We at Her Campus know this year’s job search hasn’t been a walk down the yellow brick road. We know that whether you were looking for a summer internship or a full-time job, you’ve probably spent the last few months (or at least weeks) religiously attending recruiting sessions and career counseling seminars. We know you’ve probably sent out about three dozen applications, are still knocking on wood to hear back from a few contacts, and otherwise are brushing up on your interview vocabulary. And we also know about that knee-jerk feeling of terror and resignation when you’ve just received that cum laude diploma yet are planning to shack up with the ‘rents for the summer as you continue perfecting your STAR approach for upcoming face time with employers.
But while the national unemployment rate (8.2% last month) seems to be in permanent lockdown mode and your peers contemplate spending the next twelve months shelving nonfiction reads at the local Border’s while applying for graduate school, you don’t have to go along. Your game plan? Cannibalize some of that time you were planning on spending poolside in July and start a LinkedIn profile.
HC recently sat down to coffee with Neal Schaffer, author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn and a certified social media bibliophile. Having studied at Amherst College and witnessed the Tiananmen Square protests as a study abroad student in Beijing, Schaffer went on to launch his career in finance and sales in Kyoto immediately following graduation. After a few years in Japan, he spent a decade driving sales on the mainland before eventually moving back stateside to start a family. But all of this, he points out, was made possible through proactive personal networking as time passed.
And it hasn’t been easy, either (can you imagine keeping up with your friends with just a telephone in tow?). But thanks to LinkedIn, graduates these days have access to a gold mine of professionals and peers who are ready to make landing that dream (or at least first) gig that much easier. Here’s a rundown of what you should know about LinkedIn to get started:
So I’ve had my Facebook account for ages, but what exactly IS LinkedIn?
It’s essentially a Facebook, but for professional networking. You’ll have your own profile with a list of “links” (a bit like the “Friends” feature on Facebook), a brief headline describing your current profession, workplace, and geographic location. You’ll also have a longer profile that runs like a resume where you’ll also be able to include a personal statement on your accomplishments and skill sets.
But in more intuitive terms, think about LinkedIn as a public marketplace where you’ll be able to market and sell one product: yourself. You’ll be able to brand yourself by fleshing out which attributes really make you stand out from everyone else in this market. And finally, you’ll have the opportunity to “market” yourself as a job candidate to recruiters, companies, and industry professionals by linking yourself to others on this 150 million strong network.
Wait, but I thought LinkedIn was for the over-30 crowd.
Not even close. While the mom and pop age group may be the ones who you’d think would be the target audience for LinkedIn, the most ideal time to kick-start your profile is during your undergraduate years. “Your college years will be when your networks, both personal and professional, are richest,” Neal contended, as “you’ll meet people with diverse interests and goals during those four years. This will definitely be a luxury that thins once you enter a specific work position within a specific industry.”
And what’s more, those who are most established in their fields are often most willing to lend a hand to young’uns still in school or a few years into their career forays. Consider it a been-there-done-that-and-now-I-want-to-pay-it-forward sentiment.
So then who actually uses LinkedIn?
The vast majority of professionals, especially those working and residing in urban hubs, will be on this site. Many within the older crowd view LinkedIn to be the more corporate counterpart to Classmates.com allowing them to reconnect with old colleagues.
Remember that your job search, and really any job search, will rely heavily on your ability to network proactively and have contacts on the other side of the hiring rope willing to forward your resume to HR contacts and nab you a first interview. It doesn’t hurt that recruiters from almost every major firm are actively using LinkedIn to search and engage with potential job candidates, as well as perform cursory background checks. For headhunters, LinkedIn eliminates much of the old-school cold-calling and recruiter-to-recruiter fact-checking during the job selection and interview process, so it is to their advantage to link with quality applicants ahead and join groups that would help them scout out potential hires.
Flipping the coin then, it is to your advantage to make sure you’re on that roster of potential hires.
Gotcha. Well, I’m ready to get started then.
Fantastic. Just log on to LinkedIn and sign up for an account if you haven’t already. The two most important factors in creating a profile here are completeness and integrity. You’ll want to make sure you hit every professional sound bite that makes you stand out as a candidate, but you’ll also want to make certain you don’t hit any false notes. Treat your Web 2.0 profile exactly like a resume you’d write up to hand to an actual employer – with the small difference here that anyone might be able to view it should they so choose.
Here’s a list of basic tips to get started:
1) Full name only. Please. This is not a time for anonymity in the form of “luvbug2934”. Your LinkedIn profile name should be the one you have at the top of your resume so employers can do an easy search to find you.
2) Headline: Short, sweet, and SEARCHABLE. Your headline is your key branding statement – basically a sum-up of who you are now and the industry you would like to be a part of upon graduation. You have only 120 words, so being succinct is important but don’t give short shrift to completeness either. In lieu of “Marketing Intern”, something more like “Audience Development intern for XYZ Department and XYZ Firm” posits more legitimacy and a more developed professional aura.
The key here is to use effective keywords that will be searchable and that will ultimately increase your visibility on the LinkedIn search engine. To illustrate, head to your computer and type in the word “marketing” on the LinkedIn Dashboard search. The results you come up with won’t necessarily be that industry’s be-all-and-end-all heavyweights – they’re really people who were smart enough to pepper their headlines and immediate profile information with the word “marketing.”
Although you may be who you are in person, you are not necessarily that person on the web – a concept that carries with it its own curiosities and elegance. Your LinkedIn presence is incredibly dependent upon how you brand yourself and how searchable you make this brand on the wider web.
3) Geography/ Industry: It doesn’t matter if you’re currently employed or still on the job search – list the city and industry you aspire to work in on your profile setting. When employers conduct a basic search, the two most important winnowing factors are geography and industry, so it makes sense to list “Boston” if that’s where you’re looking to jump-start a career or “Finance” if this is your chosen field. And really, it would probably be much easier for MTV to find and contact you if you were listed under the “Greater New York Area” as opposed to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Not that we have anything against people from the Midwest.
4) Photo: Include a photo. Stat. This should ideally be either a headshot or at least a picture where your facial features are clearly defined and easily recognizable. A photo not only makes a recruiter that much more likely to click on your profile if curious about your credentials, it also establishes you further as a “branded” entity on LinkedIn. Just make sure said photo doesn’t capture your last Bros Icing Bros incident on the campus quad.
5) Listing Positions: Once someone has actually clicked on your profile and is redirected to your public LinkedIn site (which can be viewed by anyone doing a Google search), you’ll want to make them stay on long enough to get a sense of who you are and if you’d be a great fit for their firm. In the synopsis, list every relevant current and past position you’ve held since at least the beginning of college – this can include everything from official internships to executive positions on a Greek house board. Also make sure to list both high school and college under your educational info – you never know when a potential interviewer might have lived in the same state or grew up the next town over from your childhood home.
Under the longer “Experience” section, be sure to flesh out each position you listed with a time frame, an industry specification, and a short (bulleted) list of your impact on the firm in your role. Just like a resume, really.
6) Websites: LinkedIn allows you to display up to three personal or company websites on your profile, which you should take advantage of and fill in. If you’re currently on the search, put a link to a personal blog you might have or a campus organization you were involved with as an undergraduate that is listed on your resume. Also, put the link to your public LinkedIn URL on any other social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and website you may be maintaining.
7) Synopsis: Make this a paragraph or two, and the goal here really is not only to provide enough depth for recruiters to be hungry for more about you (and therefore continue to the resume portion of your LinkedIn) but also to be clear and tight in your prose. Think of it as a condensed version of a cover letter you might send out to an employer, minus the firm-specific pandering.
8) Invitations: The Web 2.0 version of friends with benefits. As a new graduate or current undergraduate, you’ll first want to link to as many peers as possible. Be they friends, dorm roommates, or last night’s tailgate hookup, you want to make sure you’ve connected with as many people from your personal networks as possible before reaching out to school alumni (your second stop) and then possible employers. Through certain email providers (I was able to do this easily through Gmail), you can also choose to send an invite to those already in your address book.
Invites can be a little tricky, and there is definitely a set of etiquette rules to follow. With each invite, be sure to send a personal message briefly explaining who you are (especially if you met this person at a conference or through a mutual acquaintance and not through an actual joint professional project) and where you met. Understand why you would like to connect with this person so you’ll understand when and where the two of you might be mutually beneficial to one another down the line. Also, once you’ve met with anyone either in person or over the phone and would like to connect with them, be sure to send the invite within 24 hours.
By plugging yourself into the networking grid and sending invites to as many parties as possible, you’ll be able to search for contacts through LinkedIn connections and others might be able to find you through a second or third party search.
9) Recommendations: In order to make your LinkedIn profile 100% complete, you’ll have to write brief recommendations for at least three others on the site. In kind, ask and encourage those you know well (especially previous internship or part-time work supervisors) to spend a few minutes to sing your praises. But before doing this, be sure to offer up the favor first.
And now…keep sending out those resumes.
LinkedIn is meant to be a networking tool, and a branding tool, but using it alone won’t lead to immediate job offers. You’ll still have to slog through the process of sending out resumes and interviewing with recruiters. But on the bright side, being linked in does make this process quicker and provide you with a network of contacts and mentors to aid you on your way.
Neal Schaffer, author of Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn
Windmill Networking Blog
Windmill Networking: Understanding, Leveraging & Maximizing LinkedIn