Maria Varmazis had maintained her profile on the professional networking site LinkedIn for a few years, promoting her career experience and skills as a content strategist for a Quincy online education and marketing firm.
Then last year, Rapid7 Inc., a fast-growing Boston security software company, contacted her through her LinkedIn account. A short time later, she accepted a job offer as a marketing content manager at the company.
“I was not out there aggressively looking for a new job,’’ recalls Varmazis, 29, a Back Bay resident. “It was like a cold call. It was as cold as they get. I knew of the company, but didn’t know anyone there.’’
Varmazis is one of more than 200 million people who today use LinkedIn, and her good fortune is an example of how the networking site has increasingly become the tool of choice for employers and recruiters seeking new workers. Over roughly the past year, LinkedIn’s corporate clients increased by more than 40 percent to about 13,700 in late 20012 from 9,200 in late 2011.
“LinkedIn has become ‘must have’ within our industry,’’ said Jason Smith, senior vice president at KNF&T Staffing and Resources, a Boston recruiting firm. “LinkedIn started out more as a networking tool for people, but it has become more jobs oriented in recent years.’’
For job seekers, whether actively pursuing new positions or just keeping their options open, that underscores the importance of creating and maintaining thorough, accurate, updated profiles. The profiles, which members post at no cost, are the rough equivalent of an online business card, resume, and short sales pitch combined — with social-media capability to interact with others on a wide variety of professional topics.
For instance, Varmazis said she made sure she put as much information as possible about her career skills in her LinkedIn profile’s headline, allowing more people to immediately see or search for her specific qualifications. She also included her photo, something recruiters say they like to see when reviewing someone’s career credentials.
“It’s a way to brand yourself, to articulate who you are as a company or individual,’’ said Dan Lyons, senior vice president of human resources at Allen & Gerritsen Inc., a Boston advertising firm that regularly uses LinkedIn.
LinkedIn was launched in 2003 in relative obscurity as an online professional network that members could use for drumming up new sales, discovering new business leads, and communicating with other professionals in their fields. Finding a new job is not the only reason people create LinkedIn profiles, and it is for exactly that reason that LinkedIn has become so attractive to employers and recruiters.
Employers and recruiters classify job seekers into two categories: “active,’’ meaning they are aggressively seeking new employment, and “passive,’’ meaning they are not trying to change jobs, but would be open to an offer. Varmazis is an example of passive job seekers who post profiles for a variety of professional reasons, not just to land a job.
It’s easy to find active job seekers on online posting boards like Monster.com, but the addition of so many passive candidates vastly expands the pool and broadens the search capabilities of employers and recruiters. The ability to search passive candidates is particularly important for recruiters in industries, such as high-tech, that have a hard time filling high-demand positions requiring specific skills.
Mike Gamson, senior vice president of global solutions at LinkedIn Corp., based in Mountainview, Calif., said tapping the “talent solutions’’ side of the business was one of the company’s top goals when it first launched its site a decade ago.
LinkedIn’s talent solutions business, or recruitment, accounted for roughly half the company’s more than $500 million in revenues last year, Gamson said. Employers and recruiters pay fees in order to conduct detailed searches and contact candidates through LinkedIn’s closed “in-mail’’ system. Employers and recruiters are also charged annual fees for individual job-posting “slots,’’ as some customers call them, to advertise open positions at their companies.
At KNF&T Staffing, Smith said his company spends $20,000 to $40,000 a year for its various options on LinkedIn. “And it’s worth every penny of it,’’ said Smith.
Each corporate client pays license fees for each individual employee authorized to do advanced searches and contact potential job candidates on LinkedIn.
At the Boston recruiting firm Hollister Inc., about 60 employees are licensed to conduct searches on LinkedIn — which is used at Hollister to both recruit on behalf of clients and for its own staffing needs. “We use it every day,’’ said Jack Fellers, director of technology and creative consulting at Hollister.
He declined to specify how much Hollister spends on LinkedIn.
All this provides opportunity for job seekers on LinkedIn. But it also presents risks if LinkedIn profiles are not up to par.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is treating a LinkedIn profile as a quasi-personal site, recruiters say. People occasionally put up overly casual photos of themselves taken at parties or other nonwork venues, suggesting they are either not professionally mature or don’t take their profile seriously enough. Some people also link to news articles, videos, or other sites that might be seen as inappropriate professionally.
“LinkedIn is a site for professionals,’’ Fellers said. “It’s not Facebook, which is more personal. I’m not saying you can’t have fun and show creativity, but you have to remember who your audience is. You have to identify with the industry you’re working in.’’
Another common mistake is not updating profiles to reflect new employers, promotions, or responsibilities in their careers, recruiters say. Too many don’t include photos or detailed lists of specific job skills. The latter is especially key if employers and recruiters are conducting word searches to identify candidates for positions, career specialists said.
“You have to consider it your own online branding tool,’’ said Ed Nathanson, director of talent acquisition at Rapid7 in Boston. “You have to market yourself.’’
►Dos and don’ts for a LinkedIn profile. G3.