Many graduate students overlook LinkedIn as a career development tool, assuming it’s only needed at the moment they’re looking for a job. Yet if used effectively, the platform can be a powerful vehicle for advancing your career, affording you the opportunity to build your personal brand and connect with new people.
“If you aspire to build your professional network or help your career, it’s vital to have a LinkedIn profile,” explains Manny Contomanolis, PhD, Senior AVP of Employer Engagement and Career Design at Northeastern University.
Contomanolis recommends three key strategies for using LinkedIn effectively to boost your job search:
Tip #1—Build an Impressive Online Profile
“Many students fill out their LinkedIn profile without a lot of consideration,” said Contomanolis. “That’s almost as bad as not having one at all. It’s not just a form to fill out. This is an opportunity to let an international community know what makes you stand out and help them discover interesting things about you and about your aspirations.”
There are many ways you can make the most of your online portfolio.
- Focus on presenting yourself in the most positive manner. The more dimensions of your profile that you complete, the more you’ll be able to connect with people who understand and appreciate you and your professional strengths.
- Choose your profile photo carefully. The best photo is one that is professionally taken, with you looking at the camera, wearing professional or business casual attire. After all, you should dress for the job you want. Also, make sure people can see your face. A long-distance shot isn’t as helpful because people will find it harder to connect with you. The photo background should be something that’s either simple and not distracting or should convey the field you’re looking to work in. For example, if you’re an aspiring researcher, you could have your photo taken in a lab.
- Craft a compelling summary statement. Some students may be worried about the summary section of their profile if they don’t have a lot of business experience, but everyone has something to share. It’s not just about your professional background, but who you are and what drives you.
- Think beyond your current goals. “Don’t say you’re a job seeker,” advises Contomanolis. “LinkedIn is the place for you to share a statement about what’s special about you. Talk about what excites you in your field and what makes you different. Use phrases like ‘I love to’ or ‘I’m deeply committed to.’”
- Read other profiles for inspiration, then draft your own. Don’t just include a laundry list of accomplishments. Give readers a sense of who you are and what you’re passionate about. Are you high energy? An outgoing advocate of ideas and people? Ask those closest to you to read your summary statement and share honest feedback. Let them know you’re open to refining your statement. You should refresh your profile periodically to ensure it’s up-to-date.
- Maximize your list of skills. You’ve surely gained many new skills during your time as a working professional or student. For example, as a grad student, you likely have gained strong collaboration, communication, leadership, and research skills.
- Seek out endorsements. Don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues, supervisors, academic advisors, or faculty members for positive recommendations and endorsements. Focus on asking those you’ve worked with closely that can speak to specific examples that illustrate the hard and soft skills necessary for the job you’re after.
Tip #2—Connect with Others to Grow Your Network
“Building a complete profile is only the first step to leveraging LinkedIn,” said Contomanolis. “The real power is in building a network and authentically engaging with people.”
Search LinkedIn to find companies, organizations, and individuals you’re interested in and follow them. Join groups with similar interests to you. These can provide tremendous networking opportunities. For example, if you’re studying health sciences and could see yourself researching Chinese medicine, search for researchers or groups in this area of study. Once you’ve done that, you’ll receive a constant feed of insights and perspectives of interest to you.
Your profile visibility rises the more active you are on Linkedin. Read your Linkedin feed regularly, and comment when people post things of interest to you. This shows people that you’re interested in what the industry is saying. Post a question or share your thoughts about an article someone posted to increase your engagement.
“A comment like that says a lot about your level of interest and your seriousness of purpose,” said Contomanolis. “You can’t build a brand by just creating a profile and following people. Ask questions or highlight certain content. You’d be amazed how many people meet and stay connected with others this way. This sets the stage so that when you want to pursue a career opportunity, you’ve already built a network of people you’re connected with. It’s a lot easier to have those conversations once you’ve already gained credibility.”
Tip #3—Remember, Linkedin isn’t just a job board.
“Many people mistakenly use Linkedin only when they’re looking for a job, but it’s really about professionals connecting with one another–and helping you create a professional brand,” said Contomanolis. “This doesn’t happen overnight. You need to invest the time in forging connections with like-minded people and organizations. This will serve you well when it’s time to pursue your next career move.
One master’s degree student I know was interested in Merck and followed them on LinkedIn. He became familiar with what mattered to the company, its research efforts, and the regulatory matters it faced. He began cultivating contacts there, including university alums. He joined a Merck LinkedIn group and started weighing in on posts. When he later applied for a job at Merck, one of these contacts shared insights to help guide him through the process and what to expect. It was also helpful to Merck recruiters to see that the student followed Merck online and was genuinely interested in the company.”
When used effectively, Linkedin is a powerful tool you can use to tell your story and build professional connections that will serve you well in your current and future endeavors. It can seem intimidating to use at first, but once you become comfortable with the platform, it will serve as a forum for sharing ideas, gaining insights, and learning from one another.