Get LinkedIn: A Talent Manager’s Advice for College Students

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by Allison Kruse, Aon Hewitt 

We shop best price, find restaurants, even meet our future spouses using social media today. We can also interact with prospective employers and potentially land our dream job by optimizing our use of LinkedIn – that’s exactly why every college student needs to get LinkedIn.

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The Social Dynamics of Why

As of last May, there are now over 30 million college students and recent grads on LinkedIn, representing 15% of the global LinkedIn user base. Approximately 200,000 college students join the site every month. The professional networking juggernaut encourages college students to join and be active on LinkedIn as evidenced by the platform’s student job portal.

Given the steady growth of the college student demographic, an increasing number of companies are now investing time and money to use LinkedIn to recruit internship and entry-level positions. At last count, Jobvite’s 2012 Social Recruiting Survey reported that 92% of recruiters in the US use or plan to use social media for recruiting. LinkedIn is also the network of choice for social recruiting, with 93% of the hiring population using LinkedIn, and 89% of recruiters hiring new employees found there.

It’s stats like these that make having a well-branded profile in place on LinkedIn essential – especially if you are still in college. While lesser experienced professionals may rely upon other social channels such as Facebook and Twitter, there are many benefits to be had in joining LinkedIn as a student, even as a freshman or sophomore in college. The top three benefits being: 1) Learning How LinkedIn Works 2) Establishing Your Professional Brand Online and 3) Building Your Professional Network. 

Learning How LinkedIn Works

Once you realize the need to be savvy on LinkedIn, you’ll need to learn how to use it to your advantage. If you haven’t been offered any training on how to do it, you are certainly not alone. According to a recent post by JJ Rusch, an avid proponent of LinkedIn, “55% of polled graduates this year said they were unhappy with or never used Career Services at school and 48% said they wished there had been more focus on learning how to get jobs over standard classes.”

Luckily, there is a wealth of information at your fingertips to help you get started on LinkedIn. One of the best resources to use is on the site itself at the LinkedIn Help Center and on the company’s blog. There are also numerous Infographics out there and helpful videos, such as this one, for those who are visual learners. Select a valued resource and start learning the basics.

Establishing Your Professional Brand Online

Everyone should be aware of the digital trail they leave online; anything from what you share, your comments, and even what you “Like” can be found in search and viewed by recruiters and future employers. Rule of Thumb: Never put anything in writing that you would be embarrassed to see on the front page of a newspaper or explain to your grandma.

Think of your LinkedIn profile as a virtual (mini) resume that includes: a snapshot of your experiences, your areas of study, your volunteer work, key skills, and endorsements from your current and former supervisors, professors, team members, colleagues, etc.  Follow these basic steps to make your online profile shine:

Do an audit on yourself

Before you do a thing, search your name on Google, Bing, and/or other search engines, to see what turns up. Take a hard look at your social media presence, from the eyes of a recruiter. What should you change? From the profile picture you choose to the keywords you use, consider if you’re accurately portraying yourself in a way that a company would choose you over other applicants.

Use a professional-looking photograph

Use common sense when selecting your picture. It should be a clear head shot, with just you, and a positive expression on your face. LinkedIn is not the place to show that celebrated picture of you on the beach or at a party with a drink in your hand. Remember, LinkedIn is a professional networking site.

Write a sharp headline

Your headline (the title that describes you at the very top of your profile) will help you get found on LinkedIn. It should tell people what you’re looking for and/or capable of doing. You also only have 120 characters to do it (20 less than a tweet!). Examples of some student headlines may go something like this:

Harvard Engineering Major with 3.75 GPA looking for summer internship in Houston area                                                                                       

Marketing Major with Web Design skills seeks 2014 creative job placement | Open to relocation                                                                                    

UIC Sophomore with volunteer experience in the medical sector open to all opportunities

In each of these examples, the headline reveals what level the student is at, a little bit about their experience or skill level and what their current interests are. This helps recruiters and potential employers connect to them. Students should edit their headlines as they add more skills, experience, and/or change objectives.

Develop the sections of your profile with keywords

Do you have a dream job? Look at job listings in your concentration; what words are characteristic to these jobs? If you were looking to hire someone, (thinking like a recruiter), what types of things would you search for?

Search professional profiles on LinkedIn in your chosen field. What words are these people using in their profiles? Take note of industry specific terms, or buzz words that are being used, and incorporate them as much as possible on your profile. Don’t over use them, but demonstrate you have a basic understanding for your chosen field. This helps recruiters find you when they search these types of terms looking for candidates.

Use the profiles of professionals in your industry as your format guide. Add keywords in your Summary and Experience sections, as well as in the Skills & Expertise feature. You must be accurate and honest just as you would be on your resume – if you don’t have the experience yet, do not claim you do – but you can describe your professional goals, using these same terms.

Embellish your profile further with Honors & Awards, Volunteerism & Causes, Languages, Test Scores, Organizations, Special Projects, and Publications, if/when applicable. When you finish your profile, include a link to it on your resume.

Building Your Professional Network

Growing a network of professional contacts takes time. When you start building your network while you are still in college, you will have better opportunities in landing your first post graduate job.

Connect with professors, school administrators, private teachers, coaches, and current employers – all who will likely have connections in their network that may be helpful when you graduate and look for your first job. Connect with your parents, their contacts, neighbors, former teachers, former employers and others at part time jobs and internships you’ve had. Connect with classmates last – they are not your prime contact target in the beginning.

Your goal should be to meet and establish beneficial connections with professionals on LinkedIn, many of whom you may not have the same opportunity to do so with offline. 

The second part to building your network is based in credibility. Established professionals work to become “thought leaders” in their field by publishing articles, participating in discussions, helping others and offering solutions. Your job will be to establish yourself as a viable job candidate, using some of these same techniques.

Search LinkedIn Groups and join memberships in your focused concentration. Follow what’s being said, ask honest questions and connect with members in the group. Read LinkedIn Influencer blogs. You can search these blogs for well known industry leaders and experts in your chosen field. When you post comments, make them positive – always.

By participating in these venues, over time, you will be able to set yourself up for being noticed in a professional way and learn from others in the process.

Key Takeaways

Take time to craft your profile so that it makes you stand out from the crowd and avoid any grammar or spelling mistakes. Take a look at strong profiles within your industry and use key terms that recruiters search for.  Ask for recommendations from your professors and supervisors, as well as skill endorsements from colleagues, to make your profile stronger. Highlight the experiences and skills that will help you make the transfer to a successful professional life.

Make connecting with people on LinkedIn a habit. You will get out of LinkedIn exactly what you put into it; remember that it takes time to build a solid professional network. Always be professional, positive, and interesting.

When you do apply for a job, reach out to hiring managers and recruiters to reiterate your interest in the position, and thank them for their time. You never know who that connection might know, and chances are it may be a connection who may ultimately help you land a job someday.

Allison Kruse is passionate about creating engaging digital experiences for candidates and employers to connect and get to know one another. As Aon Hewitt’s Global Digital Talent Manager, she leads the talent acquisition objectives of social media, mobile, employer branding, talent network, and digital strategy for their clients. An expert at creating and implementing holistic solutions to complex business needs, she enjoys networking and brainstorming with others. Connect with Allison on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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