LinkedIn has become the common ground for job hunters, recruiters and employers to scout each other out. It is the premier social network to find specific job opportunities and to put yourself out there to be found by recruiters and others who seek people with your talents.
But LinkedIn also serves a third function that can be a powerful tool for job hunters. It is a place where you can learn what you need to know in order to understand your target companies. It can also help when you write your cover letters, prepare for your interviews and assess how much you really want to work at a given company.
Here are five ways LinkedIn can be helpful to you without applying to a job, asking for a connection or interacting with any of the people with whom you are linked.
1. Learn what your target companies want you to know about themselves. Your cover letter can be most compelling when you convey not just that you want the job but why you would be a good fit for it. In order to know that, you need to know something about the company that specifically relates to you and your background. To get this information easily, check out its LinkedIn company page.
When the hiring process with that company continues and you are invited in for an interview, you'll need to prepare questions to ask your interviewers. It is always a good thing when you say something like this: "I saw on your company's LinkedIn page that you are [insert here something you learned]. Can you tell me more about that?" This way, you demonstrate that you've done your homework. You also show that you can flesh out projects to which you can contribute, company missions that resonate with your background or other areas of commonality.
2. Learn what employees at your target company share in common. Conduct a search on people who work at a given company. If it's a large company, you can add keywords to limit the results to people in a given department or area. Then, check out several individual profiles.
You will likely be able to discern traits or elements in your background you share with current employees. For example, you may see people who attended the same college as you did, or who formerly worked at a company you also have in your background. At the right time, you can make a subtle reference to that commonality in you interview to show your potential employer that you are like people who are already successful in their department or company.
3. Learn about networking opportunities available to you. When you simply scroll through the "crawl" or timeline on your homepage, you'll see the updates of other people in your network. You will often see notices of professional meetings or other events that will take place. Each of them is an opportunity to get yourself out from behind your computer screen to mix and mingle with people with whom you have something in common. Turn these new acquaintances into networking partners, and follow up with informational interviews and so forth.
4. Learn about trends in your industry. Check out LinkedIn Pulse (located in the Interests menu) to find numerous articles that are published daily on topics related to your skills, industry and other areas. When you can speak with others about "the latest," you become someone they're interested in and want to get to know.
5. Learn about what working at a company can do for your long-term career. Unless you are very close to retiring, there's a good chance your next job won't be your last job. Imagine that you are in your next job hunt. For what kind of position in what kind of company will your near-term job position you? There is, of course, no way to know for certain. Nonetheless, it is important to think about your current search in the context of your longer-term career aspirations.
Do an advanced search for people who used to work at your target company, and add in your key skills or the job title for which you are applying into the mix. When you review the results, you will gain an understanding of your own future potential if you take this job. Is this the direction you want to pursue?
With all this information in hand, you are sure to present yourself with greater self-confidence and make a great impression.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
More From US News & World Report