How I Manage My LinkedIn Network

The other day I received an invitation to join someone's LinkedIn network. This was a person I worked with at a previous company a few years back. I declined the invitation because I didn't really know the guy. He worked in a different department and I don't even recall a one-on-one conversation we ever had. Before proceeding, let me just say that I love LinkedIn. I think its a terrific service and one of the most important networks I have. It has loads of great features, is easy to use and is very polished as an application. If you're not on LinkedIn, I highly recommend you sign up. (Just read below before inviting me to join your network.)

In LinkedIn, when you send someone an invitation, it pre-populates a standard message that says something like this:

Since you are a person I trust, I'd like you to join my network.

When you receive the invitation, you have the option to click on an "Accept" button or a button that says "I don't know this person". I feel bad whenever I click on that "I don't know you" button, because most of the time, I do know who the person is, but that's about the extent of the relationship.

Everyone has the right to manage their networks in their own way, but I personally don't want to be too flippant about that word "trust". I manage my LinkedIn network differently than I manage other networks, like Twitter, Facebook or Readernaut (highly recommended, btw). These networks have completely different purposes and deserve a different approach. They're more for social networking, keeping up with old friends, sharing information with your buddies, etc.

What is the purpose of LinkedIn? On the surface, it could be as simple as an online resume. The social aspect of it (connections, recommendations, answers, etc.) makes it much more dynamic than a standard resume, though. In addition, LinkedIn could potentially be your most important network if you were to suddenly lose your job. Your connections in LinkedIn would be the place you start looking for work, right? In this scenario, this network would have tremendous value.

So, who should you add?

Do you add everyone you have ever met or had a conversation with? I guess some people do and to each his own, but for me to maintain the "integrity" and value of my network, I try to only add people that I do know and trust. Even if its only someone that you know online, there can still be an element of trust in that "virtual" relationship.

In some regards, I think LinkedIn makes it too easy to add people to your network. In a few simple steps you could send an invite to everyone in your email contacts list. Or to everyone from Company X that you worked for 10 years ago. Those are nice tools that make finding potential connections much easier, but I like to think that more discretion should be used.

Who's In?

  • Current and former teammates
  • Current and former clients
  • People I worked closely with at previous companies
  • Online colleagues that I know do good work and that I trust
  • Friends and family

Who's Out?

  • People I shared an elevator ride with once, but never talked to again
  • Former colleagues that I really never worked with, even if I recognize their name
  • High school classmates that I haven't spoken to in 15 years and probably never will again
  • All Philadelphia Eagles fans (ha! I jest)

In the past, I have probably added people to my network that I shouldn't have, based on the thoughts that I've outlined above. I guess I just did it to be nice before I really formed a real philosophy about all this. Because of this, there are definitely people in my network that I don't really know or trust. Its good to be nice, but you also have to be smart.

With that said - good luck and have fun using LinkedIn. I highly recommend writing recommendations for people who's work you endorse and that you know well. But above all, be judicious with those invitations.

That's my take. How do you manage your networks?

How to Get Hired

At Rosetta Stone, we're looking for a senior-level Interaction Designer to help us out on the Web Strategy team. This isn't a call for resumes or anything, but if you do happen to be interested or know someone who is, by all means send them this way. At any rate, as I've been receiving and screening candidates, I've been disappointed with the quality of candidate resumes and portfolios and thought I'd offer some tips to help job-seeking designers maximize the possibility of getting an offer of employment.

When I'm involved in the hiring process, the interview begins the moment I get a resume. Then it continues as I explore your personal site and peruse your online portfolio. Finally, the interactive part of the interview process kicks in when I actually speak to you on the phone or in person. Interestingly, two-thirds of the process happens before we ever meet. You, the prospective designer, are responsible for all three components of the interview process: resume, portfolio, and interview.

The Resume

The resume is usually the first encounter a hiring manager has with a candidate. Like the saying goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." A well-written and smartly designed resume is a great way to make a good first impression.

Resumes are at the same time extremely important and potentially meaningless. If a resume is well-designed and thoughtfully constructed, it gets remembered. It gives the hiring manager confidence that he/she is dealing with a professional. Conversely, your resume can be potentially meaningless if all the "expert at this" and "proficient in that" are not supported by the other two components in the process. If you claim to be an expert in HTML and CSS, but your personal website/portfolio shows the opposite, then the words on your resume just lost their value.

If you are a designer, I think it is imperative that you "design" your resume. Sometimes you may not have control over the format of your resume if you have to input the information into a website or if you're only allowed to upload a text version. Personally, I think a PDF makes for the best resume format, but even if you create it with Microsoft Word, you can make it look good.

You should take advantage of the opportunity to prove that you have a firm grasp of typography, readability, information design and creativity. If you're sporting a resume built from a Word template, complete with Times New Roman font, you won't be getting a call from me.

The Portfolio (or Personal Website)

The next component of a successful attempt at landing that dream design job is your portfolio. The first thing I look for on a candidate's resume is a link to their website, where hopefully, I'll be impressed with the site and continue to like what I see as I go into their portfolio.

If you're a serious web designer, it is imperative (seriously - a must have) that you have a portfolio, personal website or blog or something online that showcases your skills and proves that you have talent.

I will be the first to say that portfolios are extremely difficult to do well. A portfolio is a complex set of content and interactions. When possible, provide links to projects that are available online. Many of us have pieces in our portfolio that are inaccessible to the public for one reason or another and that's fine. At least provide a few screenshots (obscuring sensitive information) that allow a peek into your abilities.

Use discretion on what you actually show in your portfolio. Show only work that you are proud of - avoid including older work that doesn't have quite the same quality just to "have more". Another thing that is helpful is some type of description of the work and what role you played, the tools you used, etc.

The Interview

I've learned that its risky to put too much emphasis on "interview skills" alone. Some people are just great talkers and can easily give the impression that they are competent. Sure, you have to be well-spoken and give intelligent, thoughtful answers to questions, but the interview is only one slice of the pie.

Speaking of giving intelligent answers, be prepared. Surely you can anticipate the types of questions you might be asked. Take some time before the interview to think about how you would answer questions like "tell me about yourself" or "where would you like your career to be 5 years from now" or "what's the hardest project you've ever worked on" and so on.

When answering interview questions, remember this - the interviewer (possibly your future boss) is trying to get to know you. They need to know as much about you in the small window of time they have. The more information they have at their disposal, the easier it will be for them to make a decision. You only have a limited time to show the real you, so take advantage of it.

When you're asked the dreaded question, "So, tell me about yourself." Don't just spout off your work history. They already know that - its on your resume. While you definitely want to keep it professional, tell them about you, the person, not the employee. Hobbies, interests, what makes you tick, that kind of thing allows them to get a sense of who you are rather than "what you've done".

Let me give you an example. I believe I cost myself a job offer once by being too sterile, generic and not giving enough about me, the person. I was asked, "So, what do you have to offer the company that you feel puts you ahead of others applying for this position?" I proceeded to ramble on about things that were already on my resume - my skills and abilities. Looking back, I feel like I would have been offered the position if I had mentioned some of the intangible qualities - my passion for design, how I value loyalty and teamwork, described some of the things I've learned through the school of hard knocks in years past, etc.

This goes back to letting the real you shine through. Don't be a robot and give boring, predictable answers. But don't be a robot that says stupid things either. ;)

I hope this helps someone out there be better prepared for their next interview. If you have additional tips or advice, feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

Note: These tips are specifically targeted toward designers looking for senior-level positions. If you are just starting your career in design, go here for a healthy dose of sage advice.

Meeting Pet Peaves

I started this post a month ago and have written and re-written it numerous times. I've been trying to come up with eloquent ways to talk about how to improve meetings. But I seem uninspired by that and would rather just pine about the things that bother me instead. What I think would improve meetings the most would be to infuse some rigorousness into the way we schedule and conduct meetings. Without further adieu, here are my top-5 complaints about meetings:

1. Let's Begin! Isn't it annoying when you take time out of your busy day to walk down to a conference room (or call into a bridge line) and then have to wait around until everyone else decides to show up (call in)? I worked with a guy once that began meetings exactly at the scheduled time regardless of who was or was not in attendance. That's pretty rigorous, but I admire that.

2. Wake up! I am the first to find humor in the fact that a colleague is desperately trying to stay awake - droopy eyes, head bobbing, the whole bit - but it also frustrates me. Seeing that just makes you wonder if the whole meeting is just one big waste of time.

3. Pay attention! This includes me. Having people not paying attention, especially while on conference calls, is a real meeting downer. If people are not paying attention it usually means one of the following is true: the meeting is going too long, the meeting has lost its focus, there are too many unnecessary people involved or all of the above.

4. Do we really need a full hour? I think by default most people just schedule meetings for an hour. Perhaps some people view meetings as a reprieve from real work, so an hour break appeals to them. I'm not sure, but I do know that most meetings could be held to 30-minutes, if appropriate rigor is applied.

5. Time's up! No one likes a meeting that will not end. Not ending a meeting on time shows a lack of consideration for everyone's schedule. To me, this is most annoying when it is a meeting at the end of the day that makes me late for getting home.

I'm not proposing a militant working atmosphere, but I do think applying some measure of rigorousness to the whole meeting process would help us have fewer meetings, shorter meetings and get more out of the meetings we endure.

Let's Be Honest

Recently, I was reading the bios of the "executive team" for a local web design/development firm (undisclosed) and saw that a couple of them had "over 20 years experience" in the web industry. An acquaintance of mine at a different company states he has "over 10 years experience" on his bio. If that's true, then he started doing web development when he was 14. I guess that is not unfathomable, but honestly, how realistic is that? And what type of web projects were the other two guys working on back in 1987? Not saying it isn't true, just really wondering about the robustness of truth in those bios. Perhaps we're all a little guilty of this from time to time.

After reading all this, I started to wonder about a couple things.

I know we want clients to view us as professionals and give them the comfort of knowing we've "been around the block before", but why do we think that the number of years experience is a key factor in providing that comfort level? Do we think our clients, colleagues and web-based social network friends will think better of us?

I think I've indicated that I have 7 years experience on a few bios I have floating around out there. Technically, this is true, because I started designing websites in 2000. However, does it really matter that I spent the entire first year building web pages with Microsoft FrontPage 98? It wasn't until 2002 that I understood how to use CSS and grasped the idea of how to build web pages according to web standards. And it wasn't until probably sometime in 2004 that I had a clear proficiency of HTML, CSS, information architecture, usability best practices and graphic design.

Ah, yes, but "over 7 years of experience" sounds much better than just three. If we're honest with ourselves, I'll bet we all have similar learning curves that make our all-powerful "years of experience" seem a bit watered down.

Wait Just a Second!

I know what you're thinking. All experience is important because it shapes what we've learned up to this point and helps us make better decisions today. That's definitely true. In all matters of life, things we have experienced in the past make us who we are today. Mistakes we made yesterday can make us stronger for tomorrow.

We don't have to start the "years of experience clock" at the moment we stopped making mistakes; or when we started doing things a new way or when we had this job title or that training class. I think in all of us there is a sense of knowing when it all "clicked" and when you first considered yourself a "web professional" without feeling guilty. I just think that's how it goes with a profession such as ours.

Perhaps we feel the number of years of experience somehow offset the fact that most of us don't hold a Bachelor of Science in Web Design. Therefore, we need to augment our resumes and bios with important sounding experience and how we've worked on large, complex projects. Guilty as charged, your honor. But I think this thinking is misguided. The internet, as an industry, is still so young and things have and continue to change so quickly. I think its OK if you’ve only got a few years experience. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What Really Matters

Consider this an open plea for candid representation in bios around the web. Yes, I’m sure clients and prospective employers would like to know that you didn’t just start your career on the web last year. But I say let’s be comfortable in our own skin, confident in our skills and let our portfolios do the talking.

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that clients, et al, are more interested in seeing examples of our work and getting a feel for how we work than knowing how long we’ve been working.

In my book, its not the number of years that counts, but how you’ve used those years to get where you are today.