If you're using LinkedIn only to provide some history on your qualifications and to seek out job listings, you're missing a great opportunity to assess (and leverage) your competitive edge.
There's never been a time like this in the history of job search, where nearly every candidate has publically qualified themselves, with promotions, degrees, and job titles all laid out online for the world to see on LinkedIn.
By tapping this wealth of information, you can assess your marketability, improve your ranking in LinkedIn search, and find out about new trends in your field.
Here are key steps to finding and capitalizing on the LinkedIn Profiles of your job-hunting competition:
Click on the "Advanced" link next to the search bar at the top of the page and navigate to the "People" search if LinkedIn doesn't show it to you automatically. Here, you'll see Advanced People Search parameters (that differ slightly, depending on your account type).
While you can search for competing candidates in many ways, such as their alma mater or whether they work for a Fortune-ranked company, the "Keywords" search field will often work to pull in the closest matches. Start by adding a string of terms related to your target job (examples would be "SVP Sales" or "IT Infrastructure Director") in the "Keywords" field.
For best results, add the zip code of the area you're targeting, as this will show you how employers will look for local candidates. Check the "Relationship: All" box (or select all the options LinkedIn makes available) to include all contacts, no matter their relationship to you.
After looking over the list of candidates from your search, delve into some of the top Profiles to see how they are constructed in comparison to yours.
Like you, recruiters will be quickly scanning these Profiles to look for key skills and descriptions of achievements. If your Profile seems to fall short in detail, you'll benefit from a fast makeover and additional detail on your success stories.
One thing you'll quickly realize when sizing up your competition is where you rank – in terms of skills, education, career trajectory, and years of experience.
This is particularly important intelligence to use in your job search if you believe you're striking out with employers.
Perhaps you're not quite at the rank of SVP yet, and a quick look at the competition tells you that you'll need a few more years in the industry. You might also realize that you're aiming too low, and that you're overqualified for the roles you've pursued.
If you can find these Profiles, so can employers! Now's the time to figure out why they're popping up in your search results – and if their Profiles contain keyword content valuable to you.
Again, take the time to compare your own Profile keywords, even with a brief glance to gauge how effectively you have used this section.
[More: Read Identify Exactly the Right Keywords for Your LinkedIn Profile to include the best keywords for you in your Profile.]
Your search may turn up some intriguing clues to your ideal career path, especially if you see that other professionals in your target position have a job description that fits your strengths.
You might also find that the past work experience or degrees of your competitors will spark some ideas for pursuing slightly different positions. Candidates with a Psychology degree, for example, are often sought for sales and marketing roles, while IT leadership positions are sometimes gained through years of industry or domain experience.
Make note of job titles and descriptions that interest you as possibilities for your own search. If these professionals are already working in your dream job, then your dream job does exist, and there are employers looking to hire someone like you for it.
Analyzing the LinkedIn Profiles of your job-hunting competition can provide you with a few surprises – as well as clues to the effectiveness of your own Profile. Don't just read these Profiles; put what you find into an actionable plan for your own job search, whether it's adjusting your expectations or realizing how many other roles you can pursue.
Job-Hunt's LinkedIn for Job Search Expert Laura Smith-Proulx, Executive Director of An Expert Resume, is an award-winning executive resume writer, national columnist, author, LinkedIn and SEO enthusiast, and past recruiter. Laura is author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips and Strategies to Access the Hidden Job Market. Connect with Laura on Twitter at @ResumeExpert, on LinkedIn at LinkedIn.com/in/laurasmithproulx, and on Google Plus.