Welcome to 2017, where a former businessman and reality tv star sits in the oval office, and LinkedIn looks like Facebook. Yikes! Hard to believe, but the robust site that was the gold standard for online networking has lost its je ne sais quois that just made it work for seeing and being seen by people in your field and beyond. The LinkedIn update is far reaching, so I’m going to examine and review different aspects of the site and functionality over the next few blog posts to help my job seekers, particularly those with a PhD, figure out how to navigate the site and make the most of what’s left.
Note that everything I mention will be available with a free account. I use this site with my clients, and I have made it a personal rule to use the basic free account. That means that anything I can do, you can too.
I’ve been on LinkedIn since you could only join by invitation; that is my way of saying that I have amassed a good-sized network over the many years I have used this site. For those of us out there with an established network, you’re going to find that some things have changed. With the new update, LinkedIn has done away with the Relationship section. Wondering what that was? Well, it was the valuable section of the site that allowed you to have info on your contact, including when you met, customized tags so you could find people easily, notes to help you keep track of details and conversations, and reminders for following up at customized intervals. This entire suite of tools is gone, vanished into the aether. A moment of silence, if you will.
Wondering what the big deal is? If you used your LinkedIn network regularly, to draw on your contacts and connect people, this is a very big and very bad change. To put it in perspective, imagine that you are a marble collector. Over the years, you grow your collection to include hundreds of items. You organize them according to colour, pattern, style, design and anything else that distinguishes one from another. One day your entire marble collection falls into a can of blue paint. They’re all still there, but they look exactly the same. Kind of disappointing, isn’t it?!
If you used the tags and other Relationship features, LinkedIn is giving users the ability to download their contact data for a limited time (until March 31, 2017). Do this now!
LinkedIn’s update is all about increasing monetization. With the old LinkedIn, you could easily search through your network, for free, to find just the right contact, so using tags wasn’t a necessity. Want to perform that same search now? It will count toward your monthly search quota. That’s right, every search including sorting through your own network, counts. LinkedIn implemented the search quota in 2015 to identify commercial users, and has never definitively stated how many searches you can have per month, but I have had clients hit the quota when they were using LinkedIn for their job search. If you’re actively using your network, and you should be, then this is a big deal.
Your Contacts’ Networks
Another change you may notice is your ability to navigate your contacts’ contacts. This was an incredibly valuable feature of LinkedIn, and I am mourning the loss. By default, LinkedIn allows all of your contacts to see your other contacts. It enhanced the introduction feature and truly encouraged networking. It was great. Think of it this way: if you had someone in your network who was a superconnector (someone who seemed to know everyone and could connect you to companies and people at a moment’s notice) you could browse or search through their network free of charge before the update. After the update, you can still see your contacts’ contacts, but it isn’t nearly as good now. When you’re on one of your contact’s profile, you’ll see “See connections” on the right side, next to the header. Clicking on it opens a pop up window that lists your contact’s network in random order. Hovering over someone’s name no longer gives you additional information; all you get is the profile pic, name, job title and employer. If you don’t want to scroll through hundreds of randomly organized people, you’ll need to do a search. But you can’t. LinkedIn took away the ability to search through one person’s network. Ouch! The closest you can do is a search for all of your 2nd degree contacts, and that search will count toward your monthly quota.
Remember those? They used to be so great, about four updates ago. LinkedIn used to guide you through the introduction process, let you choose who would make the connection, and give you separate textboxes for your message to your shared and new contacts. Plus, when you received an introduction request, you simply had to agree or decline to forward it on to the end receiver. Those days are long gone, and now so is the introduction function. Yes! You read that right – LinkedIn is a networking site that doesn’t have a specific way for people to request or facilitate an introduction. Want to get introduced to someone? Send an email, whoops, I meant InMail. They’re both exactly the same now, and email is probably less cumbersome. Unless your contact prefers receiving messages through social media, I’d opt to send the message through email and leave LinkedIn out of it entirely. Remember to observe the niceties, though.
The good news? It’s still here. Yes! The bad news? It’s no longer as functional as it used to be, either. You no longer access the alumni tool from the top navigation bar. You have to click on one of your educational institutions to go to their page. From there, click on Career Insights. Unnecessary extra clicking is only the beginning of the changes. You still have the option to select from the filters under the six categories, but you can no longer add a filter directly to a category. You have to start by using the search textbox, and that feature is not infallible. You used to be able to select multiple filters and then do a Boolean search in the textbox to really narrow down your results to the people you wanted. Boolean features don’t work. You can’t even use quotation marks to connect two words (e.g. career development). The results are as minimal as they are on all other searches: profile pic, job title & employer. You don’t get that extra info if you click on an alumni profile that used to make the feature so robust. Instead, you’ll go directly to that person’s profile page. LinkedIn also only returns a limited number of results, and doesn’t let you see all of the alumni that fit your search criteria. In case you’re wondering, the wonderful hack that used to allow you to search multiple institutions (name=university) no longer works. On the plus side, you can search through alumni from other institutions by looking up the institution’s page on LinkedIn and clicking career insights. Unfortunately, you’ll have to search one school at a time, so make a list before you start. One bright spot: it appears that searching through the alumni tool is still free, and does not count toward your monthly search quota.
When it comes to managing and expanding your network, LinkedIn is (oddly) making it more difficult by decreasing the functionality of the site. It’s not exactly thrilling anymore, and I’m not sure how well the site will work for job seekers looking to explore career options. I think that the Alumni Tool will still be the most helpful feature, and I’m pleased to see that it is still there in some incarnation. That said, I do think that there are better ways to mine the site, particularly for networking and career exploration, and that will be the focus of my next blog post.
Good luck, intrepid networkers!