If you are job hunting, thinking about a career change, or are about to graduate high school or college, you can use LinkedIn to your advantage to grow your personal network, showcase your accomplishments, and even figure out what really interests you. Best of all, it's free, aside from taking some of your time to build.
What's great about LinkedIn is that it's essentially an expanded, online version of your resume. Of course, you can list past and present positions, but you can also tell your story in a variety of other ways. If you want your LinkedIn profile to be of any use to you or potential employers, there are a few things you must include, a few you definitely should include, and a few features you should take advantage of.
1. Include a picture of you on your profile.
Not you and your significant other, you with friends, or you with your dog. Your picture should be recent, professional looking (you in front of a clean background works, no need to go crazy here), and convey to employers that you take personal branding seriously. Remember, this is not a traditional resume, where adding a picture often loses you the job. Your connections on LinkedIn want to know that you're a real person.
2. Create a searchable heading using keywords related to your potential career interests.
Saying that you are a "Student Assistant at (Your School Here)" may be true, but it will not translate to profile views. Try incorporating some of your skills or the industry you want to be working in into your profile heading. When employers, recruiters, and industry professionals search for those keywords, you are much more likely to show up in their search results. For example, my heading currently says "Open to Opportunities in Educational Technology & Learning | Instructional Design | Training & Development". Using the dividers in between subjects or skills makes it easier to read.
3. Change your personal profile link to www.linkedin.com/in/yourname.
This little trick makes your profile more professional and searchable. Wouldn't you rather give someone a personal link than one that ends in /pubufhwfrh28ty9h4q932f? You can even list your link on your resume, since it will be clean and includes your name. To make this switch, just go to the "edit your profile" page and look under your contact info. Click edit next to the profile link to change it to a custom URL.
4. Write a summary that describes what you're good at and what you want to do.
The more detail you give, the better people will know what it is you're good at and can help them with. I also use this section to highlight my specialties, again using the vertical dividers to make them easy to read.
5. Give an accurate and complete description of your work history.
Include any past work experience that makes you look good, just like you would on your resume. Keep descriptions succinct, but feel free to write a little more than you would on your resume.
6. List your education if you did well in school, and include any independent coursework.
It can't hurt to say that you have a college degree, and you never know who might contact you because they want to work with someone who went to the same school they did. Have you taught yourself a new skill online or elsewhere? List it on your profile. It shows you are self-motivated and open to learning new things. That new skill could also lead to potential job opportunities.
7. List skills in the skill section so they can be endorsed by your connections.
If you do something well, and someone else knows it, you look more credible when they can vouch for your work. Return the favor by endorsing the skills of others.
8. Include past projects on your profile so people have immediate access to what you can accomplish and have accomplished.
Put up anything you are proud of. List your blog, a website you built, a research paper you wrote for class, an informative YouTube video you created, a great looking PowerPoint, or whatever else you've created. An easy way to do this is to generate direct links by uploading the project to Google Drive. Just remember to change the viewing settings to public once you upload you project to Drive. If it's a blog or video that's already on the internet, include the link on LinkedIn.
9. Make it easy for people to contact you.
Make sure you include your email address, website URL, or whatever channel you use to create correspondence under the "Advice for contacting" section. If the only way people can contact you is through LinkedIn as one of your connections, you are severely limiting the potential for growing your network.
10. Have at least 50 connections, and don't stop there.
This does not mean asking to connect with anyone and everyone. It's not Facebook. Tailor your requests to people who can help you advance in your career and in life. Connecting with people from school is fine, but reach out to professionals in your desired industry or people you know can give you advice. When trying to connect with people you don't know, always customize your request. Mention an article of theirs you've read, or a video you saw, and if you need an email address (LinkedIn does not condone requesting to connect with people you don't know), Google the person's name, find their website, and look for their contact info. A little research goes a long way.
11. Obtain recommendations from connections who know you well and have seen your work.
Recommendations are instant validations of your work, and they should not be ignored. There are two ways to go about getting them. Either send a recommendation request and hope they respond, or write one about them so they are more likely to return the favor. You'd be surprised how many people will write a great recommendation for you if you give them a reason to.
12. Read articles, participate in group discussions, and follow companies you're interested in.
Get your name out into the world by commenting on things you care about. You never know who might see it and want to speak to you. When a company goes to research your profile and they see their company logo on your "following" list, they'll know you're staying up to date with what they're working on.
13. Post useful status updates that correlate with your goals and interests.
Did you find an article particularly helpful or inspiring? Share it with LinkedIn, and people might just generate new leads for where you can learn more. This practice also shows you are willing to share your knowledge with others, which is a great quality to have.
14. If you have a blog, use an automatic delivery service to share your posts with LinkedIn.
By posting your new content, you invite people to look at what you're passionate about and can increase your following with no added effort. If you have a niche that's related to your career goals, this is even more helpful for branding yourself.
15. Once your profile is complete, take advantage of the organizing feature.
Use the little up and down arrows within each section to organize your LinkedIn profile in a way that best represents you. Think about what aspect of your life is most impressive and put it toward the top. Even people who scan will see your greatest accomplishments listed first, whether that's your summary, skills, projects, or recommendations.
Having a complete, focused LinkedIn profile is key to using it as your online portfolio. By taking the time to make sure you're representing the best version of you, you're showing others that you can successfully create a personal brand for yourself. Allow people to find your LinkedIn profile through your resume, Facebook profile or page, business card, and website, and you will be on your way to achieving your career goals.
*This post can also be downloaded as a presentation on Slideshare!
How many of these features do you use on your LinkedIn profile? Do you have any other ways you use to brand yourself? Share them by commenting below!