Raise your hand if you have a Facebook. Now if you have Twitter. Tumblr. Pinterest. A YouTube account. A blog. Chances are you have at least one, and potentially all of the above. We’re all so plugged in to social media that the etiquette of navigating it has almost become intrinsic; don’t use hashtags on Facebook, don’t slam people on your blog, etc.
But what about LinkedIn? It’s a perplexing mix of social and professional that’s confusing enough to have even the savviest of collegiettes scratching their heads. So if you’ve ever thought, “Wait, you want me to friend request my boss?!,” here are seven handy tips to help navigate the (sometimes murky waters) of LinkedIn.
1. Personalize your connections.
LinkedIn is basically the Facebook of professional networking. It’s free to use; your profile is essentially a resume; and in place of “friends” you have professional connections. You can check out "Everything You Need To Know About LinkedIn" and "The Do’s And Don’ts of LinkedIn Etiquette" for more info.
We’ve all been cautioned against getting too chummy with employers or professors on Facebook, and rightfully so. So when it comes time to click that little “connect” button on LinkedIn, you might feel a slight twinge of apprehension, especially if it’s someone you worked with three years ago and haven’t seen since.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to be shy,” says Veronica Soto, the assistant director of career events at the University of Miami. “[LinkedIn] is a way to maintain those connections.” But if that mental image of your former boss sneering upon seeing your invitation continues to linger in your mind, Soto highly recommends taking advantage of a personal touch. “Don’t just use that canned response they have, ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network,’” she says. “You could say something like, ‘We worked together two years ago. It’s nice to see you again! Let’s reconnect on LinkedIn.’ Or, ‘You met me at the career expo, and I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn connections.’”
Making connections is the bread and butter of what LinkedIn is about. Without connections, even the most stellar of profiles will accomplish nothing. A strong group of connections is a huge resource for professional success, so don’t be afraid to get networking.
2. Make sure your profile is 100% complete.
According to Forbes.com, “Nothing screams ‘rookie’ like an unfinished profile.” If you wouldn’t want to walk into a job interview dressed sloppily and feeling unprepared, than you wouldn’t want to do your LinkedIn profile halfway. This is the online equivalent of your resume, so make sure it represents the best you have to offer. “The good thing about LinkedIn is that on the right hand side it’ll give you a little checklist of things you need to do to complete your profile, and they offer assistance,” says Soto. “It’s pretty user friendly.” So no excuses!
Before you apply for any jobs or internships, set aside some time to tie up any loose ends on your profile. Make sure all the sections you’ve started are completely filled in before inviting potential employers to come take a look. You don’t have to kill yourself trying to remember every single scholarship and award you’ve won throughout your college career, but be sure that things like job descriptions are sufficiently fleshed out.
3. Have a nice professional photo.
The shot of you and your BFF stumbling out of the bar together may make your hair look shiny and your butt look cute, but keep it far, far away from LinkedIn. “A smiling portrait is always great. You want to look approachable and professional,” says Elyssa Goodman, who worked as director of social media for Markham Media. “NEVER like you just left a frat party after too many games of beer pong.”
Soto agrees. “The perfect photo for LinkedIn is a picture of just yourself. You can get a professional headshot done, or you could just crop a nice photo of yourself. You definitely want to keep it professional, classy,” she says. “No friends, no partying pictures, nothing like that.” Full-body shots are okay but unnecessary, and be smart if you’re cropping a photo of yourself wearing a tube top; the illusion of nudity might get some raised eyebrows.
The ideal photo? A mug shot of your adorable face smiling at the camera.
4. Keep it relevant.
A typical resume limits your list of experience, awards, and accomplishments to a single page. LinkedIn, however, has unlimited space for you to list every job you’ve ever had since you were a camp counselor the summer after eighth grade. It can be tempting to list all of it (“OMG look how awesome and experienced I am!”), but keeping your profile focused is key. “What you list should directly reflect what job you're looking for,” says Goodman. “If you're looking for a job in sales and you've happened to work as a sales associate in a store, that definitely counts. Sometimes the little things add a great deal of positive information.” You can take the opportunity to expand what’s on your resume; if you have so many internships that they no longer fit on one page, LinkedIn is the perfect place to include them all.
It’s important not to overdo it, but you should feel free to list anything that you feel makes you a better professional candidate in your chosen field. Leadership positions are always attractive to potential employers, and Soto recommends joining groups and organizations that are related to the jobs you’re looking for. Alumni groups on LinkedIn can also be extremely beneficial. “To make them relevant to yourself you’ll want to participate,” she says. “Either by reading the articles, reading the postings that are going on, or commenting on them, especially if you’re looking for a new opportunity. You want to be involved and start getting your name out there.”
5. Utilize the recommendations feature.
The days of cringing when you ask for a letter of recommendation are now officially over! Because LinkedIn is the “World’s Largest Professional Network,” it’s understood that, well, networking is supposed to happen. Reach out to bosses and coworkers from past and present and ask them to put in a good word for you; having others speaking of your worth right on your profile makes you more credible.
“I’d definitely recommend having at least one recommendation for each past experience you’ve had,” says Soto. “But I wouldn’t go overboard and try to have 20 recommendations for each position. It’s quality, not quantity.” Try to get feedback from a variety of people that can highlight all of your different skills relevant to the job you want. It’s also important for these people to know you and your work; a recommendation from the editor-in-chief of a major magazine might be a cool story to hang your hat on, but if you were just an intern and had only one brief interaction with her, you’re much better off getting a recommendation from the supervisor that tearfully hugged you goodbye on your last day.
6. Make your descriptions accomplishment-based and bulleted.
As if making connections wasn’t stressful enough, there’s still the worry that once you’re connected, important people are going to be looking at your profile. Eek! Like any other potential-employer-is-reading-my-resume situation, you want the information you’re presenting to a) be easy to read, and b) show you in the best possible light.
“I’m a big fan of accomplishments,” says Soto. “So basically saying what you did in your job and how your contribution resulted in whatever accomplishment came out of that.” Did your social media internship result in the company gaining a thousand followers on Twitter? Did you hold successful fundraisers for a nonprofit? Did you start a new column in your local newspaper? These are fabulous details and should definitely be included. And, as for bullet points, they simply make things easier to read.
Here’s an example from Goodman’s profile:
Privately Held; 1001-5000 employees; Online Media industry
September 2009 – Present (3 years)
- Selected as the first Style Editor for this digital college women’s magazine reaching over 1M readers
- Expand Style section to include monthly fashion editorial content, photographing and styling each editorial
- Edit weekly articles for the Style section, mentoring college fashion and beauty writers
- Regularly contribute creative articles and photographs for Style section and fashion and beauty blogs
Goodman lists her accomplishments in individual bullet points, making each one clearly visible. She includes the changes she’s made to the Her Campus Style section as well as her regular duties, and mentioning the readership demonstrates to potential employers how widely read her work has been.
7. Personalize, personalize, personalize.
While, yes, LinkedIn is for professionals, it’s also about networking and being personable. You have the option to include links to your blog or portfolio, list your skills and specialties, and add various sections and apps to better showcase your accomplishments. If you’re multilingual, add the Languages section to list your abilities. If your network spans the globe, the My Travel application will let you know when you’re in the same city as a coworker. You can showcase your test scores, patents, blog, volunteer experience, and even your reading list. The whole point of LinkedIn is to connect people; this process is greatly helped along when people feel that they can get to know you from your profile.
“After I read a [fantastic] profile, I have a perfect idea of what kind of work this person has done and is looking for in the future,” says Goodman. “I understand their goals and they come across as a person I'd want to hire. Personality comes through a lot when you write, so make sure it's a good one!”
LinkedIn can be just as confusing and intimidating as the business world you’re trying to get into, but it doesn’t have to be. Use these tips to make your profile as awesome as you are!