This is a guest post from Iowa State student Thomas Frank. Thomas runs College Info Geek, one of the largest and geekiest college blogs on the internet.
Picture yourself walking into a networking convention filled with every professional contact you could ever hope to make.
Now, give yourself an incredible boost of time to make impressions and formulate responses. Also, give yourself access to all the resources you use to do your work. That’s basically what LinkedIn is like.
Out of every social network out there, LinkedIn is the only major one that is 100% dedicated to business networking and job-hunting.
If you’re serious about building a network and finding a job after college, you’re most likely on it.
Let me ask you a question, though: How do you use LinkedIn?
If you’re like most people, you probably copied the information on your resume, uploaded a profile picture, and added 10 or 20 people who you already know.
You’re probably not getting results by using LinkedIn this way, and that’s to be expected.
It’s not how the network should be used.
In order to get the most out of LinkedIn, you need to be active on it. You can’t just throw your job history and your degree on it and leave it alone; you need to dig deeper and start making connections.
If you do this, you can really start to see results.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a large percentage of recruiting is now done through social networking sites, and LinkedIn is the most focused one of them all.
I’d also live to share a specific story that shows how effective LinkedIn can be.
I attended BlogWorld NYC this year, where I met a guy named Lewis Howes.
Lewis used to be an arena football player with professional prospects. Unfortunately, he was injured in a game that forced him out of the sport for good.
After sleeping on his sister’s couch for a few months, Lewis started using LinkedIn. He didn’t just create a profile and leave it alone – Lewis engaged with other people, optimized his profile as much as he could, and joined in group discussions.
Through these efforts, Lewis was able to build a massive network and start doing webinars on LinkedIn.
After his first webinar, he made over $6,000 in sales of his training materials.
“LinkedIn is like a steadily growing mutual fund. The more you put into it, the greater your return.” – Lewis Howes
Now, you might not want to dive into LinkedIn as much as Lewis did, but you can definitely get active on the site and use it to find a job or simply build your network.
I’m going to go through five strategies you can use to make your LinkedIn experience more rewarding. Like Lewis says – you get more out of it if you put more in. These strategies will help you do that the smart way.
Make Sure Your Profile is as Complete as Possible
Your profile is your foundation on LinkedIn. It’s your rock.
If your rock is small, you don’t have much to stand on and you’re going to be off-balance.
It’s going to be hard for you to get anything else done well if you don’t have that solid foundation. So how do you make sure your foundation is big enough to stand on?
Complete your profile.
90% of the time one of my classmates adds me on LinkedIn, I’ll check out their profile only to find their current job, their school, and their major.
That doesn’t tell me anything - and it certainly won’t tell a hiring manager anything either.
You need to take the time to fill out as much of your profile as possible. Think back to all that you’ve done professionally and add it.
Take a look at my profile for an example.
I’ve filled out every section that I can, and the result is a much more complete picture of who I am professionally.
LinkedIn Profile Basics
Let’s first take a look at the default profile sections you can fill out.
After that, we’ll get into some more interesting stuff.
The first and foremost part of your profile is the “standout box”.
It’s got a border around it, and it stands out from everything else.
This is basically a 30,000 foot view of you.
It’s got your current and past employment, your education, your number of connections and recommendations, and links to external profiles.
Make sure these are all filled in. Another really important thing in this section is your profile picture.
Make sure you have a good profile picture. Also, please, don’t make it boring.
Every time I see one of those generic pictures people get at Sears, I get so bored I want to click away.
I know its kind of petty, but we humans get bored easily.
It’s to your advantage to play nice with human psychology and make your picture interesting, but still professional. Just keep the 90′s mall-photo backgrounds out of it.
Next you have your Summary
This is the only other default section I’m going to go into detail about, because I think it’s really important.
You Summary is your chance to make an impression that goes beyond your credentials and history.
That’s why I’d strongly suggest writing an Objective there.
Tell people what your big goal is. If you have a specific job or industry you want to work in, say so.
If not, say you’re looking to build your network while you learn what your interests are.
Since my objective is to be self-employed, I have no need to name a specific industry I want to work in. Instead, I use my objective to show my ambitions with three simple sentences:
To create an INTENSE learning experience while in college. To get on one of those “30 under 30″ lists. To never, ever have to settle.
After that, I provide an overview of my skills. This gives people a good idea of who I am, what I can do, and what kind of person I am all in two sections.
Besides your standout box and your Summary, you also want to fill out the following sections:
- Experience – just as on your resume, focus your job descriptions on quantifiable achievements you had first, and job duties second. Keep it brief. If the company you worked for has a LinkedIn page, make sure your listing links to it.
- Courses – you might not think it matters to list the classes you’ve taken, but it just might to a recruiter who’s looking for specific skills.
- Organizations – add in the clubs and organizations you’ve been a part of, and make sure to list any leadership positions you held as well.
- Test Scores - add your SAT or ACT… but only if it’s something you’re proud of. It makes no sense to list a 25 ACT score, but a 30 will look really good.
- Honors and Awards - these are your bragging rights! You should also list any scholarships here.
- Education - of course you’ve got to list this. Make sure to add in extra info if it will help you, such as a minor or a strong GPA.
- Additional Information - here you can list your websites and other profiles, and your interests. Any groups you join will be listed here as well.
- Personal Information - phone, address, status, etc. Put what you’re comfortable with.
Now we get into the fun part.
LinkedIn has lots of extra sections you can add to your profile to make it even more complete.
Check out the photo above.
These are two of the extra sections I have listed on my profile – one for my travels and one that lists my recent blog posts.
Each gives a little more information about me and serves to make my profile stand out.
Here are some of the sections you can add to your own profile. Make sure a section is relevant to you before you add it!
- WordPress – this one is really important for me. My main “job” is running College Info Geek, so I want people to see the articles I publish on my profile.
- Languages - if you speak multiple languages, you can list them along with your proficiency in each.
- Publications - here you can list things you’ve written that have been published. Protip: you can guest post on big blogs and then list your published articles here! It’s a great way to start building a portfolio of writing.
- Behance - if you do any sort of visual work, you can use the Behance widget to display it. I use it to display the freelance web design work I’ve done.
- Volunteer Experience - if you’ve done extensive volunteering, it would be a great idea to list it here.
- SlideShare Presentations - you can actually hack the SlideShare widget to get a welcome video in your profile. Check out Lewis Howes’ blog post on how to do it.
You should now have a mostly complete profile, and with it a solid foundation for using LinkedIn effectively. Congrats! Now let’s move on to some more strategies.
Link to Your Personal Website
Having a LinkedIn profile is great, but nothing showcases your brand and talent better than a personal website.
While your LinkedIn profile shows off most of the professional information you probably want to display, it’s still cookie-cutter and looks like everyone else’s.
On the other hand, a personal website is unique.
You have complete control over the design, navigation, content – everything. It’s completely yours.
Also, like your LinkedIn profile but unlike your resume, it’s dynamic. It doesn’t get out of date (as long as you keep it updated). So when you’re at a networking event or interview, you can hand a new contact a business card with your URL on it, and they’ll be able to get an up-to-date view of you.
As an added benefit, having a personal website shows people who you know how to make a website.
Even though making a site isn’t hard, it’s impressive to a lot of people.
So link your site to your LinkedIn profile!
If you don’t have a personal website and don’t know how to make one, don’t worry.
It’s not nearly as hard as you think. I wrote a lengthy post called The Ultimate Guide to Building a Personal Website that you can use to get a site built from scratch, which you can use to get off the ground.
After that, you can start learning at your own pace if you want to customize things. Once you’ve got your profile complete and your personal website linked to it, you can start getting into the more active parts of LinkedIn. First up…
Hit Up Your Personal Connections for Recommendations
Social proof is incredibly important in our uber-competitive world, which is why it’s a great idea to go out and get LinkedIn recommendations from people you’ve worked with. You can ask for a recommendation from an old or current boss, co-worker, freelance client, and even someone who works under you.
LinkedIn gives the person writing the recommendation the option of identifying the relationship they had with you, so it’s good to have a variety of recommendation from people both above and below you. I’ve found that the people I’ve worked with in the past are more than willing to write recommendations if they’re already on LinkedIn, and if I did a great job when working with them.
Go through your work history and find the jobs where you performed well and still have a good relationship with your co-workers, and ask them to recommend you. This will help complete your profile, and it also gives you some backup when it comes to convincing your profile viewers that you’re the real deal.
As an added benefit, you can use these recommendations elsewhere – for example, I listed them on my personal website.
Get Involved in LinkedIn Groups
Many people have told me that the Groups function of LinkedIn is the most important part of the site, and I tend to agree with them. Groups are where the real networking happens on the site. It’s where people get off their profiles and actually talk to each other.
You want to be in their talking with people as well – it’s how you build strong relationships. Hit up the Groups directory and search for some groups that interest you. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- groups for your city
- groups for the city you hope to move to after college
- groups for your college
- entrepreneurial groups, if you have a business
- groups for the industry you want to enter
Additionally, the LinkedIn Students and Recent Grads group is one that every student should join.
Once you find groups that you like, the key to success is to get in there and help people.
Don’t just go in and say, “I’m looking for a job.” Find discussion topics that you’re knowledgeable about, and help people with their questions.
Doing this will help establish you as an expert in your field, and it will also help you build relationships.
I’m a huge supporter of the idea that helping people is the best networking tactic there is. It’s certainly a lot more fun and useful than just handing out business cards a reciting elevator pitches. Alright, one last tip…
Use the WhoWorks.At Extension
I’m sure you have a few companies in your mind that you’d absolutely love to work for.
Maybe you want to work for Apple. Maybe it’s Facebook. Maybe it’s even Burton Snowboards.
Ever wished there was a way to find people who work for these companies so you can connect with them? Usually, people just have to ask around their network to find these people, or fill out contact forms on company websites. Well, there’s a better way to do that.
If you’re a Google Chrome user, install the WhoWorks.At extension.
This extension adds a button to your browser toolbar that, when clicked, show you the LinkedIn profiles for people in your extended network that work for the website you’re currently on. Want to figure out who in your network works at Facebook? Just head over to Facebook and then click the button. This works the same for any company – just head to their website and click the button.
Note that the extension will only show you people who are 1st, 2nd, or 3rd connections to you – it won’t show you everyone.
This means that it gets more and more useful with every person you add to your network.
So don’t slack off on meeting and adding people! If you implement these five strategies into how you use LinkedIn, you’re far more likely to succeed in getting what you want out of the network.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and become a LinkedIn ninja.