5 Mistakes You’re Making on LinkedIn (& How to Fix Them)

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With more than 277 million users worldwide and 94 percent of job recruiters looking for potential hires on the site, it’s no surprise that collegiettes are hopping onto LinkedIn every day. However, anyone who’s ever tried to create a profile on this site knows how confusing and stressful it can be. It seems too time-consuming to properly communicate your accomplishments, work experience and personality all on a single page. Is there something crucial your profile might be missing? Or are you just doing it all wrong?

Don’t fear! Her Campus talked to several career experts about the biggest mistakes they see first-time LinkedIn users (especially college students) make, so you’ll be a recruiter’s dream—and the LinkedIn envy of your friends—in no time!

Mistake #1: Not having a profile picture (or using the wrong one)

Not having a profile picture is a huge mistake when it comes to LinkedIn; including one will make it seven times more likely that someone will view your profile (and that someone could be a job recruiter or hiring manager!).

However, one issue that our career experts talked about across the board was how many college students had the wrong type of profile photo. Donna Schilder, a leadership, career and business coach, points out that LinkedIn isn’t Instagram. “I've seen people put vacation pictures, funny pictures and even pictures of themselves in a bikini on LinkedIn,” she says. “You will not get hired if you do this!”

Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career expert and strategist, also points out another gigantic profile picture no-no: selfies! Throwing up a peace sign and duck face won’t get you any closer to landing that dream job or making awesome connections.

How to fix it

Schilder has several pieces of advice for having a classy and appropriate photo. “Your picture should be a professional portrait, taken by a professional photographer,” she says. “The picture should focus on your face and it should not have a distracting background. No furniture, curtains or trees coming out of your head!” Schilder also recommends having a neutral background or one that contrasts with your hair color (for example, a blue background for blondes).

Additionally, Schilder recommends styling your hair in a professional way (a clean ponytail or a half-up, half-down updo usually looks good!) and also wearing something business-oriented, like a suit.

Mistake #2: Leaving your headline as “Student at X University”

As a college student, you probably don’t have an impressive title for your headline, such as, “Editor-in-Chief of Important Publication,” but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for just saying that you’re a student!

“Your LinkedIn headline is a great opportunity to get creative,” says Rita Friedman, a certified career coach. “It is how you're choosing to represent yourself in the online professional networking arena, and it is going to be your first impression on a prospective employer.” Despite how short it is, your headline is a huge part of your profile, so it shouldn’t be neglected!

How to fix it

There are a couple of different ways to make your headline stand out among the rest. First, do some research on the language your specific industry uses so your headline targets key words and phrases. You can do this research by looking through dozens of LinkedIn profiles. What have successful people in your future career field tried? What are your peers doing?

Next, it’s time to think of an eye-catching headline. “Using a general phrase, such as, ‘Seeking new opportunity,’ does absolutely nothing to help the optimization of a LinkedIn profile,” says Lisa Rangel, a job search consultant and author of 99 Free Job Search Tips from an Executive Recruiter. “Use a specific phrase to come up in the search results of recruiters, such as ‘Digital Marketing Intern (Rutgers Grad) Seeking Entry-Level Digital Agency Account Manager Position.’” This phrase stays within LinkedIn’s 120-character headline limit but also says a lot about you.

Friedman also cautions collegiettes not to put too many different professions into their headlines either. “Too often, I see college students trying to cram too many ideas into this one line,” she says. “I've seen countless headlines like ‘Expert in Theater, Market Research, Animal Welfare, Social Justice, Economics, Physics and Architecture.’” Writing too many things can be as detrimental as writing too few, so focus on a particular industry or two related fields and stick with those!

Mistake #3: Listing the tasks you completed instead of the contributions you made

If you already have a LinkedIn profile, take a look at how you describe your work at particular jobs and companies. If all you originally wrote down were tasks that you completed (e.g. “Wrote out company spreadsheets” or “Worked on social media”), you may not be effectively showing people who view your profile what you have to offer. As a college student, you may not be sure just how much you affected a company (especially if you were there for a short period of time), which can make it hard to create a profile that showcases your talents.

How to fix it

Kathy Caprino, founder of Ellia Communications and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough, recommends being more thoughtful about your time at an organization. “LinkedIn is where you can shine, so don't just list tasks and functions you've performed,” she says. “List accomplishments, achievements, problems you've solved, new solutions you've created. In short, write about how you've impacted the organizations you've been a part of.”

Instead of just mentioning that you worked on a company’s social media accounts, get more concrete and specific with your accomplishments! Did you help the organization gain 2,000 new Twitter followers and 1,500 Facebook likes? These are important things to include in your description of your time at a company that could help you in the long run! Don’t be afraid to stand out and show what you’re capable of on your LinkedIn profile; you never know who could be looking at it.

Mistake #4: Only connecting with your classmates.

Trying to branch out professionally can be an intimidating task, and it’s tempting to take the easy road and only connect with your college classmates on LinkedIn. But don’t fear the large number of professionals on LinkedIn; you need to expand your network!

How to fix it

Lucky for you, LinkedIn provides users with plenty of opportunities to get more involved with the rest of the community. “LinkedIn is an amazing, powerful tool to connect, so there's no excuse for you to have only 20 connections,” Caprino says. “Build an amazing, mutually beneficial support network of people you like, respect, admire and enjoy by endorsing, connecting, sharing your insights through the groups you join and answering questions. Get out there!”

Are you interested in a particular industry? Odds are, there’s a LinkedIn group of like-minded individuals who enjoy sharing the latest industry news and discussing the field. You can do a search on LinkedIn to find these groups. Some require you to ask for permission to join, and others are open for anyone to participate in. Once you join a group, take note of the dynamic. Are people posting and sharing articles? Is the group more about its members giving opinions and thoughts? Feel free to get involved in these conversations!

If there’s a professional in particular whom you’ve really hit it off with, feel free to send her a message asking her about her career or the similar interests you two have. It could lead to a long-term correspondence, phone call or meetup for coffee. It might feel creepy to send a connection request to someone you don’t know, so sending a message lessens that tension and gives you a way to connect with someone in a more meaningful way than just having them be an “official” LinkedIn connection.

Mistake #5: Not taking the time to complete your profile.

How many LinkedIn profiles have you clicked on just to find that the user only entered where they went to school and the titles of the last two companies they worked at?

Dan Schawbel, a career expert and author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, sees this issue all the time. “When I speak to colleges, only about 25 percent of students are even on LinkedIn,” he says. “The ones that are using it aren't completing their profiles, so they aren't equipped to get jobs.”

Schawbel explains that recruiters and other professionals pass over these incomplete profiles to look at ones that are more filled out and promising, so if all that’s on your profile is where you go to college and the name of one summer job you had, you could be missing out on great opportunities!

How to fix it

Schawbel has a few suggestions for what your profile should include at the very least. “I recommend that students use a photo, a headline that positions them relative to their specialty skills and a summary that captures what they have studied and their major accomplishments,” he says. “Then, they should join professional groups.” These groups are a great place for networking and learning about industry news.

Be warned: Completing a LinkedIn profile and making sure it has all the bells and whistles (and no typos!) takes a lot of time, so you won’t be able to finish everything in 20 minutes. Set aside time to really think about what you’re putting into your profile and how you’re describing yourself and your accomplishments. Doing so will pay off in the long run!

Want to avoid rookie LinkedIn mistakes? Take HC’s awesome advice and you’ll be a total LinkedIn master in no time. Make your profile as professional, thorough and personable as possible, and soon you’ll be on the path to making fabulous connections and getting great offers.

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About The Author

Lily is a sophomore at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut where she is double majoring in Government and Sociology. At Wesleyan, she is a student representative for the Wesleyan Student Assembly, a contributing editor for the campus blog Wesleying, and a volunteer coach for Let's Get Ready!, a program that offers free SAT tutoring and college counseling to underserved high school students. Off campus, she is co-founder of the college admissions/college life website The Prospect (www.theprospect.net). In her spare time she loves reading, writing nonfiction, eating Sour Patch Kids, and listening to Katy Perry. You can follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lkherman.

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