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By: Jamie Collins

This article was reprinted with permission from the Institute for Paralegal Education. You can subscribe to IPE’s monthly newsletter by contacting: ipefeedback@nbi-sems.com. (It’s free!)

I have a confession to make. If someone had asked me to write an article on this topic two years ago, I would have chuckled internally, promptly declined and walked away in search of my next paralegal fix to be pulled from that delightful, chocolate treasure trove hiding within the safe confines of my lower, left-side desk drawer. Two years ago, I didn’t comprehend what the words “social media” even meant. I was not a serial texter, nor a member of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Myspace or any other kind of online space. Then a day came when I decided to tippy toe into the world of LinkedIn.

One profile launch and two years later, my profile on LinkedIn (a professional networking site comprised of more than 200 million members worldwide) was among the top 1% of all profiles viewed in the past year. I’ve written cover stories for leading paralegal magazines for editors whom I had never met; landed myself a $50 an hour consulting gig; launched my own LinkedIn forum comprised of more than 1,000 members; met some truly amazing legal professionals; and found myself declining fantastic offers of employment, as I made my way along the social media highway. Like it or not, LinkedIn opens doors. Today, I’m here to tell you how to develop a powerful online presence, so you can take your LinkedIn profile from whoa to pro.

Here are my Top Ten Tips to get you started:

1.  Invite Self to LinkedIn. It’s that simple. You decide to enter the land of LinkedIn. While people flock to social media in droves to “network,” joining alone is not enough. You may have your name loaded across the top of a profile screen, but that does not a professional networker make. Commit to a major personal undertaking, and create a basic profile on LinkedIn. Log on, pull up the profile page, fill in the blanks and get to work.  The goal is to create a professional profile that is 100% complete. This means completing each section of your profile, adding skills, sharing pertinent information, and working to obtain at least three impressive recommendations. We will cover each of these areas in greater detail as we make our way through the remaining tips, so keep reading!

2.  Walk Into the Party a Confident Professional. When you meet someone at a professional event, what are some of the things you’d generally like to know about them? Who is this person? What does she do? Do we have anything in common? Now for the two biggest questions: Is this someone I might learn to like, trust, and respect over time? Do I want to get to know this person better? To offer up a virtual response to these questions, create a complete and comprehensive professional profile.  You should not only think of this as an online resume, but a virtual business card, personal marketing flyer, remnants of your latest professional photo shoot, a shout out to potential employers, and your own 10 second “visual” elevator pitch to every person on the planet. If that description gave you pause, it should. It is the reality of what you are doing on LinkedIn.

It is imperative to create a complete profile that properly reflects your aptitude and skills and allows you to stand out as a true professional. Focus on answering the key questions and work to fully complete your profile. Add your city and state, areas of interest, educational background, volunteer positions, association membership, community-related endeavors, awards/honors, and anything else that will help others get to know you better. No skimping. While we’re at it – do not use all capital letters or all lower case letters; it tells others that you are careless or lazy. Also, be sure to run spell check to avoid inadvertent typos. Remember, this is the ultimate piece of marketing material for the brand of you. Do it proud.

3.  Showcase Your Skills. In addition to telling people who you are, tell them what you can do. List your skills and load your profile with key words to showcase your aptitude, past experience and areas of expertise. Any skills you add can later be endorsed by other LinkedIn users going forward.  This is not a wish list, nor is it a never-ending laundry list. People often feel inclined to try to make themselves look like someone who can “do it all.” In reality, no one can do it all – at least not well. The goal is to be known and recognized for what you can do really well and areas in which you have an interest. Focus on these skills and showcase them.

If you are new to the profession, a career changer or lack experience in your desired areas of interest, do what you can to elevate your knowledge in key areas by attending webinars, seminars or reading books and following paralegal thought leaders online. Set yourself apart by showcasing skills or working to obtain them.

4.  Don’t Walk Into the Party Wearing a Mask Over Your Face. Worse yet, don’t walk into the party (more specifically, a non-Mardi Gras party) wearing a mask affixed to the front of your face depicting a picture of that dreaded, generic, light gray and white, LinkedIn profile image for slackers! (You know, that lovely image that displays for every single person on the planet who fails to load a photo on their profile? That guy). Funny visual, I know.

Let me ask you this: Would you honestly walk into a party with that type of mask attached to the front of your face? No. However, people entering the land of social media without loading a professional photo are essentially doing exactly that. If you intend to network meaningfully, a photo is a requirement. Load a professional headshot of you dressed in appropriate business attire. You should look exactly the way you would look at an interview for your next best gig in your career. If the photo you have in mind could not be added to a firm’s bio page or shown to a potential employer, it does not belong on your profile. If you have no photo, no one can truly get to know you, much less like you, trust you, and want to get to know you better. Drop the mask. Load the photo.

5.  Drop the Stage Name.  What is a stage name, you ask? It is a name that is not your given name or some logical variation thereof. In other words, if you are Janet Jones, then be “Janet Jones” on LinkedIn.  If for some reason, perhaps a work-related or confidentiality concern, you are unable to be “Janet Jones,” than for the love of all that is legal, please do not introduce yourself on social media as “J. Jones.” Instead, list your name as “Janet J.” If a person meets you on social media as “J. Jones,” they will have no idea if you are male or female.  You have essentially reduced your identity to a single letter of the alphabet – a “J.” This is especially true if your profile does not contain a photo. It is very hard to like, trust, and get to know a person named “J.” A person named “Janet J.” stands a far better chance of commanding one’s attention and trust in the world of virtual interactions. Drop the stage name.

6.  You’re an Individual, Not United Nations.  While we’re at it, do not moonlight as a profiler from the “United States” or any other country. You are an individual human being interested in networking with others, not a member of United Nations. This is a major pet peeve of anyone on LinkedIn who actually takes networking seriously. Your city and state would be ideal. If you are worried about being specific for personal reasons, then at a minimum, list your state. You may wonder why anyone cares where you’re from. Your demographic will give others better insight into not only where you are from, but what it is like in your corner of the legal universe (i.e., work issues, certification and regulation views in that area, the job market, what designation is most prominent, if any important legislation is pending and other pertinent, career-related issues).  It also allows you to network more effectively and is helpful to others in the event you should seek their input or advice.  Please list your city and state.

7. Reel in Some Real Recommendations – and I Mean “Real” Ones.  Should you ask people that know you to write recommendations to add to your online profile? Yes…and no. Let me clarify that; the goal is to add only meaningful recommendations to your profile.  People often feel inclined to ask every possible person with whom they’ve ever crossed paths to write personal endorsements. Here’s the problem: (1) No one cares if your best friend thinks you’re the greatest guy three clicks north of the equator; (2) Adding recommendations that aren’t impressive utilizing the sheer volume approach only serves to water down the really great ones that would otherwise stand out; and (3)

People pay attention to who is recommending you (by position), how they know you (if it even counts as a recommendation) and if these people are saying anything worth a tinker’s professional darn about you.

Only ask people in positions of influence to recommend you. This list includes people such as attorneys, CEO’s, former bosses, supervisors, managers, editors, HR representatives, business owners and esteemed colleagues you worked closely alongside. Reel in only “real” recommendations.

8.  Join Groups of Interest.  Once you have created your profile and are happy with its contents, it’s time to mingle. You do this by joining various groups on LinkedIn. For those working in the legal field (which is everyone reading this article), there are tons of groups you can join: namely, paralegal groups, litigation support groups, groups for writers, business owners, attorneys, those who seek motivation,  random topics of interest, business tips and just about every other genre of interest you can imagine. In order to network meaningfully, I would suggest joining 2-4 groups initially. Upon joining, you can enter those forums to view discussions, post articles, learn more about various topics, engage in discussions and begin to mingle with other professionals. As a group member, you will also receive notifications from each group you join telling you about the latest posts or activity taking place, which you can adjust under your account “settings,” according to your preference.

Open groups vs. closed groups – When joining groups, it is important to make a mental note as to whether a group you are joining is an open or closed group. If a group is an “open” group that means it is open to all LinkedIn members and the general public, at large.  There is no membership criteria and anyone conducting a Google search could stumble upon a conversation string posted in an open group. Be particularly mindful of what you post on open groups.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have the same mindset in “closed” groups, but those groups are restricted to members only. Each member is expected to meet a certain criteria, set forth by the group moderator/owner and is “approved” into the forum before gaining access to it.  Google searchers cannot stumble upon conversations contained within closed groups. You never know who may be lurking in a forum unless you check the membership list (think attorneys, co-workers and H.R. representatives), so be mindful of what you post. Do not post anything in either type of group that could later come back to haunt you, personally or professionally.

9.  Work to Become The 6 C’s: A Cheerleader, Commentator, Conduit, Catalyst, Connector & Creator.  Lots of C words on that line of text. We’ll cover each one individually:

Cheerleader – An uplifting individual who offers help, support, encouragement and advice to others. This person may or may not have extensive experience in the legal world, but is easily recognizable as a helpful, positive person who is always willing to offer a kind word or helpful suggestion to a person in need.

Commentator – An individual who provides substantive information and assistance by joining

conversation threads and interacting with others publicly. This person may simply be thanking the poster of a thread for sharing an article, sharing a past experience or posting a substantive and insightful comment to something she enjoyed. Commentators become far more approachable than those who do not comment in groups because others know who they are and gain a sense of where they stand on a variety of topics.

Conduit – An individual who shares meaningful articles, resources, websites, links and other career-related tidbits. Think of this person as being a conduit of information. They are great information harvesters and sharers.

Catalyst –  An individual who starts interesting topics of discussion (often on controversial topics or concerning major issues) and gets others to share their own views or to think about a particular topic in a new light. The catalyst is great at getting other people talking and thinking outside the box. The catalyst also gets people to think and re-think their own views.

Connector –  An individual who is well-established and has connections to share. The Connector is often approached by individuals asking if he or she will “introduce” them (virtually, of course) to someone in the Connector’s inner circle by sending an auto-generated message on their behalf to someone on the Connector’s list of connections. The connector knows people and brings them together.

Creator –  These individuals are much harder to come by.  Creators are individuals most would view as the movers and shakers in an industry. They are writing articles, sharing blogs, giving presentations, teaching, training and mentoring others, in addition to often starting their own ventures.  Creators are innovators who share their own original content with others and are often dubbed “thought leaders” by their peers.

Note that those C’s were listed in order from those easiest to most difficult to achieve. The goal is to become at least 4 of the 6 C’s, as you immerse yourself further into the world of LinkedIn.

10.  Come Alive.  This is the part that gets a little dicey for most people. You manage to make it through steps 1-9 fairly unscathed, but now you have to actually put yourself out there.  It’s scary and a bit intimidating. The mere thought of it makes your stomach drop and your heart begin to palpitate fast, as you attempt to muster the courage to compose an intelligent thought and begin to type your first comment or share your first post, as your sweaty palms slip off of the keyboard. It is completely normal to feel this way. I used to hold my breath while posting comments in the beginning. You are not the first person to feel gripped in a state of personal panic at the mere thought of making a fool of yourself, saying something stupid, offering up text containing an inadvertent typo or potentially opening yourself up to fallout, backlash or personal attacks as the result of coming “alive” on social media.

Wanna hear why you should come alive even if you’re terrified? Because if you aren’t willing to fight past this feeling so you can allow people to get to know you, the doors will never open. You will watch other people meaningfully interact and read a lot of really interesting articles and discussion threads while playing it safe, but the opportunities will never come your way, because no one will know who you are.  They will never learn to like, trust and respect you. In order to open the doors of opportunity and make meaningful connections, you must first come “alive.” You can do this by sharing articles of interest in groups or across your main profile, joining discussion threads, posting quotes or other helpful tidbits and reaching out to help when you see a member in need. It is absolutely critical that you “come alive” to have any shot at going from the status of whoa to pro!

Perhaps Robert Kiyosaki said it best when he stated, “The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.” This statement is true for those fully-leveraging LinkedIn to promote who they are and what they can do. Develop an online presence and “come alive” to become a stellar professional others learn to like, trust, respect and want to get to know better. It’s certainly safer and easier to throw up a scant profile and never fully-engage, but the doors will never open for those who navigate social media “virtually” undetected.

Step up, step out and step through the doors of opportunity that are just waiting to open for you.

Jamie Collins is the Founder and Owner of The Paralegal Society TM (www.theparalegalsociety.wordpress.com), a social forum created to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals. She works as a senior-level Litigation Paralegal at Yosha Cook Shartzer & Tisch in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she handles predominantly personal injury and wrongful death cases. Jamie writes a popular column for “KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals” and regularly contributes to other mainstream paralegal publications. She earned her Associate’s degree in Paralegal Studies from Ivy Tech State College in 2003, and continues to work toward completion of her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Marian University.  She is a Member of NFPA’s Ethics Board, a Program Review Member for the Institute for Paralegal Education, a Panel Member for the Paralegal Program at Marian University, and sits on the Advisory Board for the Paralegal Program at Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis. Jamie was the recipient of Indiana’s “New Member Paralegal of the Year” award in 2012.  She enjoys blogging and writing to educate, motivate and inspire paralegals. You can contact Jamie at: jamietheparalegal@yahoo.com.   

Institute for Paralegal Education • 1218 McCann Drive • Altoona, WI 54720 • © 2013, Institute for Paralegal Education, a division of NBI, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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This article is just to get you started! You can find all kinds of helpful articles and videos explaining all of the nuances of utilizing and navigating LinkedIn. Now get out there and beef up those profiles, TPS paralegals! There’s an opportunity en route. A door is just about to open. Will your profile be the one getting viewed? Will you be the one standing before the door of opportunity? Enough tip sharing — it’s time to get to work, and take that profile from whoa to pro! (And if you see happen to see anyone posing as “J,” a faceless one wearing a mask or a member of United Nations, please share this article).  

We’ll see you soon.