It has been about four months since the class of 2014 received their congratulatory ceremonies in what is often considered as a milestone in their lives. It is also a time where countless seniors are entering their final year of eternal sunshine.
The reality of the situation is that many students leave college with a naïve conception of what post-graduate life will be like. This can be attributed to their minimal work experience and the abundance of not-so-friendly advice regarding how royally screwed they are in finding work. (Oh, and WordStream is hiring, by the way.)
What many students don’t realize is that whether you’re currently in school or were recently tossed into the job market, networking is still one of the most important techniques you will need to master in order to maximize your opportunities in life.
Why Is It So Important to Network as a Recent Graduate?
About eight months ago, I was about to embark on my final semester of college and literally had no idea how I would fair in the treacherous waters of unemployment.
My goal in finding an internship in marketing proved to be a daunting task. I applied to dozens of positions and received virtually no responses. The fact is, college students today are relentlessly bombarded with the defeatist messages that jobs are like finding a pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow (along with the rest of their hopes and dreams) and that they should settle for “what they can get.”
The truth of the matter is that many college students (myself included at the time) use their online resources to build social connections within the context of their personal lives. What they should be doing, however, is using their time to build professional networks as well as personal ones.
At the time I was applying for those early internships, I had no LinkedIn account, no professional connections, and no life vest.
How LinkedIn is Being Used
LinkedIn is a powerful service to anyone in the professional world, as well as college students. So, rather than hopelessly smashing your head against your keyboard while on Monster.com, invest this time in further investigating what careers interest you and the companies you’d like to work for.
Unfortunately, many college grads spend their time updating their Instagram and Facebook profiles, posting pictures of sunsets over their backyard and mechanically inserting nauseating country music lyrics to coincide (at least that’s all I’ve seen all summer). Regardless of how you use your personal social media accounts, you could be better utilizing this energy elsewhere.
The statistics of recent grads and current students who have a LinkedIn account are quite surprising.
- Over 300 million people use LinkedIn
- Of this number, over 30 million are recent grads
- These numbers represent the global LinkedIn community, but regardless, recent graduates and college students only make up 10% of LinkedIn’s user base.
Those are some disconcerting numbers, considering many of these individuals are either venturing into unemployment or preparing to. Evident from my own personal experience, students and recent grads are grossly underutilizing this service, despite the fact that it is almost expected of you to have a LinkedIn profile in today’s professional landscape. Many recent grads have no ambition to create a profile and, to be honest, many don’t even know what the purpose of the site is in the first place.
When applying for positions you will notice that many companies have adopted LinkedIn as a way to screen candidates more effectively than only using their resume and cover letters to gain a sense of who they are. Many companies actually have an “Apply with LinkedIn” button underneath the section that is dedicated to uploading important documents.
What College Grads Can Do to Effectively Network on LinkedIn
Many college students and recent grads are unaware of the untapped potential of LinkedIn due to the fact that they simply don’t know how to approach the website. I can relate for having a similar excuse during those magical internship-hunting days.
As with getting yourself to go to the gym or pouring a bucket of ice water over your head, the first step is to simply get started. Many believe that experience is necessary in creating a worthy profile, leaving many who are still studying or recent graduates with either nothing to write or a bulleted account of how they assisted in the execution of evenly toasting an Italian herbs & cheese roll while taking initiative in administering the proper ingredients, thus proving their ability to multi-task during their summer job at Subway.
Image credit: Garrett Myers
So, before you decide to chronicle your career in fast food through buzzwords, you can actually assume the role of a student with eagerness to learn in addition to the knowledge you’ve gathered through your experience in the classroom. Here are some essential tips for getting started:
Make It Obvious What You Want to Accomplish
Make your desired direction clear when it comes to LinkedIn. Whether it’s getting a job, just making connections, or becoming more involved with certain companies, it’s critical to understand your personal goals, as they will dictate how you use the site.
If you intend on forming meaningful connections in order to professionally represent yourself for recruiters, there generally two ways that you can approach connecting with others. There is the universally accepted practice of only connecting to those you know or have become personally acquainted with outside of the internet, and there is the practice of aggressively connecting to anyone you wish. The former is useful for establishing genuine connections with people who may be able to vouch for you or endorse you for certain skills. The latter is effective in generating a large amount of connections in a short period of time, regardless of your intentions, thus expanding your potential reach when searching for a job.
Additionally, adding any relevant skills you may have is important. Connect with favorable professors who have accounts and could endorse those skills that they helped you develop.
Join LinkedIn Groups
The next step would be to join groups and follow companies that coincide with your interests and goals. Display a desire to learn more about specific industries and groups associated with them. Be active in these groups by responding to posts and creating your own posts.
Once on the Groups page, it is very easy to get started finding one. Simply click on the “Find a group” button and type in the search query a topic of your choice.
Seek out companies that spark your interest or that align with your personal LinkedIn objectives. Once you’ve found companies to follow either through your interests, goals or connections, take some time to view each company’s page and explore the content that they post.
You can re-share content that both individuals and companies post on LinkedIn that you may find intriguing or helpful to those you are connected with.
Make Some Actual Connections
Regardless of your approach in making connections on LinkedIn, the act of connecting with various individuals may give you some recognition by the individuals themselves. However, the greater idea is that it will give you exposure to others who are mutually connected.
Much like discovering new friends or acquaintances through existing ones, the same logic applies. If you are mutually connected with someone, it gives you an element of social proof that may entice others to connect with you as well. The great thing about LinkedIn is that it allows you to see who has recently viewed your page. Use this ability to see who is professionally creeping on you and use it to your advantage.
Choosing a LinkedIn Profile Photo
Upload a suitable photo when choosing a profile picture for your account. You want to remain as professional as possible:
- Choose a photo in which you are dressed appropriately. This doesn’t mean you have to go out in a suit and take selfies, or arrange a photo shoot in your basement. Something modest and within common sense should do just fine.
- Use a headshot. Using a distanced picture that is blurry won’t help. Visitors to your page will want to get a concise idea of what you look like. It is also crucial to ensure that the picture is of you alone. Having a picture with your friends is great, but having more than one person in a LinkedIn profile picture certainly isn’t advisable.
- Smile. The reasoning for this should be obvious. Mug shots aren’t very attractive in the professional world. You want to convey positivity no matter what your goals are.
- Don’t use pictures that could be considered unprofessional. Again, this should be common sense, but any photos that have you consuming alcohol or partaking in illegal activities absolutely have no place on LinkedIn. Your friends might think that photo of you passed out riding a donkey was a classic, but hiring professionals will just think you’re a jackass.
(This is more like it)
Writing a LinkedIn Summary
Consider posting a thoughtful “summary” to match what your intentions or goals might be.
- This is a section where you can flex your creativity a bit. The summary can be as long as you like. However, as with many aspects of the business world, less is more. If you can provide a compelling summary without making it a daunting task to read, you’re on the right track.
- Be honest about where you are and where you’d like to be. If you haven’t graduated yet, say it, but also be explicit in your ambitions. Here is an example below of how a current college student has configured their summary section:
Don’t leave your profile stagnant for months. LinkedIn’s user interface is designed to keep users coming back on a daily basis. Here are a few suggestions:
- Update your experience. If it is a position that you have held for some time, include new roles and responsibilities as you assume them. This area can be treated much like a résumé, so you’ll want to keep it as up-to-date as possible.
- Add new skills as you acquire them.
- LinkedIn provides skills related to keywords you type into the search query. This is designed to help you find skills you have and perhaps ones you forgot you had.
- Once you build your connections Individuals can endorse the skills they can vouch for. It provides a layer of proof to potential hiring professionals.
Try your best to communicate and display interest in others.
Discover and share useful content with your connections in addition to commenting and joining in on discussions. Staying active is an important part of social media. Nobody wants to follow that guy on Twitter with no profile picture who tweeted once last year, and the same applies to LinkedIn.
When reading articles posted by others it is a good practice to comment and give feedback on topics that interest you. Providing some intelligent insight may get you some additional recognition.
Do your best to set yourself apart by finding new ways to express your professional persona. LinkedIn is a blank slate for you to include additional information about yourself, and it will give others a better idea of who you are, what you have done, and what you intend to accomplish.
Talk intelligently about your interests and try your best to be unique without sacrificing professionalism. (As with anything, being dull and uninteresting won’t get you noticed)
Treat your LinkedIn profile like an application. Communicate as if it were a resume or cover letter by using language that is “dressed to impress.”
LinkedIn isn’t a guarantee to a job no more than Facebook is a guarantee of friendship. Most of who you connect with on the website will be a result from a real life face-to-face interactions (horrifying, I know) once you do get out into the professional world. This simple fact just means that using LinkedIn gets easier the further you go.
Even if getting started means connecting with those who you’ve met throughout college, the fact that you are able to connect with a wide variety of individuals from a similar institution shows your ability to network interpersonally. If you are unable to connect with people who you’ve spent the last four years in class with, how is an employer supposed to be convinced you’ll fit in with the office culture?
Get Ready to Set Sail
These tips could help you get a foot in the door and actually give you a sense of accomplishment. Although it may be small, putting yourself out there will certainly be a rewarding experience whether or not your online networking is a fruitful endeavor.
The idea is that it will help YOU clarify your goals in terms of establishing your career. Many of these tips, some of which I admittedly learned quite recently, have allowed me to vastly expand my presence throughout LinkedIn and I am able to connect with those closely associated with my interests and goals.
So, if you’re still in college or recently graduated, the next time you’re in your backyard and there’s a wonderfully #unfiltered sunset, open up your LinkedIn app and start connecting. It’s all about who you know anyway.