Why Colleges Need to Arm Their Students with LinkedIn Now

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personal-branding2by mary toomey

I spent time at Microsoft’s headquarters this summer helping employees with their LinkedIn profiles. I also had the pleasure of talking to a group of interns who were working on site while I was there.

Ranging from freshmen to seniors in college, the students told me they didn’t consider LinkedIn a useful tool, nor did they have a clue as to what they should be putting on their LinkedIn profiles. I was flabbergasted. Here they were, gaining the type of Fortune 100 experience recruiters salivate over, and they failed to see the value in sharing it. 

Most of the interns’ colleges (including Ivy league universities) had not taught them the importance of LinkedIn profiles, nor the value the platform offers for securing internships and most importantly, making headway in the post graduate workforce. They were equally surprised to learn that recruiters search LinkedIn for student talent too.

It’s Not Social Media, It’s Professional Profiling

I taught them a few simple things: to connect to everyone from the Microsoft campus they met this summer, get recommendations from their respective bosses before they left to build their profile experience and of course that they use a headshot that shows they are approachable and polished. I am always amazed at the photos college kids think SocBusEtqare appropriate. They don’t seem to take this as serious as they should be.  

If you look at the majority of college career pages online, there is a lot of talk about “career coaching for seniors”. A college might have a professional ambassador come in to talk to their business classes (only) about LinkedIn or, bring in a recent grad (who just got a job in social media) to do it, (not the best choice in either case), but few colleges demonstrate the value of creating professional presence on LinkedIn. They should be providing preliminary guidance beginning at the freshman level.

The sooner students learn how to build a professional profile, the better chance they will have landing internships and other opportunities. Having a polished (work in process) LinkedIn profile demonstrates they are serious about learning and gaining experience in their chosen fields. It gives them an opportunity to showcase what they have done to date and intend on doing in the future.

Schmoozing 101

It was enlightening to see some of the interns’ reactions when we were talking. Some remained disinterested, others became enraged their colleges weren’t offering this type of tutelage and still others, (very few), really got it

Such was the case with an incoming freshman I met, Rutha Nuguse. What a go-getter! Already a “Marketing Apprentice at Microsoft”, she not only ‘got it’ when we were talking, oozing with enthusiasm and asking terrific questions, but she promptly changed up her profile and followed up with me immediately afterward. I am proud to say, Rutha is a now a connection of mine.

Opportunities are often gleaned from whom you know over what you know – that’s not whining, but reality – and the good news is everyone can reap the same benefit by networking. Doing so OhioState1on LinkedIn provides insurmountable value; students who learn this early on will excel beyond their peers. If you’re still in doubt, read what one of our professional contacts has to say about it:

I’m looking for candidates that have meaningful strong connections with people that are already established in the career field that they have selected.

I do not want to see them connecting with other college kids and using it as another social networking game of how many contacts they ramp up.

I want to see them actively engaging in groups and with people that can advance their career. Seasoned veterans love to feel helpful and provide insight. They shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice. 

Heather Wilds, Recruiter

Final Words

Last year, LinkedIn announced they were starting a college pilot program. They partnered with select schools (Michigan State, Wharton, Syracuse and a few others), “to further understand the needs of students and alumni in an effort to develop more ways to better serve them.”

NEWSFLASH: They’re already doing a stellar job!

Students should start building their profiles and professional networking in their freshman year so by the time they are seniors, their network will be strong and help lead them to a career position. The colleges that figure this out first and provide the option of in depth training to their students, will have an edge in getting them better internships, and ultimately into hired positions after graduation. 

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