LinkedIn is an exceptional tool that most people don’t fully take advantage of. Most people think of it as just a way to post their online resume or look for a new job but that is not what this article is about. I’ve been using LinkedIn as a way to do career planning for years and now I’d like to formalize the process and share it with you.
First, the essence of this technique is to simply ask yourself a simple question:
If I were to update my LinkedIn profile today, what is the most compelling thing I could say? If I can’t honestly write that about myself, how do I go make what I want to say a reality so I can add it to my profile?
With that context in mind, here is a 5 step process you can follow to improve your career planning efforts today.
1) Understand your current job
You need to understand that your job is not as cleanly defined as a simple title like “Software Developer” would lead you to believe. Think of your job as a collection of roles, responsibilities, and with industry specific requirements. For example, there is a huge difference between a software development job at a product company vs. a consulting company or small organization vs. corporate IT role.
Speaking of job titles, understand that a job title could perform several roles for a particular organization. This makes it difficult to make apples-to-apples comparisons between jobs. A project manager (PM) could be expected to perform a business analyst role at one organization while at another they might be a pure PM but for a dozen or more projects. How would you determine the “right” salary level for those two jobs? Which one would you rather do? There isn’t a right answer, but you should have an idea which one is the right fit for you.
The next thing you need to know is that your company might not use the most common titles for your role. When you are doing your research try to look at the actual responsibilities you have and try to determine what the most generic job title is that corresponds to what you actually do. This will expand your search and help you understand where you fit into the whole ecosystem.
Having a firm understanding of your current job and knowing where you fit into the organization is foundational before moving forward.
2) Market Research
Now that you have a good understanding of each of the roles you perform it’s time to do some market research. Market research in this context is a way to understand what hiring managers in your industry demand for those roles. The most effective way to do this is by reading job postings. The integration between job postings, the company profile page, and the ability to see other people who might actually have the same job title at that company is invaluable and only LinkedIn provides this integration.
The important thing is to gather enough relevant job postings for your primary role(s) to start to get a sense of the commonalities between all the postings. You might find that a specific credential is always mentioned or that most of the postings require a masters degree. This is the market telling you what it values for the job.
What I really like about this is that job postings represent a summary of the skill set of what a real hiring manager would like to have work for them right now. This is not hypothetical data coming from a conflicted source such as a certification company or even academia.
Write down some notes about what the ideal job candidate would need to have on their resume to qualify for an interview with these companies. Place a heavier weighting on the requirements for employers which you would really want to work for. The best employers will have the highest expectations.
3) Competitor Analysis
Now that you know what the market is looking for, it’s time to turn your attention to what your competition is doing. Again, what I love about LinkedIn is that you can go directly from a job posting to the company profile page and then usually you can find other people who have that job title. These people are your direct competition. Study their profile and ask some questions:
- How many years of experience do they have doing this?
- What is their education level?
- Do they have any industry specific credentials?
- Where did they work previously?
- Were they promoted to this position from within the company (the bar was probably lower for them because they had already proven themselves as a valuable resource) or were they hired directly into this role?
- If they are no longer in this position, where did they go from there? BTW, this is a great way to understand where your next career step might be.
Once you’ve gathered a number of profiles to study you need to begin looking for general trends. Consider the following questions:
- What are the common backgrounds for people who have this job? What roles did they have in the past?
- Where did these people go after they held the title? Where did they come from?
- Understand the overall career progression of others in your field
4) Gap Analysis
Now it’s time to bring your research together and develop what would be considered the “perfect” LinkedIn profile page for your job title. If you had the opportunity to rewrite your entire career today from the beginning to build the perfect person for this job what would your LinkedIn profile say?
Identify gaps between your current profile and the ideal profile. You might find that you have some relevant past experience that you can immediately add that isn’t on your current profile page. This exercise is not about erasing your past or damning yourself because you will never be perfect. Realize that everyone brings a unique history or lens to their current role and this diversity actually adds value. The idea is to identify the key areas that you could address in the next 1, 3, or 5 years.
Work backwards from the ideal profile to your own and identify the top 2 or 3 items missing from your current profile.
5) Set Goals
Take your 2 or 3 action items from the gap analysis and turn them into SMART goals. Take your goals and create an action plan to follow over the next year to move your career in the right direction.
I’ve been using some form of this process, informally, to manage my own career. Ideally, you will also seek and get advise from others to help you along the way with this process. At my company, @hand software, we are in the process of performing annual reviews right now. My intention is to formalize the process that I find useful for career planning in hopes that you might find it useful as well.
Reach out and share your thoughts on the career planning process. I’d be interested to know what other techniques people might follow and have found beneficial.