How LinkedIn Can Help Your Job Search—Even When You’re Still a Student

Should you be on LinkedIn-
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Your Twitter following is the size of a small army. Your Tumblr dashboard is cluttered with likes and reblogs. Your Vine is bursting with awesome videos… So why is your LinkedIn profile all depressingly empty? You’ve heard that you should fill it out. But every time you go to look at it, you just get discouraged and give up.

It’s funny—a lot of so-called “digital natives” feel decidedly alien when it comes to this professional social networking platform. Maybe it’s that we don’t know who to connect with—or how to approach them. Or perhaps we’re afraid that we’re not advanced enough in our careers to use this networking tool effectively.

We asked Courtney Sanford, Social Impact Associate at LinkedIn to walk us through some of the tools and features on this platform that are most helpful for students and recent grads.

Courtney Sanford

What is your current role at LinkedIn?

I’m an Associate on the LinkedIn for Good team, and I work on various projects relating to social impact at LinkedIn. One of my main roles is running an internship program for LinkedIn’s Volunteer Marketplace, which connects non-profits with prospective skilled volunteers and board members.

As a recent graduate myself and former LinkedIn Campus INbassador, I’m also interested in helping students begin using and taking advantage of the network.

Many college students and recent grads are reluctant to use LinkedIn because they think they only know other students or that industry professionals wouldn’t want to connect with them. How would you address these concerns?

I think there are a lot of interesting opportunities for exactly those reasons. It’s true that you’re all students now, but in a few years everyone you know will be in different companies, industries, and cities throughout the world. LinkedIn is a platform for maintaining those relationships and staying in touch. The more you invest in it now as a student, the more you’ll benefit later.

I’d also add that in addition to adding other students, there are so many people who are invested in giving you advice when you’re a student—your professors, advisors, people you intern with, people who come to campus to give talks or presentations. You can connect with any of these people who have expressed interest in you and your future—as long as you’re aware and intentional in the way you frame your request.

Which sections are most important for students or recent grads to fill out on their LinkedIn profile?

We have a Higher Ed team who have created a few sections with students specifically in mind, but we also have flexibility with the way that you use your profile. A few of the sections that are most relevant to students are:

  • Organizations: This is great place to feature your extracurricular involvement
  • Courses: You can describe the coursework you’ve taken and highlight your familiarity with different subjects here
  • Education: This sections lets you highlight your degree, area of study, and other educational achievements
  • Summary: I’d say that this is one of the most important sections, regardless of whether you’re a student or not. It allows you to explain and narrate the context of who you are and what you’ve done and describe the type of opportunity you’re looking for
  • Alumni groups: This is a place where you can network with people who are invested in a particular community and willing to help out

How does filling out your LinkedIn profile differ from writing up a résumé? Why might a job-seeker need both?

We like to think of LinkedIn as way to express your entire professional identity. It’s not limited in length or structure; it’s customizable; you can move sections around to highlight what’s most relevant. You can also add videos, presentations, and links so your work comes to life.

Unlike a résumé, your profile is not static; it’s updated continually and helps you to maintain relationships with your professional connections.

What are some of the tools available on LinkedIn that are most useful to students/recent grads?

The main one is the University pages tool, which is the equivalent of a company page for a college or university. It aggregates information about where alumni live and work and helps current or prospective students think about their future career path.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 2.16.49 PMA screenshot of the University pages tool based on my alma mater, Reed College.

You can use the university tool to find a mentor, someone to ask for career advice, internships, or to learn how to get into an industry or company. If you’re exploring career options or thinking about what you should study to help you achieve a certain goal, you can use the alumni tool to explore possibilities.

Another tool that’s useful for students is alumni groups. Groups are intended to create dialogue or discussion, so you could post a link or ask for advice and interact with other students and alumni there.

What are some general rules of etiquette that students/recent grads should keep in mind when using LinkedIn?

Most students are used to using a social network as a place to connect with friends, so it can take time to adjust to using a professional social network.

My general advice about who to connect with would be anyone you’d be comfortable being associated with professionally or would be open to talking to or working with.

I wouldn’t generally accept or send requests to strangers unless you think they’re super interesting or you share a common background.

It’s always a good idea to customize your connection request, to make it more personal than the standardized message. This is especially true if you’re connecting with someone who might not know you very well, like a guest lecturer or a fellow alum.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

In addition to helping you connect with people, LinkedIn is a great place to find information on your industry. You can follow people or content channels that offer career advice and insight into the professional world. You can use it to understand what companies are like and what it’s like to work in certain industries—basically, don’t underestimate LinkedIn as a research tool.

Homework time! If you don’t already have one, go create a LinkedIn profile! If you do, take a look at the university page for your school. Check out where alumni are living and working. Is there anyone who’s doing something interesting? Send them a request to connect and see if you can set up an informational interview or job shadowing session.

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