The Graduate’s Guide To LinkedIn
How to make the most out of your LinkedIn profile and maximise your employment opportunities.
Throughout college, I believed my online presence made me fairly employable — no incriminating photos, a few awards when you searched my name, no controversial tweets. However, when I graduated, I started to notice all the opportunities my friends were getting that I wasn’t. They had multiple interviews lined up while I was still trying to find a company who’d actually read my CV.
It was when I was out for coffee with one of my friends that I realized just where I was going wrong. A notification came up on her phone for some careers event, but it wasn’t the event itself that piqued my interest; it was where the information had come from — LinkedIn.
I didn’t even have a LinkedIn profile, let alone notifications for specific events or networking opportunities. My online presence may not have been destructive to my employability, but it certainly wasn’t enhancing it.
So, with that, I knew what I had to do. I made my LinkedIn profile that evening and dove headfirst into the social network and all the opportunities it came with, which I had been missing out on.
Hence, I am writing this guide so that others can learn from my mistakes and use LinkedIn to maximize their employability after graduating. So without further ado, here is the graduate’s guide to LinkedIn.
Why Use LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a lot more than ‘a professional Facebook.’ It’s a valuable tool for individuals and businesses alike — in fact, it’s the #1 channel B2B marketers use to distribute content.
In the context of graduates and even more established professionals, here are the main reasons to use LinkedIn;
1. It can give you an online presence
LinkedIn can be the equivalent of your website — you can use it to establish yourself and create your brand. So, rather than focusing on trying to hide your online presence, build one that you’re proud of — use it to show off and put yourself forward.
When employers search your name on Google, your LinkedIn will be one of the first things to come up due to Google’s search engine preferences. This makes it the perfect opportunity to sell yourself to potential employers and set yourself apart from everyone else.
2. It can act as your CV
You can not only supplement your traditional CV with your LinkedIn, but the platform even has a job board. Some companies will even require you to apply through LinkedIn — making it ever more essential to have an account.
Your profile offers employers a broader perspective of you as it expands beyond your traditional CV. Your skills and experience can be established in a more meaningful way, and your interests can give employers a better perspective of your personality.
So even if a job application doesn’t require you to have a LinkedIn, it is still wise to have it as a supplement.
3. It connects you
Whether it be with potential employers, other industry professionals, or your college alumni, LinkedIn is the ideal means to connect with people in a professional environment.
Networking is essential throughout your career, but as a graduate, getting started can be extremely tough. LinkedIn can bypass the trouble of trying to find events and ways to get talking to people by connecting you directly with them.
Your potential to build relationships that could change your career forever is just a message away.
4. It offers you insight
When you log in to LinkedIn, you’ll be greeted with a timeline showing updates from your connections, groups, and companies, helping you stay up to date with what’s happening in your industry.
You can get insight into specific companies and what it would be like working for them through company profiles. You can use this to your advantage before an interview by researching what they seem to be looking for based on their employees’ profiles.
Overall, if you want to optimize your chances of being hired somewhere you want to work — LinkedIn can give you the insight to do just that.
Building Your Profile
Signing up for LinkedIn is a pretty self-explanatory process. If you’ve ever signed up for any form of social media, you know how to sign up for LinkedIn.
However, if you want a high-quality profile then follow these tips;
1. Your Profile Picture
The first thing people will see when they look up your profile is your picture, so you want to set a good first impression. Although a professional headshot is your best bet, you don’t need to go out of your way to get one — a simple picture taken by a friend on your phone will suffice.
However, make sure you avoid the following when you take your picture;
- Inappropriate clothing. You don’t need to dress as if you’re the CEO of a major bank or anything but try to stay at least business casual in your pictures. Avoid any sports gear or slogan t-shirts — dress how you would for an interview.
- Poor picture quality. Although you don’t need a high-res camera to take your picture, that doesn’t mean you can have a highly pixelated, out-of-focus, and blurry profile. Keep your image clear and focused so whoever’s looking can see what you look like.
- Bad cropping. Don’t crop your picture so that it’s uncomfortably close or too far away. Aim for the standard passport photo rules — just at the shoulders and showing your full face.
- Old photos. Make sure your photo looks like you. You might have a great quality picture of yourself in a suit from when you were going to prom, but chances are you’ve changed since then. Keep your picture up to date so that people can easily recognize you when they interview you.
2. Your Intro
Although LinkedIn will guide you through your intro section, you don’t have to worry about it being 100% complete. As long as you provide what information is necessary, that’s enough — you don’t want to overload it with too much information either.
Here is what’s necessary;
- Your first and last name. This is pretty self-explanatory — simply write whatever name you use for work.
- A headline. Your headline is a brief description of what you do or want to do. If you don’t write one, LinkedIn will automatically use your current job and employer in its place. However, adding a short description of what you do specifically can help you stand out from the generic automatic LinkedIn headline.
- Current position. The same principles you use for your CV apply to your work experience for your LinkedIn profile. If you aren’t currently working, you simply uncheck the ‘I am currently working here’ box that will appear when you’re filling out the details. The main thing to take away for this section is to focus on detailing your work accomplishments rather than your duties when filling out your job description.
- Education. Even if you have yet to graduate, still fill out your education with your expected graduation date. Listing this information is essential not only to impress employers but to connect with alumni.
- Where you’re based. The minimum requirement is to provide the country you’re based in. However, it’s recommended to give a specific location. You can even provide a postcode, but that won’t appear on your profile. Being more specific about your location just allows LinkedIn to suggest job opportunities in your area.
- Your industry. Depending on what industry you’re in or want to be in, you may not be able to find a perfect match. In that case, just try to pick one as close as possible. Employers will be focused on your headline rather than this section — providing your industry acts as more of a tool for LinkedIn to suggest appropriate jobs.
- Contact information. You only really need to add what contact information you’re comfortable with sharing — whatever way you want to be contacted, provide that.
3. Your Summary
Your summary is probably the most important (and most intimidating) section of your profile. It’s what can make you stand out to potential employers — a way to let them get to know you and what you have to offer. Your summary is your sales pitch.
When it comes to writing your summary go by these guidelines to make your summary effective;
- Write your own summary. There is an option to have LinkedIn generate an outline for you, but I can’t recommend this. What you’ll end up getting is a generic and formulaic summary that might as well not be there at all. Take the time to write your own — if a computer writes it for you, you’ll sound like a computer.
- Use the first person. Your summary is about you — how you describe yourself. You wouldn’t go into a job interview and refer to yourself in the third person, so don’t do that here.
- Keep it concise. There’s a 2000 character limit for your summary, but that doesn’t mean you have to use it. Keep your writing clear and concise. Throwing in random and unnecessary words will make you appear messy and disorganized. There’s also the fact that as a graduate, you won’t, nor are you expected to, have a lot to write about.
- Focus on formatting. Looking through visually appealing LinkedIn profiles, you’ll notice they use a lot of white space. Long and chunky paragraphs lend to a less enjoyable reading experience. So make sure you format your summary into shorter paragraphs rather than one big one.
- Use keywords. Like any other platform, LinkedIn is data-driven. Therefore, when employers are looking to recruit LinkedIn will provide them with candidates who match their requirements. By incorporating commonly used keywords, people use when hiring in your industry, you can optimize your chances of being seen.
- Treat it like a cover letter. In your cover letter, you describe your qualifications and accomplishments rather than simply listing them. Similarly, in your summary, you’re going to want to focus on description — perhaps throw in some of your sales figures from your part-time job or what you did to win an academic award.
- Make sure there are no mistakes. This goes without saying, but proofread your summary — any spelling or grammar errors could throw an opportunity out the window.
4. Your Experience
As a graduate, you won’t have a lot of experience, and that’s ok, it’s expected. However, you definitely have something you can add to this section.
You can include any form of work experience from internships to freelancing — the work didn’t have to be paid either. However, if you don’t include volunteer work in this section as LinkedIn allows you to add that to your profile separately.
Although you may not be able to impress too much with your experience section, try to include at least one entry. And if you are the rare college student with an abundance of experience, make sure you focus on providing the most relevant ones for your industry — again, too much information can go against you.
5. Your Skills
You’re allowed to list 50 skills on LinkedIn — don’t. As a graduate, you may be tempted to overcompensate for your lack of experience with an abundance of expertise. However, skills require evidence.
Only list something as a skill if you’re prepared to demonstrate it. Completing a Duolingo module does not make you fluent in Spanish. As much as you’d like to show off, the risk of being caught out for your lie is far more detrimental.
6. Additional Sections
Additional sections aren’t essential but can give you an edge over other profiles.
You can add three possible additional sections: Volunteer Experience, Accomplishments, and Adding a Profile in Another Language.
Volunteer experience follows the same logic as work experience. Adding a profile in another language can help increase your exposure only if you are looking for jobs that require that language.
As for accomplishments, this is the section you can use to mention anything you weren’t able to in other parts. LinkedIn allows you to add the following types of accomplishments;
- Languages. If you can have a basic conversation in another language, you should mention it — provided you also disclose your competency level.
- Organizations. If you’re a member of any professional organization, it is worth adding. Listing societies you were a member of during college is also useful, especially if you’re looking for a way to connect with past alumni.
- Honors & Awards. Your awards do not have to be solely academic or industry-related. Honors and awards are more of a means to give the impression that you perform at a high caliber.
- Courses. Only include courses that go beyond your college courses — as in courses you took out of your own interest. Also, make sure it’s relevant. If you took a photography course, but you’re looking to start a career in banking, listing your photography course won’t help you.
- Publications. If you had any papers published in journals or wrote an article for your college paper, you can add it. However, only list your article if you’d be comfortable reading it in front of a potential employer.
- Patents. As a graduate, it’s unlikely that you would have any patents, but if for some reason you do, LinkedIn has a category for them.
- Projects. Projects are your side hustle. Whether you’re currently working on a project or you had one during college, list them. LinkedIn also allows you to provide a URL if it applies.
- Test Scores. Unless you have a particularly high score, then avoid this category. As graduates applying for jobs, employers will expect a certain level of knowledge — unless your test scores are notably beyond expectations, they just add unnecessary bulk to your profile.
How To Network
As mentioned earlier, LinkedIn connects you and being a social network; you’re naturally going to be doing some networking.
After going through the process of making your profile ensure that you are proactive in making connections as these connections will be how you can access opportunities. Reach out to the ‘People You May Know,’ follow companies, share content — as a graduate, you need to put in the work as you’re primarily benefitting from these connections.
When networking you’ll get the most benefit from following these guidelines;
- Stay professional. Save thoughts and opinions for other platforms — the tone for LinkedIn is more serious. You don’t have to try to sound like a robot, but keep your conversations professional. Treat LinkedIn like a workplace.
- Connect with everyone you can. You don’t need to bombard people with numerous messages until they return the contact, but you should keep reaching out to as many people as possible. LinkedIn suggests connections — going through that list and messaging each person is quick, easy, and can only benefit you. Even if most of your messages are ignored, one might not be, and that one connection could potentially make your career.
- Receive recommendations. LinkedIn has a feature that allows you to receive recommendations from people you’ve worked for. In other words, recommendations are the equivalent of your references on your CV. Connecting with your past employers or people you’ve worked with and receiving recommendations from them is a great way to boost your credibility.
- Join and be active in groups. Groups are the quickest way to grow your network. As a graduate, try to join groups associated with your college. You can use this network to see what other alumni did to progress their careers based on their profile or by contacting them. With your shared connection, they’ll likely want to help you out.
- Go to events and follow up on LinkedIn. You can find out about networking events through LinkedIn via groups and by following organizations. However, it’s crucial to connect with the people you met at these events afterward. Follow up with a LinkedIn message the day after an event so you can retain your contacts.
- Reach out directly to companies or their employees. Sometimes when the opportunities just don’t seem to be coming your way, you have to make your own. Reaching out directly to companies and their employees (even if they haven’t listed any job positions) is the perfect way to put your foot in the door. Whether they’re hiring or not, connecting with these people will make them more familiar with you and put you on their radar.
As with most things, what you give is what you get. Although LinkedIn isn’t a guarantee for instant professional success after you graduate, it puts you in a better position than you would be without it.
By following this guide and staying determined, you will benefit from LinkedIn and achieve results. So, what are you waiting for? Set up a profile for yourself and start to progress professionally.
Go forth and network. Make connections — make opportunities.
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