How important to my job search is my professional networking profile?

Very. At least as important as being found by potential employers is what they find when they get to you! Your online profile needs to be professional, presentable, up-to-date, erudite and error-free. It’s how we make a vital impression with a potentially unlimited number of working peers and employers online. Some liken your online profile to a CV that never sleeps, but it’s different in a number of ways.  

Since traditional CVs are mostly used in applying for specific posts, you tailor them to exactly what each would-be employer needs. They are also by necessity quite short – no more than a couple of sides of A4 – which forces you to stick to the point. CVs sit in piles of applications and are scanned by time-pressed recruiters (who spend as little as six seconds deciding whether to read on). This inevitably makes them pretty dry.

Your online professional persona, on the other hand, needs to appeal to a wider and more general audience, showcasing your competencies and personal qualities to potential employers who come to you, unlike your CV which goes out to them.

These could be ‘cold’ recruiters viewing your profile speculatively, who want to ascertain your skills and experience quickly, or ‘warm’ employers who are considering your job application already and want to get a more rounded feel for you as a potential colleague. And then there are industry peers who may recommend you to other employers or tip you off about jobs you might be interested in.

Having to pitch yourself as different things to different people, and unlimited space in which to do it can be a recipe for waffle, but it also gives you breathing space you don’t have on a CV. Most of the workSMART advice on how to write a good CV is equally applicable to your online profile. This includes the need to be succinct, but feel free to stretch word counts a little bit if doing so allows you to tell a more personal story around your career or highlight a proud achievement that you reluctantly had to prune out of your CV.

Online, you can (and should) present your career and aspirations in a more personal, friendly tone. Many sites even let you use video and other media which you can use to make your personality stand out. This gives potential employers a sense of who you are that they don’t get off a CV. This could make the difference between an interview invitation and the recycling bin.

Many networking sites also let you post photos, testimonials from people you’ve worked with, and examples of your work. Every little helps, so take full advantage of all the bells and whistles at your disposal to present the professional image you want. 

At the most basic level, a profile picture helps visitors put a face to your name. Our brains are hard-wired to remember faces much more readily than names. One well-known social media site has found that profiles with a picture get 14 times more views than those that don’t. As we’ve already said, potential employers often check out shortlisted candidates online so make sure your picture sends out the right signals (it doesn't need to be anything fancy: just showing your head and shoulders, in focus, in a broadly professional setting). A favourite photo of a ‘massive night out’, however fondly remembered, could potentially make them think twice about offering you the job.  And don't forget to smile!