Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dude, where's your profile???

Please make my job easier. Keep your LinkedIN profile current, interesting and, for your own benefit, please bother to have one in the first place. I interact with a lot of people looking for their next career move. I am in a position at Solstice Consulting that is on the front line of matching supply (the talent pool) with demand (our sales pipeline). We've got a very talented recruiting team that works to fill our open positions by screening for talent across two main competencies:

1) the hard skills - technical skills/domain expertise
2) the intangibles - cultural fit, interpersonal & soft skills.

Beyond the resume, the first place we look to assess if it's worth going down the path of evaluating a candidate further is the LinkedIN profile. I can't tell you how many people still aren't on LinkedIN or have below average profiles. I can tell you that if someone falls into either category, those candidates fall to the end of the line for consideration. Here's some advice on what it means to have a comprehensive LinkedIN profile.

Profile Photo: This is your chance to make a first impression and succinctly tell your viewer who you are and what you do. While not having a picture isn't detrimental, having one can make or break you if it isn't a tasteful professional photo. I'm not suggesting all photos be a standard conservative head shot ( mine). Showcasing pride for your Alma Mater, your favorite sports team , your city, or even a symbol of your favorite cause, says a lot about who you are. And, after all, that's what this medium is all about. Don't waste the real-estate by leaving it vacant. It's a personal branding opportunity that shouldn't be wasted. Just think twice about the message you want to send before uploading that favorite picture of yours from your college days.

Recommendations: Since you control which recommendations actually get displayed, of course only the most positive reviews will be posted. This one is a bit of a numbers game. Having 1 or 2 recommendations to show for a 10-15 yr work history isn't great. As a baseline, strive for 5 recommendations total across all of your work history. The bulk can be concentrated around the more current roles but it says a lot about you that colleagues along the way have had positive things to say. Taking the initiative to ask for recommendations (and give other people recommendations) says you care about your brand and that there's a history of good work backing up your skills presented. So strive for 5 but more is better.

Websites: The websites section is a great chance to differentiate. Do you have a blog? A personal website? Are you on Twitter? These say a lot about who you are. The more you are involved in having an opinion on a particular topic or sharing useful information says something about what can be expected of you in your next job. Stepping outside the confines of what a job description asks by blogging or making it a point to be followed and follow others on Twitter tells employers you have initiative and that staying current is important to you.

Job Experience: The Job Experience section is typically where people spend the most time adding details. I can tell you, if you have a good solid representation of yourself covered across the other areas of your profile (picture, websites, links, info about groups & honors) you should keep this short and sweet. But don't skimp on the detail of noting specifically what month and year your time at a particular post spanned. It's a red flag anytime only years are listed as a timeframe (2010-2010). That sends the message that it was probably a short term assignment and there's a story behind it. Be upfront, and be prepared to explain any short-term roles.

Groups and Associations: This is another area to help reflect who you are and differentiate. Are you involved in your the local chapter of your alumni association? Leading the PTA at your child's school? Do you volunteer? Have you done any professional speaking or belong to professional associations? This is a chance to show that you are well-rounded and a leader in areas outside of the workplace. Joining groups on LinkedIN is also great way to expand your network and get noticed. Groups are typically formed around specific domains of expertise or a professional commonality - alumni association, company groups etc... If you are going to belong to a group, participation in discussions and sharing information are key to getting the most out of them. Don't just be an observer, participate in the conversation.

Status Updates: Last but certainly not least, the status update feature. This is my personal favorite. Here is where I believe the real value of LinkedIN from a personal perspective comes into play. The status update gives you the opportunity to keep a dialogue going with your network. And after all, isn't that what having a network is all about? If you never communicate, what good is having 5, 50, or even 500 connections? I make it a rule to post something new everyday. This puts my face (the profile photo) and my personality (what I have to say and how I say it) in front of my network on a daily basis. While I can't claim to maintaining close relationships with everyone in my network, I know I am connected to people that can help me both professionally and personally when I need it. If they don't know more about me beyond just the invitation to connect, I can't imagine they'd respond in my time of need.

There you have it. My personal rant on the importance of a solid LinkedIN profile. Tell me if you agree or disagree with my perspective. And, how have you found LinkedIN to be useful as a tool for branding yourself?

Monday, March 7, 2011

How a Great App Improved My Bottom Line

As a followup to a blog I published last year on how to use the Google platform to help run your household, I wanted to share my latest passion - managing my family's finances like a business. I discovered about a year ago and it's consumed me ever since. It offers a more user friendly way to ingest and create a consolidated view of your bank accounts, investment accounts, and debt (credit cards, loans). I'm a huge fan of a dashboard. And I love pouring over data to observe trends. Whether or not you share my love for detail, everyone can appreciate trying to answer "where does my money go?" & "how much do we really need to live on?". Well, since I've managed to collect a solid year's worth of transaction data and utilizing the standard reporting functions in Mint, I can tell you my family's top 3 spending categories, how much money we need on a monthly basis, and our projected yearly savings. I may not always like what I see but I now am able to get a realistic view that I can do something about.

So why I am sharing this? Because I know a lot of people trying to get a better handle on their finances. It can seem like a daunting task managing transactional data but it's also necessary to get an accurate financial picture you can act on. I love spreading the word about technology that makes your life easier, especially when it's free. And, I think has done an great job of translating what can be a complicated data intensive task into a simple to use web based application and mobile app. Here's where my personal life intersects with my professional life - I appreciate a great app because my company helps companies build great apps. Here's what Mint is doing right that can be applied to any mobile app:

Seamless desktop & mobile experience: is a desktop application, with a primary focus on the financial management tools most useful in a desktop world. What Mint has done right is identify the functions most useful in the mobile context and provided seamless accessibility with that information in a fast & useful way. From app download to first log in you can productive in under 60 seconds.
Make it easy on-the-go:
Mint is tasked with organizing a lot of data. Creating a meaningful experience with all of that data in the mobile context can be challenging. Mint focused on 2 things in the mobile app - balance information & categorizing transactions. While the desktop application allows a lot of preference setting and reporting, in the mobile context the most important thing is: How does my financial picture look RIGHT NOW. This is achieved through functions that show summary of account balances, cash flow, and budget tracking.

Make it enjoyable:

I actually like digging into the details of balancing my checking account and figuring out how to improve my family's bottom line next month. It's a joy interacting with the Mint user interface - both desktop app and mobile app. In the desktop version the report generation is really slick. In the mobile app world while historical reporting is not a focus, the ability to categorize my transactions as granular as I'd like is great. It's almost become a game to categorize my spending as soon as I can. The transactions are downloaded fast using background processes eliminating frustrations with waiting for data to load. Enjoying using an app is 80% of battle when striving to create an app that's "sticky" and viral.
The joy of interacting with this app has helped me be more responsible about managing my family's finances. Which apps do you love and how have they brought positive change to your life?