How To Get Started on LinkedIn

I've been told by many people that I am significantly more career-minded than most have been at my age. Last year, as a freshman in college, I worked at a fantastic full-time internship at Gannett. A big part of the reason I got the job was because I made some valuable connections. It's really important to network with people because people are willing to help people they know and maybe even take a chance on an excited little freshman. One of the biggest tools you can leverage is the site LinkedIn, the professional social network.

Some people will tell you it's like facebook-- don't believe them. It's much better and the approach you take is extremely different. Use LinkedIn to connect to contacts and classmates, follow news from companies and industries you care about, participate in helpful discussions on groups relating to your industry, and even find internships and jobs. It's a fantastic resource.

The awful thing about starting out on LinkedIn-- or really any chunk of the "getting your life together" venture-- is that it looks like you have everything to do. It's intimidating to look at a mountain from the bottom and obsess over how you'll ever get to the top. Obsess and freak out. So for the person who has no idea where to start, here are some little bitty bites out of the pie you can take slowly, gradually, and simply.

Make an account. Easy. Easy peasy. You probably sign up for one service or another every month or so. You know the drill and you've known it ever since you first signed up for neopets or runescape or whatever time-suck was the entirety of your digital world back in elementary school.

Tell it where you went to school and where you're located. Filling out this basic info helps them figure out what probable networks you're in. They expand as you make connections, fill in and gain employment history, etc. but for now, your college and your local area is a good place to start. You can also fill in any info on your intended industry or major. Don't feel pressured to give up every detail about your life. You don't have to fill in every club or class you've taken, but school, year, and major are a solid start.

Get a nice headshot. Granted, you may not want to pick from your glamorous selection on facebook of party pics, instagram filtered selfies, and food photos, and actually get some solid headshots, so be prepared to take that step if it is more professional and appropriate than anything you have. Remember to get your face well-centered and not too far off to the side or close up-- I've seen photos that are taken from uncomfortably close up... Also remember that this is a professional profile and not a dating site. Get a friend to do it in nice light on a clear morning. Pick a good location-- trees, brick, a plain wall. Don't do it in your mirror (come on, at least pretend to be classy!) and don't do it in the middle of your messy room! Headshots are important because they give you instant credibility and have the biggest impact on whether or not people think your profile is even worth considering looking at. It's not that the network is made up of vain people. It's just that any no-face on the site who doesn't even have their act together enough to have a photo is not worth checking out.

Have a resume. You can't keep putting this off. You need to make a resume. Once you have a resume on your computer you can use it to fill in an employment history on your LinkedIn Profile. Have a resume? Then set aside few hours on a weekend to put translate your resume into employment info on your profile. Don't have a resume? Well, get on that! Be sure to enlist help from your school's career counselors. Many have resume writing workshops that will help you out. You can also use your resume to help you will out the summary / about me section.

Write a headline. This is one of the few key things that shows up in a search on LinkedIn so make sure to maximize the space. Student at ______ University is decidedly boring. Had a cool internship last summer? Maybe Former Research Intern at NIH. Whoa, now that sounds like someone worth checking out. No internship experience? How about something like Aspiring Graphic Designer at ______ University, or maybe reference a club-- Business Manager at The Daily Bugle (or whatever it is you do) (Yes, that was a Spiderman reference). Differentiate yourself and give potential recruiters or employers a taste of who you are and what you do.

Join some alumni and school-related groups. Most schools have at least one major alumni group on LinkedIn. More often than not there will also be more that are more specific to your depart, major, greek organization, honor society, etc. These are a good place to start because many people feel camaraderie with people who shared their same roots and after all, our college years really shape us as adults. You can also join groups that cater better to your professional interests (animation? finance? pharmaceuticals?) and anything else you may find interesting, but school is a really solid starting point. Be sure to adjust settings on email notifications from groups as they can get overwhelming! Use these groups to participate in discussions and get your name out there as well as make connections, both to your peers and to that alum who is exactly where you want to be in 10 years!

Start connecting with people you know. LinkedIn is different from facebook. Do not connect with everybody you've ever had a class with. Connect with people you can reasonably trust since just as they are sharing their network, you are sharing yours. Connecting opens a level of professional communication that you may not feel comfortable granting that lab partner who screwed you over freshman year. It's a good idea to connect with people whom you have met in a professional capacity as these people can recommend you or post updates and links that will be good reads for you on the industry you hope to work in. Connect with long-time, trustworthy friends, career counselors, professors (provided that they like you and you didn't accidentally have your phone on one time in class and your friend's customized Hall and Oates ringtone didn't blare as you fumbled with your phone for two minutes), co-workers, bosses, and even your parents' close buddies. There are multiple ways of doing this from connecting with people in your email contacts list to trolling through the "People You May Know" tab on the top right of the home page.

Well, if you've done all these things, you have a pretty solid start on LinkedIn! LinkedIn allows you to go into a significant amount of detail, but don't feel like you have to do everything, especially not all at once. Little by little, you can build a strong profile. This is not an advanced guide on how to use LinkedIn, but like I said, everyone needs to start somewhere, and with many of my friends not even knowing where to begin (or stepping foot in our career center), I thought this would be a good post. It's internship season so put your game-face on!


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