By Ming Chen

Ming Chen is Chief Culture Officer of EF Education First and occasional blogger, children's book author and irrepressible marathon runner.

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It was unavoidable. It was like I didn’t exist. There are nearly 2,000 Ming Chens on LinkedIn. How did that happen? For most of my life, I labored under the happy delusion that the world had only one freckle-faced Ming Chen, and that was me!

So it was alarming—downright traumatizing, in fact—to discover that there are thousands of Ming Chens out there in cyberspace. Worse, most of them are seriously credentialed (at least if their LinkedIn profiles can be believed). I had to step up my game. It was time to update my LinkedIn profile.

As Chief Culture Officer of EF Education First, I can’t not deal with LinkedIn. There’s no avoiding it. We hire thousands of new staff worldwide every year. About 20 percent of our open positions are filled internally and another 20 percent are filled through staff referrals. But the rest are from people who applied after seeing a job opportunity we posted. When we post a position on LinkedIn, there’s a 90 percent chance that the candidate we’ll end up hiring is a candidate we found through LinkedIn. As an employer, what I’ve discovered is that there is no substitute for LinkedIn. The size and quality of the LinkedIn applicant pool is far superior to that of applicants on competing local job boards in Europe, Asia, North America, and Latin America.

And this powerful professional network, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday, has become more than just a nifty digital platform dominating our company’s recruiting efforts. It also has become a universally accepted way to verify and validate professional experience and qualifications. With LinkedIn we have traded the one-dimensional, one-page resume for a multidimensional monster.

LinkedIn has helped shift the burden of finding a job from the job seeker to the employer. When someone posts a compelling public profile on LinkedIn, hiring managers and recruiters take note immediately. Job offers come flooding in. As long as you keep accepting connections, expanding your network, and posting the content that tells the story of you, odds are someone special, somewhere, is going to find you.

How could I distinguish myself from those squillions of other Ming Chens?

But first they have to know it’s really you! So how could I distinguish myself from those squillions of other Ming Chens? Here’s what I learned:

1) Keep it short, smart, and targeted

Approach your LinkedIn summary as if you were composing your own obituary—but targeted to professionals who might want to work with you.

2) Personal SEO has become an art form

Potential employers and recruiters will scan your profile for the same buzz words that match the job description. Think carefully about the buzz words you use in the leadership/entrepreneurial/executive role you have directing/overseeing/accelerating/managing your team/products/division/business unit. These are the words that drive the powerful and mysterious algorithms that determine who will find you.

3) Referrals are increasingly important on LinkedIn

Reach out to previous employers and colleagues for referrals. As an employer, we’ll pay more attention to candidates’ profiles if they have referrals.

4) Claim your “vanity” LinkedIn URL

Make it easier for folks to find you at http://www.linkedin.com/in/YOURNAME

5) Forget about six degrees of separation

Our world has been reduced to two or three degrees of separation with LinkedIn. (And for the price of a premium upgrade, you can become connected by one degree.) The wider your network, the more likely you will be contacted by the person who could make your career. Banish your worries about how freaky it is that anybody can check out your profile, because it’s a two-way mirror—you can see who’s checking you out, too.

6) Your network is your new neighbor

It’s easier to accept connections and make connections with people you don’t know on LinkedIn once you understand that the context is, “I’m doing this for my job or future job.” What does this mean for mankind? To me, the meaning of “community” has gone from neighbors and friends to more random people, like someone who went to the same school as my former colleague’s husband’s brother’s boss. When I set out to review the hundreds of connection requests that had been accruing in my LinkedIn inbox during the past few years, I decided to accept most of them, in recognition of the fact that any one of these people, no matter how peripherally connected I am to them today, might help me overcome my next big challenge at EF.

7) All roads lead to LinkedIn

LinkedIn probably isn’t how people are finding you—it could be through your email, Twitter, or Facebook. But it’s how they’ll keep track of you. By making sure your LinkedIn profile is visible (via your email signature or Facebook profile), you become more accessible to potential employers.

8) LinkedIn sucks up a lot of time

…Just like any other social networking site. In the past few days as I started to “optimize” myself, I did a lot of clicking around, following my fairly indiscriminate strategy of making my network as wide as possible. Endorsing people left and right, making connections, dressing up my profile. This stuff takes valuable time from any human interaction I might have had in the real world. Eventually, just like my infrequent Facebook presence and my very lonely Twitter account, I think that my LinkedIn account will be a small flame in the larger fire of Ming Chens out there.

Still, I must admit, I do feel slightly better that now I am sort of LinkedIn. After all, I am more than just one out of 1,841 Ming Chens. I am:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/therealmingchen.