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I spent a few hours on the LinkedIn campus a few weeks ago, with the sole mission of learning more about the new LinkedIn profile redesign. It was quite a shift from its previous iteration, and instead of just letting the regular news cycle and announcement go without further detail, I wanted to actually spend time with the people who put their ideas, blood, sweat and tears into the project.

As you might know, something like this isn’t easy, especially when you have as many users as LinkedIn does. Not only that, but there are many different types of LinkedIn users who are on the site for a slew of reasons: people looking to connect, people looking for a job and recruiters looking for talent. How do you design and redesign one site to make all of those people happy? That’s what I set out to learn.

When I spoke with Aaron Bronzan, the senior product manager for profiles, a feature that the company calls its “core,” he seemed extremely happy with his team’s work. Of course, that’s because he’s the man who gets to look at the analytics on how they’re performing every day.

More importantly than how the redesign was done for profiles, I wanted to know the why’s. Bronzan told me: “We’re still learning a lot from the new design and it’s an iterative process. After three years at LinkedIn, I’ve always worked on profile. Simplifying it has been our focus for the past year, streamlining so that someone can get a quick sense of who you are when they visit your profile.”

When you visit the new profile designs, you can see how much the company values the data that is placed within their databases. After all, LinkedIn is the next-generation résumé, something that can and should be constantly updated as your career evolves, whether you’re between jobs or not.

Data, Data, Data

The most important part of the new profiles is how much information surfaces without taking up a lot of room. You can quickly see how you’re connected to someone and what and whom you have in common with them. But when is data and information simply “too much” to consume for casual profile visitors? That’s a slippery slope that Bronzan and his team deal with on a daily basis.

Before we get to the type of data that LinkedIn profiles show, what about how the company chose it and how it becomes relevant for all of the types of users it has. Bronzan shared this with me on the topic and how the team decides what to tweak and what to leave alone:

We have many professionals who use LinkedIn profile as part of a job every day, or to find new opportunities. A segment of them are very vocal in giving feedback. The other place we get this inspiration and understanding our use cases and we see trends where people can find something or click. Seeing gaps leads us along with what we hear, guides and influences what we’re trying to do.

Keeping It Fresh

When I surf LinkedIn profiles, it becomes painfully obvious that people don’t really update it with relevant information about them. For example, their bio will say that they have “three years of experience” with something, yet their current job has covered a span of four years. Much like a résumé, it’s a good idea to keep going back to it and adding all of the things you’re doing. Bronzan helped build the new profiles to suit this methodology:

There’s a lot of utility in keeping your identity fresh and up to date, you have particular accomplishments in your day to day job. Documenting them is a really great way along the way. If you’re a keeping up to date and keeping your profile fresh, when it comes to a pivot to a new opportunity, the hope is that your profile can do that work for you.

While it’s not just about managing your profile to get a new job, it’s important to keep your connections up to date on what you’re doing, too. Bronzan tells me that it placed new focus on things like skills and expertise, by adding a graphical wizard that sits on top of your profile when you visit it. The addition of groups you belong to also shows off your interests to others, so that they can ping you when they have a question on a specific topic, like HTML5 design for example.

The Next-Generation Résumé

As we start placing all of our information into digital databases spread all over the web, our career information needs a place. I still have friends who send me their résumé via Google Docs and I sit there and wonder “Why would anyone want to manage a flat and unsocial document like this?” That’s why I’m so interested in what LinkedIn has been doing as a company.

During our chat, Bronzan told me:

We’ve taken the concept of the résumé and taken it beyond what jobs you’ve had and brought in new sections that can help you represent that on an ongoing basis. I can enter in “projects” that I’m working on. It really is a living and breathing way of showing what I’m doing on a daily basis. I can then attach these projects with people I’m connected to on LinkedIn.

The nice part about the new profiles that not many people notice is that the information that you’re shown for someone changes on the fly, based on where you came from on the site. The paths you take make the content contextually relevant, so you don’t need a “recruiter” view or a “job hunting” view. LinkedIn has a pretty good idea of what you’re up to and serves up the information accordingly.

The modules on the new profile are swapped in and out without anyone noticing, giving that relevant information that I mentioned. Bronzan tells me that over time, LinkedIn will subtly become even more relevant for users, pushing along the “not one size fits all” beliefs.

The future

The key for LinkedIn to remain relevant in professional circles moving forward will be to appeal to a younger audience. Students in college, and even high school, should totally start using the site. For me, I never found it more useful until I started moving all around the country. I was able to connect for jobs, to ask questions about neighborhoods and get the answers from people that I trusted.

The younger generation isn’t thinking that far yet, but Bronzan believes it should:

We can recognize or find signals that you’re a student and a young professional or worked in one place for 10 years. We try to find ways to showcase your identity. Projects, test scores, course work, honors and awards. That’s where the younger crowd can start.

Connecting with classmates and professors is just as important as connecting with someone who works at a company you’d like to work for. LinkedIn needs to do a better job of bridging the gap between Facebook and its service. There has to be a better onboarding process to pull your social graph from Facebook and request connections on LinkedIn. Bronzan recognizes that.

There is also a huge opportunity for continuing education. As LinkedIn knows exactly who you are, where you went to school, what degrees you finished or didn’t, it is in a great position to display potential opportunities for you to go back to school. Since you can view job opportunities on the site, LinkedIn could suggest relevant courses to make sure you can get noticed for the job.

When it comes to the future, you might not want to think of LinkedIn as a “professional social network,” since it sounds kind of boring and lame. Bronzan shared his thoughts on how to describe the service:

It starts with your identity. People are looking for you and your opportunity to put your best foot forward is to frame your accomplishments. Building out your profile and network can help you out with that and build your professional footprint on the web.

Once you’ve established your identity, LinkedIn helps you grow and build out your network. It’s effective and useful for you. People to come to LinkedIn to find people.

Finding people is something everyone is trying to do. What LinkedIn does is help you find the right people in the right situation. Next time, we’ll talk about how the new profiles came to be, from the people who helped design and build them.

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