If you have any professional experience, you probably also have some familiarity with LinkedIn, the social media platform designed to facilitate networking.
But what use is LinkedIn for college students, or even prospective ones? At first glance, the platform might seem ill-suited to those without work history.
However, a student can make excellent use of LinkedIn, even if their resume is a little sparse.
Signing Up for LinkedIn as a College Student
College is an important time for your student to begin networking for the jobs on their wishlist, and signing up for LinkedIn is an excellent place to start. As Jaqueline Barrett, a former data analyst and economist at LinkedIn corporate notes, a student LinkedIn profile should develop organically alongside their in-person development and networking activities.
“Seize opportunities to get hands-on experience as early as possible through work experience and extracurricular activities,” Barrett says. “It’s possible to create your own opportunities by starting a club in an area of interest or doing independent research. Foundational skills and soft skills like communication and creative thinking are the foundation for every job.”
In other words, your student will benefit from cultivating a confident, prospecting attitude with regard to their time on campus. Make sure they keep track of their experiences and regularly update their profile, just as they would a traditional resume. This does not mean approaching every interaction as a professional opportunity; rather, your student should pursue what interests them while keeping in mind that it might interest potential employers as well.
According to Barrett: “Most jobs are looking for foundational skills such as interpersonal skills, leadership, and problem-solving. If students have a very specialized skill such as a programming language, they should include those since it will differentiate them compared to if they only list generic skills.”
What’s the Best Way for College Students to Use LinkedIn?
It is possible to wield LinkedIn as a digital resume and nothing more, but users in this category are not “linked in” to the fullest extent. In addition to pruning their skills list and work history, students should strive to connect with their peers (who may be able to clue them in on opportunities down the line) as well as alumni of their institution. LinkedIn’s Alumni Tool is a great way to do this; as Barrett notes, your student can easily apply this technology to locate and contact graduates whose career paths they might like to emulate.
“It is now possible to reach out directly to current students or alumni to get more information about a university or specific program,” she says. “Maximize your chances of getting a response by trying to connect with second-degree connections (friends of friends) or finding people with commonalities such as attending the same high school or having the same hobby.”
The Alumni Tool also provides a flexible resource for high school students to narrow down their list of colleges. LinkedIn’s vast store of profile data allows for a detailed portrait of graduates’ employment history and skill sets, which reflect the programs they attended. This makes LinkedIn useful for students at every step in their higher-education journey.
“Not only is there information on the most common companies and geographic locations that alumni work in overall, but it’s possible to filter on recent graduation years to figure out where young alumni are working,” Barrett says. “After that, a student can drill down on specific profiles to get a better idea of the types of majors or internships that those individuals had to get to where they currently are. This may inform which school is a better fit based on long-term career goals.”
Top 10 Tips for Student LinkedIn Profiles
Condensing the greatest hits of many LinkedIn best practices for students, this list contains ten tips to help your student get the most out of their new profile:
- Treat Skills as Keywords: Your student’s LinkedIn profile should make use of the platform’s algorithmic structure. Advise them to review desirable job listings for specific language cues to make them more visible to recruiters using LinkedIn’s search function.
- Make a Custom URL: Setting their LinkedIn profile to “public” and selecting a URL with their name will increase your student’s visibility. The effort will be repaid with an easily remembered profile web address.
- Join Groups: LinkedIn users can join groups affiliated with their college, major, or fields they work in. Groups provide forums for networking, and they are displayed on your student’s profile, illustrating engagement with professional communities.
- Keep Updated: A student’s LinkedIn should be refreshed regularly to reflect the latest developments in their education and career. They should think of their profile as a digital portfolio. Uploading multimedia of their skills will make their presence more dynamic.
- Gather Recommendations and Endorsements: Your student should request recommendations from direct managers for every entry in their work history. But be aware; if your student receives endorsements for skills they have a weak grasp of, they run the risk of setting expectations they cannot meet.
- Focus on Achievements and Impact: It’s more eye-catching to highlight concrete accomplishments over general responsibilities. Your student should highlight the goals they met, their lasting contributions, and any quantifiable benefits they rendered.
- Be Professional, Not a Robot: LinkedIn is not a typical social media platform. Spelling and punctuation are more important here, and attire in photos should be business casual. However, it’s also important to come across as a real person. Your student should personalize messages for recipients. Stark, bulleted lists of keywords are no substitute for narrative appeal.
- Don’t Be Too Humble: Your student should avoid irrelevant or outdated information, but it’s wise to brag a little bit. Advise them to highlight academic awards, extracurricular or research projects, and any certificate they add to their primary degree.
- Turn In-Person Connections Into LinkedIn Connections: Your student should make their profile an active component of in-person networking. While attending career fairs or conferences they should seek out connections on LinkedIn while conversations are still fresh.
- Request Informational Interviews: LinkedIn is a great way to set up informational interviews. Unlike job interviews, they are more mutual and open-ended. Your student might benefit from interviewing professionals in their field, alumni, or professors at a school they are interested in attending.
LinkedIn Premium for Students and Other Offerings
A basic LinkedIn profile is free and, according to Barrett, perfectly sufficient for most students. But how useful is the subscription-based LinkedIn Premium for students? Ultimately, this depends upon how likely an individual is to make full use of its unique affordances. LinkedIn Premium Career provides subscribers with a laundry list of additional benefits, including an internal mail system allowing them to contact LinkedIn users outside their existing network, but at $29.99 a month, it may be too expensive for college students on a budget.
For students limited to LinkedIn’s free affordances, though, the platform has provided a number of succinct training videos on their higher education resource page. These guides will walk your student through the basics of making, optimizing, and navigating their LinkedIn profile.
Barrett recommends the marginally less expensive LinkedIn Learning (which premium subscribers already have access to). Starting at $19.99 a month, it provides access to thousands of expert-led courses. According to Barrett, LinkedIn Learning “provides courses on everything from coding to communicating with confidence. It’s a great way to supplement what is being taught in the classroom.”
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