When you think about social media, LinkedIn may not immediately come to mind. It doesn’t seem “social” — it’s not where your friends hang out. Or is it? With around 590 million users, from students and recent graduates to senior level influencers and decision makers, LinkedIn has huge potential to shape your life. You and your college student should both have accounts.
Most underclassmen can’t picture what’s involved in a job search. They may not have settled on a major much less a vocation. However, it’s never too soon to start building a professional network. Sree Sreeivasan, founder of Digimentors, a social media consultancy, believes students should start even before college. At the 2018 ASJA conference in New York he made his opinion clear: “Every ninth grader should set up and maintain a LinkedIn profile.”
He cites independence as one benefit of establishing an account early. Traditionally, parents have helped their students find internships or jobs by connecting their kids with people they know. With LinkedIn, Sreeivasan says, students can do that work themselves. Establishing a profile while still a student “teaches you that social media is not just for frivolous things. It teaches you how to connect to people without asking your parents for favors.”
What can you do on LinkedIn?
Find a job.
LinkedIn users can search for and apply to jobs without leaving the site and can also use the site to research those companies and an industry as a whole. Searching a company name may provide a list of people who work there, job listings, news about the company (including press releases that might not be on the company website) and related groups you might want to join. You may discover that you already know people who work there, or people who know people you know who might be willing to provide an introduction or recommendation.
Research an industry.
Searching by industry provides not only companies within that industry but also relevant news. This can also be a way to find influencers that you should be following to learn more about the field. Industry research is important! The 2017 Recruiter Nation Report indicates that 65 percent of recruiters were influenced by a candidate’s knowledge of the industry.
Establish a professional online presence.
LinkedIn also enables users to establish an online presence worthy of sharing with the outside world. When you apply for a job, you should assume you’ll be Googled and you want to have some control over what prospective employers will find. (According to Jobvite’s 2016 Recruiter Nation Report, 90 percent of recruiters valued LinkedIn as a vetting source for candidates under age 45.) A search that turns up nothing can cause suspicion. With a LinkedIn profile, you guarantee that something will show up and will likely be among the first results. If you don’t have your own website, a LinkedIn account can provide a home for a portfolio — users can share images, video or links to published work, or even write and publish an article on the site.
Finally, Sreeivasan refers to LinkedIn as a career management tool that should be used regularly, not just when you’re looking for a job.
How-to/best practice tips to share with your college student
- Include a photo. Profiles with a photo get more attention than those without. Use a current, high quality photo of your head and shoulders, facing forward, dressed appropriately for the image you want to project. Smile naturally. This will be the first impression people get of you — make it a positive one. Forty-one percent of recruiters in the 2016 Recruiter Nation Report said that “seeing a picture of a candidate before meeting them influences their first impression.” Some college career centers offer headshots for free or at low cost — be sure to ask.
- Write a headline. In 120 characters, tell people who you are, what you’re excited about and what you want to do in the future. If you’re actively seeking a position, say so. Sreeivasan advises, “Be really clear about who you are, what you do and what your aspirations are. You can be creative there. Just as in other writing, try to avoid clichés and overused buzzwords.”
- Write a summary of your experience and goals. Include specific skills and use well-known keywords that recruiters may use in a search. Don’t forget to mention relevant classes you’ve taken (including online). Make it personal; share something interesting you’ve done and elaborate on why you’re a good candidate.
- List job and internship experiences. If you held more than one position at a company, list them all to show progression. Include not just job titles and responsibilities but also accomplishments and recognitions.
- Complete contact and personal info. Include your website if you have one and your email address so prospective employers can contact you. Only add more personal information if you’re comfortable doing so. Set your public profile settings. You can choose who can see this information.
- Utilize all areas that are relevant. List volunteer experience. If you’ve received honors or awards, list them in the appropriate section. If you’ve been published, include a link. Add your education, including majors, minors, study abroad, online and summer programs. Add any certifications, projects, courses outside your major, any other languages you’re fluent in, organizations you belong to, and skills you have.
- PROOFREAD! Spelling and grammar mistakes will immediately disqualify you for consideration for pretty much any job out there.
Once your profile is complete, start connecting:
- Sreeivasan says, “Connect with those you know, those you would like to know and those you should know.” He suggests that students first connect with parents, and then with parents’ friends. Of course students should connect with their own friends and co-workers, but don’t stop there. They can also connect with teachers (while many K-12 teachers have a policy of not connecting with students on social media until after graduation; college professors may be willing to connect much sooner) and should seek out alumni of their college.
- When connecting with people you don’t already know, include a message. Tell them who you are and why you want to connect. Sreeivasan provides a helpful blueprint: “You’re in this field, I want to learn about this, I want to be you one day.” Look for natural connections — you know someone in common, attend the same school, or met at a conference or event.
- Follow up after making the connection. This can be a simple thank you or a request for an informational interview.
Don’t set and forget. Use your account!
- Get into the habit of using it and continue to build it. “Practice growing your network when you don’t need it,” says Sreeivasan. Check out LinkedIn’s tutorials and tools. Review your profile at least every few months (several times a week is better) and update accordingly. More frequent use can help you keep up on industry news and what your connections are doing. Ask former employers, coworkers or professors to write letters of recommendation (and return the favor when appropriate). Endorse your connections for skills you’ve seen exhibited. (Note: endorsements don’t hold as much weight as recommendations, so don’t spend too much time here.)
- Join groups, starting with one associated with your college. Other useful groups may be related to your major, personal interests or career aspirations. Groups can lead to more connections as well as possible job leads. Some groups encourage members to write introductory posts; take advantage of these opportunities to ask for advice.
- Follow influencers and publications. When you read a post that means something to you, react to it. Share it and add your own comments or questions. As on other platforms, interacting with others attracts more attention to your own page and can lead to genuine connections. A comment on a post can serve as an introduction when you have something in common.
- Share your own news and content and tag people who might be interested or send them a direct message.
Sreeivasan also has a message for parents: “Get on this and be good at this so that when your kids need help you can help them, even if you are established in your career or retired. Being active and present on it will help your family. Not just your kids, but also your nieces, nephews and grandkids.” Lack of familiarity with social media or a fear of technology are not valid excuses. He adds, “Parents know nothing about soccer, yet you see them on the field, coaching every day.” Aside from any potential professional benefits to parents, “It can also be a way to reconnect with people, for example those who are not on Facebook.”
LinkedIn may not be where all the cool kids hang out but it’s where many recruiters, hiring managers and 41 percent of millionaires hang out. That might be company you want to keep.