feed as well. I’m much likely to get more new Twitter followers with that method. (Instagram for me is still just for fun, and Facebook is for keeping grandparents apprised across time zones!)

LinkedIn encourages and rewards proactivity, usually more so than an hour enjoying Facebook or surfing the web. When battling my own inertia after a move, LinkedIn is like “fun exercise” — feels good and is good for me. Some folks even have TWO profiles; while you lose some of the synergy when having more than one LinkedIn profile (since your connections could be confused which is the “real you”) you CAN create an institutional or professional presence for your 2nd career that is distinct from your first career. The important thing is that you maintain some level of activity, to keep your sanity, stay current in your fields of interest, etc.

LinkedIn is more than an online résumé service or social media site attached to a career profile. I envisioned PROPS as a peer-to-peer self-help and mentoring group, more than just another social media outlet for Foreign Service community discussion. I was convinced LinkedIn would provide a maturing virtual complement to the in-person and inter-personal interactions that are really at the heart of PROPS. Now approaching 400 worldwide within a discrete community of family members across all USG agencies under Chief of Mission, the offline interactions of PROPS are leveraged by the online introductions and connections once not possible through traditional “word of mouth” across geography and time zones.

There are many career coaches who can help you help you craft a profile that will get viewed by hiring managers and headhunters. Try the Foreign Service Institute’s Career Transition Center and the Family Liaison Office’s Global Employment Initiative, which joined the LinkedIn revolution within the past year. You can even set LinkedIn to notify your network every time you update your profile.

As a consultant, entrepreneur, and business owner, as well as a former corporate executive and government official/policymaker, I’ve found my eight years on LinkedIn to be just as valuable WHILE I’m employed, in order to maintain professional networks to land the next client, consulting gig, or job at a future location.

Who knows what I will be doing or where after this summer’s bid list comes out? I will certainly be on LinkedIn researching, reaching out, and moderating PROPS discussions, and I welcome you to join us!

Bob Castro is our current Legislative Liaison and resident expert on LinkedIn. While he is posted overseas as an Eligible Family Member, Bob has volunteered to lend his insight, gained from over 10 years in senior Capitol Hill staff positions and as his previous State Department bureau’s chief liaison with Congress’s oversight and appropriations committees on budget and policy issues. Contact Bob at congressrep@aafsw.org.

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