Article by contributor Charlotte Slota.
It was not long after attending a LinkedIn workshop for her Freshman Symposium class last fall that Deirdre Murray, 20, sat down at her computer to create an account on the popular professional social media network. An Emerson College Journalism student, Murray did not want to miss out on possible connections that could be made with professional journalists. The problem was that although the workshop taught her the basics of how to use the site, once she created her digital resume, she did not know what to do next.
Murray is not the only college student completely stumped by the best way to use LinkedIn. Even those raised in the digital age still struggle with where to go once they get started. Many students have the common misconception that LinkedIn is a job search tool; however, the true nature of the site is to act as a networking tool. The problem is that many students just don’t know how to reach out and connect with professionals and it is these connections that can lead to internship or job opportunities.
Before you can begin reaching out to other LinkedIn users, it is important to set up your profile. There is not a single section that is more important than another. Instead all of the pieces must come together in order to create the complete package: your brand. After creating your account the best place to start is by writing your headline. This is the first portion people see when they search your name. Although it may be tempting to simply list your job title or position, you should try to make it interesting. Like the title of an article, it should be attention-grabbing and make potential employers want to click your name.
For example, Alyson Weiss is the Young Professional Outreach Coordinator and Social Media Specialist at Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Boston; however, Weiss’ LinkedIn headline reveals so much more about her position at the nonprofit. Her headline reads, “Social Media Coach—Transforming Procrastination into Proactive Engagement.” Not only is the language in her headline colorful and compelling, but it also sheds some light on what her position as a Social Media Specialist entails.
Once you’ve chosen the right headline, you’ll want to begin writing your summary. “The summary section is where you can share your purpose,” says Randy Harrison, a Marketing Communications professor at Emerson College, “by explaining why are you different and why I should care in the first place.” Although it may seem intimidating at first, writing the summary section will give you a chance to really reflect on what you want to accomplish professionally and share these goals with others. It’s never too early to start building your brand.
Once you have your summary, you can begin filling in what is essentially the resume portion of your profile. Don’t just list, however. Instead, remember to take advantage of the various multimedia functions of this section. “Make sure you add links to any websites, videos, or portfolios you have created,” says Harrison. “Employers want to see where you are coming from and what you believe in. They want to see what your vision is.” It may seem tedious, but this is a process that should be handled with care.
There are many search tools on LinkedIn for students to utilize. One way to begin connecting with people is to look specifically at alumni from your college or university by going to http://www.linkedin.com/alumni. There are multiple categories you can sift through, such as where alumni live, work, or what they studied. You can even look through their interests or try to trace their career path. Tracing an alumnus’ career path can be an excellent way to begin brainstorming where you’d like to intern, and if there is a certain company that grabs your attention, your college or university can be a great common denominator to allow you to reach out to him or her.
Another way to find people is by joining professional associations. Try to find groups that are industry-specific. For example, if you’re a student who is studying English, you may want to join “The National Society of Independent Writers and Editors” or if you’re a Film student, you may want to join “Film and Television Professionals.”
In addition to this being a great search tool, these groups also serve as a way to find various internship postings. If you feel comfortable enough, you can even reach out and ask about any internship or job postings that other members may be aware of. And of course, connecting with other students, professors, and colleagues by simply using the search bar is also encouraged and the most well known method. The people you are able to connect with by simply using this tool may surprise you.
Although her network consists primarily of friends and professors, Caroline Sullivan, 19, a Media Production major at Emerson College, has successfully reached out to alumni. “As the presenter coordinator for the EVVYs, I’ve had to message and connect with many Emerson alumni to find out about updates,” says Sullivan. But she still feels she has a lot more to learn about LinkedIn. Sullivan says, “I know people are finding internships on LinkedIn and I just want to know how I can do that too.”
It is never a good idea to blatantly ask for a job or internship. Remember to behave on LinkedIn in a similar manner that you would behave in real life. LinkedIn is about networking. “Don’t put them in a weird position by reaching out blindly,” says Kate Privert, Assistant Director and Internship Coordinator at Emerson College Career Services. “If you have a common denominator, use that as a way to introduce yourself. Ask questions and try to build a relationship with them.” They’ll be much more likely to respond to someone who is curious about their career path than someone who is just looking for a job.
“Think about the messages you would want to respond to,” says Alyson Weiss, Social Media Specialist at JVS Boston. “You’d be much more likely to respond to someone who says, ‘Hey, I think your job is really cool. I’d love to get coffee with you sometime,’ than someone who says, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job, could you help me out?’” If you do reach out to people this way, give them the next step so that they know what you are trying to get out of the interaction, whether it be a phone call or lunch, and always be gracious.
Common connections are also a great common denominator when reaching out to people you don’t know on LinkedIn. There are essentially two ways to reach out in this case. For example, if your common connection is your professor, you can either ask your professor to reach out and introduce you or you can message them and include in your introduction that your professor recommended that you reach out to him or her.
If there is one thing experts agree on when it comes to reaching out on LinkedIn, it’s that you should always use a personalized message. This is your opportunity to either say how you met or what your common denominator is and why you would like to be added in their network. Not only does this jog their memory or provide an introduction but a customized message shows you care, and you want potential connections to know you care.
The job search itself is a job, and although LinkedIn may only be one part of the bigger picture, in today’s digital age, it is an important part. It is never too soon to start working on your profile and building your network. Although Emerson student Deirdre Murray’s profile may be a work in progress, she still realizes how important it is that she starts working on it now. Murray says, “You should start building your LinkedIn profile in your college years, because once you graduate, you may have missed out on connections you have made throughout your time here, whether it be speakers, professors, or alumni.”
Charlotte Slota is a writing, literature, and publishing major at Emerson College. She’s a native Rhode Islander turned Bostonian who is interested in poetry, gender studies, and traveling. When she’s not writing or in class, she likes to read, discover new coffee shops, and explore the city of Boston.