I’ve been told that I am significantly more career-minded than most my age. Last year, as a freshman in college, I worked at a fantastic full-time internship at Gannett.
A big part of the reason I got the job was because I made some valuable connections through networking. Turns out, people are willing to help people they know – and maybe even take a chance on an excited, little freshman.
One of the biggest tools you can leverage is the site LinkedIn, the professional social network. Some will tell you LinkedIn is like Facebook.
Don’t believe them. LinkedIn is much better – and the approach is extremely different.
Use LinkedIn to connect to contacts and classmates, follow news from companies and industries you care about, participate in helpful discussions on groups relating to your industry, and even find internships or jobs.
For students, LinkedIn is a fantastic resource!
The awful thing about starting out on LinkedIn (or really any chunk of the “getting your life together” venture)- is that it looks like you have everything to do – all at once. It’s intimidating to look at a mountain from the bottom and obsess over how you’ll ever get to the top. Obsess and freak out.
So, for the person who has no idea where to start, here are some little bitty bites out of the pie you can take slowly, gradually, and simply.
1. Make An Account
Easy. Easy peasy. You probably sign up for one service or another every month or so. You know the drill and you’ve known it ever since you first signed up for Neopets or Runescape or whatever time-suck was the entirety of your digital world back in elementary school.
2. Add Your School and Location
Filling out this basic info helps them figure out what probable networks you’re in. They expand as you make connections, fill in and gain employment history, etc. For now, your college and your area is a good place to start. You can also fill in any info on your intended industry or major.
Don’t feel pressured to give up every detail about your life. You don’t have to fill in every club or class you’ve taken, but school, year, and major are a solid start.
3. Get a Nice Headshot
Granted, you may not want to pick from your glamorous selection on Facebook of party pics, Instagram filtered selfies, and food photos. Skip those pictures and get some solid headshots. Remember to get your face well-centered and not too far off to the side or close up– I’ve seen photos that are taken from uncomfortably close up.
Also, remember that this is a professional profile and not a dating site. Get a friend to do take your headshot in nice lighting on a clear morning. Pick a good location– trees, brick, a plain wall. Don’t do it in your mirror (come on, at least pretend to be classy!) and don’t do it in the middle of your messy room!
Headshots are important because they give you instant credibility and have the biggest impact on whether or not people think your profile is even worth considering looking at. It’s not that the network is made up of vain people. It’s just that any no-face on the site who doesn’t even have their act together enough to have a photo is not worth checking out.
4. Have a Resume
You can’t keep putting this off. You need to make a resume. Once you have a resume on your computer you can use it to fill in an employment history on your LinkedIn Profile.
Have a resume? Then set aside few hours on a weekend to put translate your resume into employment info on your profile. Don’t have a resume? Well, get on that!
Be sure to enlist help from your school’s career counselors. Many have resume writing workshops that will help you out. You can also use your resume to help you will out the summary / about me section.
5. Write a Headline
This is one of the key things that shows up in a search on LinkedIn, so make sure to maximize the space. Student at ______ University is decidedly boring. Had a cool internship last summer? Maybe Former Research Intern at NIH. Whoa, now that sounds like someone worth checking out.
No internship experience? How about something like Aspiring Graphic Designer at ______ University, or maybe reference a club– Business Manager at The Daily Bugle (or whatever it is you do) (Yes, that was a Spiderman reference). Differentiate yourself and give potential recruiters or employers a taste of who you are and what you do.
6. Join Alumni and School-related Groups
Most schools have at least one major alumni group on LinkedIn. More often than not, there will also be more that are more specific to your department, major, Greek organization, honor society, etc. These are a good place to start because many people feel camaraderie with people who shared their same roots and after all, our college years really shape us as adults.
You can also join groups that cater better to your professional interests (animation? finance? pharmaceuticals?) and anything else you may find interesting, but school is a really solid starting point.
Be sure to adjust settings on email notifications from groups as they can get overwhelming! Use these groups to participate in discussions and get your name out there as well as make connections, both to your peers and to that alum who is exactly where you want to be in 10 years!
7. Start Connecting With People You Know
LinkedIn is different from Facebook. Do not connect with everybody you’ve ever had a class with. Connect with people you can reasonably trust since just as they are sharing their network, you are sharing yours. Connecting opens a level of professional communication that you may not feel comfortable granting that lab partner who screwed you over freshman year.
It’s a good idea to connect with people whom you have met in a professional capacity as these people can recommend you or post updates and links that will be good reads for you on the industry you hope to work in.
Connect with long-time, trustworthy friends, career counselors, professors (provided that they like you and you didn’t accidentally have your phone on one time in class and your friend’s customized Hall and Oates ringtone didn’t blare as you fumbled with your phone for two minutes), co-workers, bosses, and even your parents’ close buddies. There are multiple ways of doing this from connecting with people in your email contacts list to trolling through the “People You May Know” tab on the top right of the home page.
LinkedIn allows you to go into a significant amount of detail, but don’t feel like you have to do everything, especially all at once. Little by little, you can build a strong profile. This is not an advanced guide on how to use LinkedIn, but everyone needs to start somewhere. When you have accomplished these seven steps, you’ll have a solid start on LinkedIn!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Harper Honey!
About the Author: Harper is a psychology major and marketing minor at the College of William and Mary. This DC Area native has interned everywhere from her local forensics department to a Fortune 500 media giant to a large financial investing firm. She leads Her Campus William & Mary, does work with MTVInsights, and runs her own blog, Harper Honey. She’s also an award-winning amateur playwright and TV junkie. Follow her on Twitter.
Image courtesy of christianpf. Thank you!