I recently received this question and realized that there weren’t a lot of resources out there for soon-to-be-professionals to look for in terms of creating an optimal LinkedIn profile. I also believe that any college student that is on LinkedIn is to be commended for staying “ahead of the curve”, so here is my advice to you all:
First of all, as with anyone else I consult with, you have to ask yourself what your LinkedIn objective is. If you are joining LinkedIn to communicate with classmates, you are in the wrong place as you will find very few of them on LinkedIn in comparison to Facebook or MySpace. However, if you are utilizing LinkedIn for your future career management, you have come to the right place!
But how do you advertise your profile amongst so many professionals while you are still only a student?
As recruiters and others looking to network usually initially target people by 1) geography and 2) industry, you first have to decide where you want to work and in what industry you want to work in. If you still don’t know the answers to either of these questions, that is fine. Go ahead and start by putting down a location and industry where there are a lot of jobs that you might be interested in. Potentially interested in the Financial Market? New York City. High Tech? San Francisco. I think you get the picture. Obviously if you plan to live elsewhere after graduation, that city should be the one you put down. And if you aren’t sure if you can afford to live on your own, your home zip code should be your location.
As for industry, this is a toughie. As you already know, there is no industry for “college student”, so you have to make a choice. And if you are not sure, that is OK as you can always change it later. Buy a copy of “What Color is Your Parachute?” and think about what you enjoy doing, what your passion is. Go to your Career Center for advice. Try to contact former alumni. Ask your family. Either way, you have to at least temporarily put down an industry that you might be at least initially interested in pursuing a career in.
Once you have decided on a location and industry, it would be ideal if you can think of the type of work that you want to do. This may actually be easier than thinking of the industry. Sales? Accounting? Engineering? Some of these may actually be industries in themselves. But once you have narrowed this down, you could create a Headline Profile that says, for pure example, “UCLA ’09 Graduate. Interested in Sales Position in B2B E-Commerce.”
As you can see, the more narrow a title you put down, the more you will get noticed for your ideal position. This really comes down to an exercise in branding, and Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand is your book if you would like to further explore this, although it may be geared more towards professionals with some work experience under their belt. The more “branding” that you can create, the more distinct your LinkedIn profile will look and the higher your chances will be that you may get contacted as a passive candidate.
Whenever you write an essay or a paper in school, you start with what you want to discuss and then mention how you plan to back it up, right? Your summary should be the same. You talk about who you are, what you want to do, and what you bring to the table. You have done many activities in college and even high school that may add to want you want to do with your career. You may have been part of a college group that provides evidence of your capabilities. You may have done a part-time job. List those things that may appeal to future employers that back up your Professional Headline. For instance, in my resume (before there was LinkedIn this was all that we had…) I mentioned that I was looking for an entry position in Sales & Marketing but that I had also studied Accounting. It was the addition of that Accounting class which actually got me my first job.
For kicks and giggles, let me write a summary of how I may have written my LinkedIn Headline Profile and Summary if I could turn back the clock (not to brag but for the sole purpose of giving you all more advice and sample matter on the subject to help you generate more ideas):
Headline: Amherst College ’09 Graduate. Looking for Sales & Marketing Entry-Level Position in Japan in International Sales or Marketing Division of Technology Manufacturer.
Summary: Neal Schaffer (I believe third-person style adds an objective “air” to the wording) is currently a Senior at Amherst College where he is majoring in Asia Studies and plans to graduate in May, 2009. Currently holding a 3.6 GPA, Neal has excelled in the studies of Asian cultures and languages and has already acquired proficiency in Mandarin Chinese and is currently studying Japanese. Neal has been involved on campus in a number of activities that showcase his initiative and passion, including being a DJ at the college radio station 89.3 WAMH, a contributing writer to the college newspaper Amherst Student, and organizing a photo exhibit on the Beijing Tianmen Demonstrations that he witnessed while studying abroad his Junior-year in China. A believer in learning by doing, Neal plans to spend his summer after graduation at the International Christian University in an intensive Japanese class. In addition to his education in Asian Studies, Neal minored in Art History, where he undertook two different internships during school breaks at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Excelling in communicating with and the understanding of different cultures, taking initiative in pursuing activities and internships, possessing an energetic and passionate personality that recognizes no boundaries, and holding an interest in Business through his recent studies of Accounting & Finance, Neal is currently looking for an entry-level Sales & Marketing Position in the International Sales or Marketing division of a Technology Manufacturer in Japan.
As you can see, I have my Asia and even Art History experience which I use to differentiate myself even though they aren’t directly related to industry (technology) or position (sales). However, I utilize my experience to showcase my branding adjectives: “passionate” and “taking initiative”. I believe that everyone has some experience that can help both differentiate you as well as back up your career objective. It is in deciding which adjectives describe your brand and then backing them up with specific studies or activities that will lend to a more powerful profile summary.
I believe that the summary and profile are the most important things you can add to your profile. For work experience, IF you did a part-time (or full-time) job that adds as evidence to want you want to do AND you can get a LinkedIn Recommendation for what you did, go ahead and put it down. Fill it up with keywords that not only show off what you did but also provide evidence of what you are capable of that aligns with your objective. Hopefully your former boss or supervisor is already on LinkedIn and can write the recommendation for you. If they aren’t have a talk with them and forward them to my blog where I mention the value that any professional has when they join LinkedIn and participate. Ask your professors for a recommendation and get them to sign up for LinkedIn as well. Become the magnet that brings everyone into the LinkedIn world, as everyone will benefit! You may then become the “go-to” person in your college for LinkedIn, which may further add to your brand!
Note that when asking for a recommendation, mention your branding and make sure that those things you want showcased are. Having a LinkedIn recommendation will further differentiate you from the rest of the crowd who don’t have recommendations. It also makes you more “real” of a person in this world of increasing fake profiles.
Everything else in LinkedIn, like asking and answering questions on LinkedIn Answers, joining LinkedIn Groups, adding applications, et. al. can be utilized as much by you as by any professional, so feel free to read the rest of this blog for more information on these. But getting your brand and initial profile together, although it will require some time, will put you ahead of the game in terms of using Social Media to forward your career objective.
About the Author: Neal is recognized as a leader in helping businesses and professionals embrace and strategically leverage the potential of social media. An award-winning published author of Windmill Networking: Maximizing LinkedIn and frequent social media conference speaker, Neal is President of Windmills Marketing, a social media strategy consulting practice that has led social media strategy creation and educational programs for companies ranging from Fortune 500 to Web 2.0 startups.