How Researching on LinkedIn Can Help Plan Your CareerOver 20 years ago, author Stephen Covey wrote a groundbreaking book called, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. Covey suggested that if we want to achieve success in our lives and in our careers, we should model the behaviors of successful people.

That advice is as relevant today as when the book was first published. But how can you find out the traits and behaviors of successful people in the first place? Luckily for us, social media networks like LinkedIn have made it much easier to discover detailed information about people’s professional histories, habits and career paths.

If you’re looking for a new job, or simply trying to plan your career to achieve your most efficient path to success, use the following LinkedIn research tactics and strategies. Find out what successful people whom you’d like to emulate are including in their profiles, what skills they list, and so on, and use that data to help inform your own plans.

Getting Started

Getting Started

Technically, an account is not required to research people on LinkedIn. However, you’ll get much more detailed access to data like profiles, businesses, and LinkedIn Groups if you create a LinkedIn account before you start searching for information.

Once you’re logged in to your account, choose an individual you’d like to investigate and type his or her name in the search field in the top right hand corner of the LinkedIn homepage. Make sure the drop-down menu is set to search for “People.” If you can’t find who you’re looking for on the first try, click the “Advanced” link for an entire page of additional search criteria, like “Company,”, “Location,” Relationship, and more.

Evaluate First Impressions

Evaluate First Impressions

When you find and click on the person you’re looking for, you’ll be presented with his or her profile page. Pay special attention how your contact lists key information like his or her Job Title, profile image, and most recent status update (listed just below the profile image). These three pieces of information illustrate your contact’s professional first impression to the LinkedIn world. Whether it’s good, bad, or ugly, learn from what you see.

Next, search the employment section (fields entitled “Current” and “Past”) for an icon that looks like a square with rays coming out of the corner. If this icon is present, it means that companies your contact has worked for are also listed in LinkedIn. Click those links to get additional employment background for your contact. You may find that you have connections to your contact through the companies he or she has worked for. The takeaway here is that by listing and linking to companies you’ve worked for, people who are searching for you can get even more context about the type of work you’ve done and who you’ve done it with.

Still focusing on the basic profile data that’s visible without having to scroll down, note the section entitled “Websites.” Has this field been filled out? Note whether the first website listed has the default name “My Business” or whether it’s been changed to something more descriptive and SEO friendly like “Business Marketing Tips.”

Has your contact listed his or her Twitter account in the “Twitter” field? However your contact has tweaked these fields will be instructive as to how you should do it (or not). It also provides opportunities to connect with your contact on platforms outside of LinkedIn where you may be able to glean even more information to help you plan your career.

Dig Deeper for More Career Planning Clues

Dig Deeper For More Clues

The “Summary” section is a text-based account of what your contact’s value is to the reader. Note the language used. Is it salesy or folksy? Technical or informal? Depending on the nature of your contact’s profession, the type of language used in the Summary section can provide great inspiration as to how you should craft your own story for maximum impact.

Scroll down a little further on the profile page to the section entitled “Experience.” Note how many and how long a history of previous jobs your contact has chosen to list. This information will provide you some clues as to the appropriate length, detail and layout you should apply to your own work history in this section.

Note the linkable terms your contact has listed in the “Skills and Expertise” Section. Each of these terms links to other LinkedIn members who have listed these skills in their profiles. By including relevant skills in this section, other people may come across your profile even if they haven’t been searching for you specifically.

On any given LinkedIn profile, there is a wealth of insightful data (in addition to the sections mentioned above) that you can leverage to help build your community and your career. Use the information you find to determine how your own profile and LinkedIn footprint should look. Strategic research can also uncover commonalities to help you connect with people who can move your career goals forward.

How have you used LinkedIn to help plan or move your career forward? Let us know in the comments, below.

[Image credits: LinkedIn, jayneandd, Luis Argerich, Maarten Dirkse]