I love LinkedIn.
Despite its annoying emails and its tendency to invite everybody you’ve ever been CC’d on an email with to connect with you, it’s a powerful tool. In fact, I would argue that LinkedIn is more powerful than most universities for opening up opportunities for young people.
Still, for some reason, people like to crap on LinkedIn and make it out to be something that you only have because some uncle at Thanksgiving mentioned that you should have it before you start your job search your senior year. In fact, most people who take Uncle Joe up on this advice and build a profile barely do that. They create an account, upload their most recent title, and connect with their closest friend or colleague. That’s about it.
Here’s the thing about LinkedIn that nobody is telling you: it’s the most powerful way to set yourself apart from your peers.
Since most people — not just young people — do exactly what I said by just creating a basic account, you need to do minimal work to set yourself apart from the pack. If you give it an hour or two of your attention one night, you can have a more powerful professional web presence than 95% of people 18-25. You can build a serious piece of professional collateral in your job search, foster useful and powerful connections over time, and create a new platform to track and broadcast your professional connections. It’s also probably the best basic thing somebody can do to build their digital brand.
Once you have that account created, make sure you don’t suck at LinkedIn. Don’t be the person that other people will use as bad examples in workshops. Do a few basic things and you’ll be further ahead than the rest of the pack.
1. Use a Decent Picture
It’s surprising that this has to be said considering how much teachers and others pound the importance of decent pictures on social media into people’s minds, but it has to be said. First of all, actually use a picture. The grey, stock placeholder that LinkedIn uses for users who haven’t uploaded their pictures yet may be worse than no picture at all. It says to people looking at your profile, “I’ve got enough of a pulse to create a LinkedIn account but the attention span of a mouse because I didn’t bother to even upload a picture.”
Second, make sure you use a decent picture. This doesn’t just mean don’t upload a picture of yourself drinking to LinkedIn, but actually take the time to upload a picture that people will want to look at during professional searches.
What makes a decent picture?
- It’s the right dimensions (so your face doesn’t look squished or stretched)
- It’s the right resolution (nothing worse than a pixelated picture that looks like it was taken with a 5 MB Fujifilm camera from 2001)
- It looks good as a thumbnail (so you aren’t so small as a thumbnail nobody can make it out)
- It only has you in it (don’t leave people asking which person in the picture you are)
- It focuses on your face (headshots work well for a reason)
A lot of people will default a picture like the one above because they don’t have good cameras. They’ll get a friend to take a picture in a poorly-lit room with their iPhone because that’s all they have. But spending $20 to get somebody with a decent camera to take a good photo of you is well worth it. A decent picture can make the difference between, “Shabby College Student” and “Professional Go-Getter.”
2. Don’t Use it as a Digital Resume
Way too many people think LinkedIn is just a place to upload your resume (or worse, a truncated version of your resume). They sign up, upload a photo, and just list off the jobs they had and maybe a description of what they did.
This is thinking about LinkedIn entirely the wrong way.
LinkedIn is an opportunity to show off what value you create in the roles you work in. It’s an opportunity to bring more to the table than a one page resume can. It’s more of a portfolio than a resume.
Take the time to think about the ways in which you created value in the roles you worked. If you increased sales by X%, say that. If you streamlined a work process, say that. Use it as an opportunity to brag, not just describe your roles. Chances are that people who don’t know what a role is can just Google it, anyway.
LinkedIn also owns Slideshare, a great little platform that allows you to upload PDFs or PowerPoints from your work. This provides a real opportunity to show your stuff (and it makes your profile more engaging than the common person’s). If you wrote articles in your last job, you can link to those in the description and show off what you know.
If you use it as just a resume, you’re just doing yourself a disservice and underselling yourself as a valuable employee or investment.
3. Don’t Use the Stock Connection Requests
There are combinations of words more boring and useless in the English language than, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Unless the person you are sending the request to is somebody you personally know relatively well or an acquaintance whom you know will recognize your name and the request, take the time to write an actual personal message. This is especially true if you are trying to connect with people you have not personally met (but want to correspond with) or people you only met through professional interactions.
I write a lot on LinkedIn — my posts in the past two months have garnered almost 500,000 reads — and as a consequence, get a lot of connection requests from people I’ve never met. My general policy is to not accept connection requests from people I don’t know, even if I have something in common with them. LinkedIn is not Facebook and the power of your network is not measure by the number of people with whom you are connected; however, I will accept connection requests from people I’ve never met if they take the time to tell me why they want to connect with me. Some of these connections have resulted in interviews, podcasts, articles, and professional introductions I couldn’t have come across otherwise.
But how would I know if somebody just sent me a stock request? The LinkedIn newsfeed is already so bad that adding more people whose updates I’m not all that interested in will not help me learn more or become a better businessperson.
Taking a few minutes to tell the person why you’d like to connect with them — or just telling them that it was nice to meet them at the social event you visited — can go a long way.
4. Just Use It!
Don’t just create a profile and let it sit, never to check it and never to update it. Keeping an updated profile can help keep people looking for talent or doing research on you in the loop that you are, indeed, professionally active. Update your work experience occasionally. Write a long-form post. Occasionally add some professional collateral. This makes it that when people are researching you, they aren’t left guessing about whether or not you are actually actively fostering your professional development.
Some of our best Praxis placements have come from business partners being impressed at a participant’s LinkedIn profile. We work directly with participants to boost their digital presence. If this is something that excites you, apply today.