LinkedIn is an online platform geared towards professional networking. While it is a form of social networking, it shouldn't be compared to Facebook or Instagram, which are more casual and are better for staying in touch with friends and family and posting funny videos and personal photos. LinkedIn allows users to create a professional profile, which is more influential than a one-page resume, and gives employers the opportunity to post jobs and job seekers the opportunity to find and apply to jobs. Many college students make the mistake of waiting until they have already graduated and are actively seeking employment before they create their LinkedIn profiles. My advice to you is to create a LinkedIn profile as early as the first year of your college education.
First: Creating a Profile
Although there is a premium version of LinkedIn with extra perks that requires you to pay, there is a free version which does all the basics, and as a college student, there's no need for you to upgrade to the paid version. The first step is creating your profile, which is easy. First off, choose a professional-looking profile picture. Don't upload a selfie or a photo with another person in it. It doesn't need to be a professionally-made head shot, but you should look well-kept and approachable. Think of how you will want to look at your first job interview. In the profile section, you will include your first and last name, and then you will be prompted to write a headline. This is can be as simple as, "Student studying [major] at [college name]." Then you simply add your education and location information. If you are working while you're in school, or previously held a job, you can include your job information as well.
The primary reason creating a LinkedIn account early is so important is that it gets your name out there: into the professional world. It's all about making connections. You could potentially meet someone now who offers you a job a few years down the road, or who introduces you to someone who may offer you a job. As a college student, you probably don't have too many professional connections yet, and that's okay. Start by connecting with other students you've met in your college classes. You can even ask the professors in your major if you can connect with them. This guarantees that you can stay in touch with them after graduation, and they can offer you career advice and maybe even write you a letter of recommendation when it comes to job-searching time. Think of it this way: the more people who know who you are, what you've accomplished, and which position you are actively seeking, the greater the chance you have of being considered when a there is a need to fill a position in your field.
You can even try to make connections with people you haven't actually met face-to-face. One way of doing this is looking at the connections of people you have already connected with. Let's say you are connected with a friend from school, and that friend knows someone who works in the field you hope to work in some day. You can ask your friend to introduce you, and if the introduction is accepted, you now have a great opportunity to ask him/her questions about the company he/she works for, what steps he/she took to land the job, and any advice he/she may have for someone who wants to succeed on that educational journey/career path. Another way of doing this is looking at specific companies for which you are interested in working, finding someone who works there in a position you would like to see yourself filling, and requesting a connection with them. Explain that you are a college student hoping to get into the same field one day and would love the opportunity to pick their brain. Most people are open to offering their advice because they were in your position at one time. The worst thing that happens is they ignore your message, but don't take that personally. Lastly, joining groups based on your interests is another excellent way to meet people. Such groups include Social Media Marketing, Banking Careers, Film & TV Tech Professionals, HR Professionals, The Psychology Network, Publishing and Editing Professionals, and almost anything else you can think of.
Learning About Companies
LinkedIn is a great place to explore which companies are typically hiring in your field and your area. Looking at companies' LinkedIn profiles (which include links to their websites) can help you decide whether or not you'd like working for them. You can usually see how many employees they have, what positions they are currently seeking to fill, and what their company is all about. You can also follow the ones that interest you so that their most recent posts show up in your feed.
Finding Jobs and Internships
While pursuing your college education, you can still create a student resume and add it to your LinkedIn profile, even with limited work experience. It will focus more on your education thus far, so it's beneficial for you to include things like GPA and any special awards or achievements. For your work history, include any jobs that a future employer may find relevant to the job you are seeking. You can also include volunteer work and extracurricular activities. It is also wise to include a section that lists any relevant skills, such as "proficiency in Microsoft Word," or "fluent in Spanish." These types of things can also be added to your LinkedIn profile in the "About" section.
It's a widely-known thing that in most job fields, finding an entry-level job can be challenging. Sometimes, the most difficult part of post-graduation life is getting your foot in the door of your field of choice. Most employers look for applicants with at least a year or two of experience, which leaves new graduates feeling stuck, as they can't get a job without experience, but they can't get experience without a job. This is where internships come in. If your schedule permits it, doing an internship while you're still in school may be one of the smartest decisions you make. Sure, many of them are unpaid, but doing them shows you are proactive and serious about getting a head start on your career. Most importantly, it will give you some of that experience employers find so valuable. Furthermore, who knows, maybe the company that offers you the internship will offer you a paid position after you graduate. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding internships. Simply start a job search, and in the search filters, click "Internship" to see what is available in your area for the coming semester/summer break.
Finally, LinkedIn is one of the best job search tools available online. You can set up alerts so that LinkedIn will notify you via email notifications when new jobs are posted in your field and area, giving you the opportunity to be one of the first applicants. You can also filter your search results based on experience level so that you only get notified of entry-level jobs.
Show Off Your Work
Along with using the job/internship search tools, joining groups, uploading your student resume, and learning about companies in your future career field, as a student, you should also create a presence on your LinkedIn profile by creating posts and showcasing your best work. There is a "Featured" section of your profile where you can upload images, documents, presentations, and videos. You can publish articles that you've written for your school newspaper, or create a link to a website that features your portfolio of essays, artwork, or research papers. Those who look at your profile, including potential employers, will see your featured work, which may be enough to put you ahead of other applicants who don't have anything to showcase.
Creating a professional profile on LinkedIn might seem like something that can be put off until you've graduated and started looking for jobs. Maybe you're a college freshman and haven't declared a major yet. Maybe you don't have any work to feature yet. Don't let these things stop you, and don't be intimated because you don't think of yourself as a "professional" just yet. If you are a student, create a LinkedIn profile. Get your name and skills out there, because having a professional social networking account can open doors in your professional journey, both while you're in school and after graduation.
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