Heading back to Radford University, my alma mater, and interacting with students is something I consistently look forward to. Whether delivering a guest lecture or speaking with a club, I get energized by their curiosity, enthusiasm, and questions. Recently, I was able to serve on a career panel focused on professional and personal branding. I joined two other incredible local professionals from the Blacksburg community, Adam Soccolich with Modea and Christina Sullivan with Ozmo.
Our discussion touched on topics like salary negotiations, cover letter tips, professional books that are “must reads” and how to begin establishing a personal brand. The turnout to the event was great—the students who took time and initiative to be present genuinely impressed me.
One specific area of discussion we spent a good amount of time on was the use of social media by students. Adam asked the audience to indicate by a show of hands if they had a LinkedIn profile. I was genuinely surprised by the number that didn’t. Now, I’m not dogging those students for a second. Most in the audience were freshmen and let’s not forget, they took initiative to show up to the panel to learn. I saw this as an opportunity to convey the importance of LinkedIn for college students.
The 2015 Recruiter Nation survey found that 96% of recruiters use social media as one of their tools, of those recruiters, 89% use LinkedIn. The numbers speak strongly, but so did our panel. It was shared advice to get on LinkedIn and begin establishing a professional brand immediately. We also learned that Radford University Career Services regularly hosts LinkedIn workshops for students, to help them through the process.
Many students don’t get a LinkedIn profile until they are seeking jobs. That is a mistake. At that time you will be playing catch up. Establishing a LinkedIn profile now allows for ample time to build connections with other professionals, demonstrating your relevance. It also shows long-term commitment to your end goal.
LinkedIn makes people highly accessible in ways that they would never be, absent of the platform. The students who request a connection with me on LinkedIn, after they hear me guest lecture, always impress me. It shows initiative, follow through, confidence and smart networking skills.
Although college students may understand the importance of being on LinkedIn, they may feel unsure about how to use this professional platform. I’d like to offer five simple ways to begin maximizing this important platform. While not all-inclusive, I do believe they are a great starting point
1. Ensure your profile picture is strong
Phone cameras are so excellent these days, there is no excuse for a poor LinkedIn picture. There are numerous online guides that provide tips for capturing a nice headshot. I will add, your LinkedIn picture should never be a selfie.
2. Connect with your professors, classmates, and friends.
While you may be afraid that you will join LinkedIn and have few connections, I don’t think that will be the reality. Take time to consider all the various people you interact with on a daily basis, and add them. LinkedIn has helped me become connected to new people, through my already established networks. It is a great conduit for new and meaningful professional relationships.
3. Add employment, awards, and activities– in meaningful ways
The way you describe your employment history and experience matters—allow those timestamps in your life to support the bigger story of who you are as a professional. This is accomplished by the highlights you share about the position and what it means for you. For example, if you worked in a fast food restaurant you could describe it in basic terms like “Provided excellent customer service” or you could highlight the transferable skills you learned, “Mastered the art of working with the general public.”
4. Add big class projects as examples of your work product.
One of my friends, who is a professor at Radford University, has his students complete a semester long “passion project” which requires his students to implement the principles of content and social media marketing. This project results in a great example of a student’s work product. I would be highly impressed to see this example shared on their LinkedIn profile. These examples demonstrate experience and training you have received in an academic context, which will help potential employers understand your emerging skill sets, talents, and abilities.
5. Share a Compelling Summary
In my opinion; this is a critical aspect of your LinkedIn profile. I encourage you to develop what you want to say outside of LinkedIn first, meaning in a word document. Make sure it is polished, then send the draft to at least two people for feedback prior to posting to LinkedIn.
In your summary share the big picture view of who you are, that can’t be captured in one role of isolated piece of experience. Make this interesting and compelling, leave the buzzwords and jargon behind. Use this as a way to attract the right kind of connections and potentially the right kind of employer. This area of your profile tells the story of who you are and where you are going.
Those five steps are simple, easy, and will help you get started. Make sure to also take advantage of resources at your disposal, like career center workshops. Take time to establish your LinkedIn profile now to support your emerging professional brand.