Use LinkedIn Like a Pro: Best Tips for Students and Recent Grads

LinkedIn profiles are more important to your career as a New Grad than most people realize. The content and how you use LinkedIn can make a huge impact on your ability to land your first job in your field. The following explains the best practices and tips to stand out on LinkedIn as a New Grad.

Does LinkedIn Matter?

Most college students know that LinkedIn matters in some way. But, many new grads and college students don't invest a lot of time in LinkedIn. This is a mistake.

Your career journey will span many years and the time you invest in your LinkedIn profile can make a huge impact. In fact, 97% of recruiters are active on LinkedIn every single day. Yet, less than 30% of job seekers are using LinkedIn to find their next job. This creates a huge opportunity for new grads to land entry-level jobs.

Create a Strong Profile

The first step to using LinkedIn effectively is to build a strong LinkedIn profile. This is a social media platform for the professional world. So, your message needs to be professional.

After you create your LinkedIn account, you will want to follow these LinkedIn profile tips to build the best profile for your job search:

LinkedIn Summary

The first section of your LinkedIn profile is your summary. Your LinkedIn summary should be an overview of who you are as a professional. You will want to write this to your potential audience on LinkedIn.

Your goal with the description in your summary is to create a message that makes employers interested in learning more about you. You could include background on why you got into the field you are in, unique skills or experiences that make you stand out, recent awards or achievements, personal interests and other information about yourself.

Your LinkedIn summary should be written to help employers learn more about who you are outside of your work experience. The summary section is different than your bio on facebook or twitter.

Instead, this is where you get to convey your complete elevator pitch as a professional. This section is to emphasize the difference between you and other professionals. Include insights about your skills and knowledge. This will grab the attention of hiring managers and potential connections.

Add a Profile Photo

Your profile photo is so important. It should be your best professional headshot for LinkedIn. The reason you want a photo on LinkedIn is to help people remember who you are and build trust in you as a professional.

Try to use the same photo across all social media platforms. This will make it easier for hiring managers and recruiters to find you.

Make sure to use a photo that is professional-looking. Your profile photo does not have to be taken by a professional to make you look professional.  

This means a high-resolution image must be used. It should be a close-up image of you where you look professional. This means that your friends or anyone else is not appearing in the image. You should not use a selfie or an image that is highly cropped.

This image will be indexed by google so you will want to have an image that creates interest in you as a person that people want to connect with.

Don't Forget the Cover Photo

The next thing to add to your new graduate LinkedIn profile is a cover or background photo. This image serves to create a visual cue to the person skimming your profile about who you are as a professional.

LinkedIn does offer a number of preset options in this field now. However, everyone can pick from those options. So, using these preset options does not make you stand out in the business world.

Instead, you should pick something that is unique to help people to visually connect with who you are as a professional. This could be an image that represents your best skills, your location, your industry, or any other image that helps people to see where you fit in the workforce.

Add Media Across Your Profile

The next step to building a strong LinkedIn profile for recent graduates is to add media across your profile. This means that you can and should attach samples of your work, videos, pictures, and anything else that you have to give people a context of your skills.

The types of files that you can attach as media to your profile are jpeg, pdf, or links to videos that are hosted on Vimeo or YouTube. LinkedIn will automatically process these files for the platform and they will embed directly on your profile for people to see.

Be smart about what items of media you add. Make sure they are your best works and that you have the authority to share the works publicly.

You will also want to use the fields when adding the media to your profile to describe what they are and why you did the work. This will provide important context to the person skimming through your profile.

Use Relevant Keywords

Most recruiters use LinkedIn as a resume database. This means that they use the dropdowns and search fields to find people for their open jobs. They will also use these functions to validate a candidate for their job applications. So, you will want to make sure that you appear in their search results.

To do this, you will need use keywords relevant to your professional goals. You will also want to put those keywords all over your profile to ensure that you can show up in the maximum number of search results. You cannot appear in these searches if you do not provide a description of your professional life.

Simply attaching your resume as media to your profile will actually harm your job search. LinkedIn does not currently index the keywords in the media. Instead, you need to put the keywords in the appropriate fields.

Complete All Fields

You will need to complete all fields on your profile. This requires that you take special care with what you put into each field and how you enter the information in that field. This is important for a couple of reasons.

First, people cannot find you if you do not fully and completely fill out your LinkedIn profile. This means that recruiters will likely not find you or bother to look at your LinkedIn profile or resume if you fail to include all of the right information on your LinkedIn profile.

Second, most employers integrate their applicant tracking systems (ATS) with LinkedIn. These ATS programs are all driven by keywords and job titles. This means that the fields on LinkedIn are also fields in the employer's HR programs.

So, if you do not have information in the right place on your LinkedIn profile, then you will not be seen properly by potential employers. And, in that case, your applications to their job postings will likely be rejected automatically by the applicant tracking systems.

Avoid this common trap on LinkedIn for new grads and make sure to complete all fields with the right information for your experience. And, make sure to revisit your LinkedIn profile regularly to ensure that the information is current.

Don't Forget the Internship

Most college students and new grads completed internships while they were in school. However, these internships are not always paid. This volunteer experience is valuable to your job search. So, make sure to include it on your LinkedIn profile.

You can put a paid or unpaid internship in the professional experience section of your LinkedIn profile. You can also use the Volunteer Experience section for your internship if it was unpaid. But, the better use of this section is for community groups, committees, and other groups that you have been involved with on a regular basis.

Use the Skills Section

The Skills section on your LinkedIn profile maps directly into the applicant tracking systems. Companies that pay for the recruiter module on LinkedIn will also get analytics about your qualifications as a candidate based on this section. So, you will want to complete this section fully.

The keywords that you place in the skills section will be used against your profile to determine if you are qualified for any jobs that they advertise. This means that you need to make sure to include all relevant keywords here and keep it updated as your professional interests change over time.

When detailing these qualifications make sure not to list anything in this section that is not true. You will permanently harm your online reputation if you list things in this section that are false or untrue.

So, be sure to research keywords and phrases related to the position you are applying for when using this important feature on LinkedIn.

Put Your Data in the Right Place

Putting yourself out on the job market means doing so with the right data. This means that you cannot be found on the platform by recruiters if you do not use the drop-downs. So, always pick the best options from those drop-downs whenever possible.

Those ATS programs used by most employers to sort candidates to their job postings will also probably reject you if they do not see the right information or cannot read your information. Avoid this common mistake and take the time to explore the settings on LinkedIn to make sure that you are maximizing your visibility.

Be Creative

Now that you have built an effective LinkedIn profile, you will want to be creative in how you use the system for your job search.

For many people, this means using LinkedIn on a daily basis. For many people, this means using LinkedIn on a daily basis. Making LinkedIn a habit will enable you to find the best ways to create new connections, find the right company, and explore all of the resources it has to offer for your job search and career.

You should use LinkedIn in whatever way is best for your goals and that you can stick with. However, you should make sure that you are using this powerful tool in a way that advances your current career goals.

Stay Professional

LinkedIn should be used only for business purposes to connect with professionals in your industry or field.  This means that you should only share things that you would want potential or current employers to see.

You can connect with friends on LinkedIn. In fact, doing so is a great way to stay in contact with people that you met at school. However, you shouldn't send spammy messages on LinkedIn or share anything that you wouldn't want potential employers to see.

Remember, LinkedIn isn't a dating site or a place to hang out with friends. Most people view the system as a place to build their knowledge, to find key resources in their industry, and to collaborate with other like-minded people in their industry.

So, be professional when you are using LinkedIn for your job search and make sure that your profile reflects it at all times.

Ask for Recommendations

The best way to stand out on LinkedIn is to ask for recommendations from people that you have worked with. The more you can get recommended by professionals that are well-respected, the better your chances will be of advancing in your job search.

For example, if you've done a great job working at Acme Company, ask one or two people that you have worked with to write a strong recommendation for you on your LinkedIn profile. If they are willing, ask them to include specific keywords in their recommendation.

These are more important to stand out on the platform. The recommendations will stay on your profile as long as you want them to. And, because these recommendations are public, many employers and recruiters will replace the traditional references when they see a number of recommendations on a candidate's profile.

Make Real Connections

You should also focus on making meaningful connections on LinkedIn.  This means finding people in your existing network and creating new connections.

Typically, you can connect on LinkedIn with people that you have known in some capacity. This might be a person that you worked for or went to school with. You should try to build a network of professionals within your industry and related areas.

You never want to spam people on LinkedIn by connecting with them over and over again just so that you can get a recommendation or a connection. You should really connect with people that you have some sort of relationship with and that you feel comfortable asking for a referral, a recommendation, or an introduction.

The people who are best at networking are those who do so with intention. They genuinely want to meet new people and to learn from others in their field. This could be as simple as finding people at a company of interest or that also graduated from your school.

Whatever that potential link may be, make sure that you remain focused on why you are networking in the first place. Your career is long, so be careful to think about building a network that not just helps with the current job search, but also advances your bigger career goals.

Join LinkedIn Groups

Another way to help you stand out on LinkedIn is to join groups related to your job search.

For example, if you are interested in healthcare or project management, there could be relevant groups that you can join. By joining a group, being active in the comments section of posts, and sharing articles from other sites, you will get noticed by other group members.

This could lead to connections, recommendations, or opportunities that are relevant to your job search. The more active you are on LinkedIn groups, the more likely it will be for others to notice you and contact you about potential opportunities.

Follow Companies

Many recent grads aren't sure which companies to follow on LinkedIn. By following a company, you are showing an interest in what the organization does or its industry. The posts made by the organization will also show up in your LinkedIn feed. You can always unfollow an organization if they do not prove interesting to your career or job search.

Recruiters will sometimes look at your companies list to find out what your interests may be. You should not follow every company that you apply to. This will become obvious to others if they look at your list. Instead, you should be selective in the types of organizations that you follow and the potential groups that you follow.

Use the LinkedIn Job Board the Right Way

Make sure that you are using the job board portion of LinkedIn the right way.

LinkedIn is an aggregator of job postings. This means that employers can post jobs on the system, but other job boards will also push job postings to the system for publishing. This means that not all of the jobs on LinkedIn are active.

So, to use the system the right way, you want to leverage all of the data that it has to offer in the LinkedIn jobs section. This can include information about who posted the job, the number of applicants, the connections that you have that work there, and people that you should connect with at the company (i.e. school alumni, company alumni, etc.).

Find this information in the job postings on LinkedIn and use it by sending in-mails or connection invites to learn more. You can network on LinkedIn using this information and apply it directly to the employer on their job board or careers website. Going direct to the company through their careers page or an employee referral will almost always lead to better results.

However, there will be times when you must apply to jobs on LinkedIn. When you do this, you will probably not be able to send a cover letter. So, make sure that you have a strong resume and strong profile ready to go before you hit submit.

Respond to Recruiters

Recruiters that work at companies and that work at recruiting firms will reach out to you at some point in your career. You should respond to these inquiries whenever they are received.

This is important to do for a couple of reasons. First, LinkedIn provides recruiters with analytics about the responsiveness of candidates on the platform. Recruiters will use this insight to make decisions about whether or not to bother reaching out to someone about a job.

Remember, recruiters only have so many in-mails each month and they are credited back when people respond. So, by responding back with a simple "No Thank You," you are being courteous to that recruiter and improving your responsiveness analytics.

Second, that recruiter may be working on other jobs. So, in your response, be clear about the types of roles that you want. This will let the recruiter know quickly if you are a fit and make sure that you get in their system the right way.

Engage with People on the Platform

Finally, and most importantly, make sure that you are using LinkedIn to engage with people in your industry. You can't build a network without putting energy into it consistently. So spend time making connections now and you will see a huge impact on your career for years to come.

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