LinkedIn Tips Any Grad Student Can Handle

posted Sep 29, 2014, 10:47 AM by Nadia Jaber   [ updated Sep 30, 2016, 2:16 PM by Alexandra Weinheimer ]
by Nadia Jaber

Let's talk about LinkedIn. I'm sure most of you signed up and made a profile months ago... and then never looked back. This is very unfortunate, because you are missing out on a lot of great things LinkedIn has to offer. Besides applying for jobs and networking, you can learn about various careers, improve your resume, learn about great opportunities, and have informative discussions. 

Check out these tips gathered from various resources. Then, take the LinkedIn challenge: spend five minutes a day for the next week improving your profile. Afterwards, log on once a week to stay active. I think the results will surprise you!

1. Fill out every part of the profile. This gives you more chances to provide information about yourself and your abilities, and for you to appear personable. Think of it like free food during seminar. Take everything you can get!!

2. Tailor every part of your profile to the job you want. Not the one you have (umm, student?). This is KEY. Even if you're really good at RNA isolation, no one at the editing firm you want to work at cares. Instead, focus on the skills and abilities your dream employer will drool over. Not sure what they're interested in? See tip number 13. Also, “be sure to include industry related keywords” says LinkedIn coach Sabrina Woods. If you want to show up in search results for a specific quality or skill, have those keywords in your profile, and have them often. 

3. Have a professional looking photo. This should really go without saying. Your LinkedIn photo should not be the same as your Facebook photo! It doesn't have to be a you in a suit in a professional head shot, but it shouldn't be you with your dog (unless of course, you want a dog grooming career).

4. Get creative with your headline. The headline is the description directly underneath your name in your profile. You probably have something like "Physics PhD student at Stony Brook University". That's terribly uninformative for an employer who wants to hire someone with great analytic and writing skills. Instead, go back to tip 2 and tailor your headline for the job you want. You can still include PhD student, but add some flair. For example, “Physics PhD student, Data analysis for large data sets”. You can actually get rid of the student title, since it will be displayed in the rest of your profile. “You can sell yourself, your stuff, and your services, all with a stellar LinkedIn headline” recommends recruiter Jenny Foss. Your headline is one of the first things people see, so entice them to read your full profile. 

5. Be as descriptive as possible. Don’t assume that everyone knows what a specific word means or the importance of the achievements you have. Even fellowships, awards and participation on committees may be foreign to employers in a non-academic field. And don’t be humble about it! Lay on the self-praise. Describe your thesis research in layman’s terms, especially if you are aiming for a non-research job. Doing so will also demonstrate your communication and writing skills. A 2-for-1 deal!

6. Add links wherever possible. This goes with number 5. For anything on your profile which may not be common knowledge (education program, fellowship or competition), providing a link will give viewers the opportunity to learn more about it. Consider adding links to publications, newsletters announcing your achievements, your lab's website, the event page for anything you participated in (think conferences, science fairs, volunteer work), and blog articles you wrote. 

7. Customize your public profile link. This is a very simple way to look more professional. Your profile link is located under your photo. When you sign up for LinkedIn, you'll get a link with a generic letter/number combo. While in edit mode, you can change the link from the generic into to your name. For example, www.linkedin.com/in/n45693 to www.linkedin.com/in/njaber/. You should then include your link in your CV, resume, email correspondence , business cards etc.

8. Humanize your profile. “Be personal. Your profile is not a resume or CV. Write as if you are having a conversation with someone. Inject your personality. Let people know your values and passions. In your summary, discuss what you do outside of work. You want people to want to know you.” writes William Arruda. An easy way to start this is to write in the first person. Instead of saying "won first place in design competition", say "I participated and won first place in the 2014 National Design Competition. It was an amazing experience meeting designers from around the world." Better, right?!

9. Browse other profiles. First look at professionals in your career of interest. Take note of the keywords they use, their headline, the skills they highlight, the experiences they have. How do they present themselves? Did they have an internship you could also apply for? What groups are they part of? Also take a look at the profiles of other PhD students who may be gearing up for the same position as you. How do they present themselves? Are they doing it well? See what you can learn and improve on.

10. Be active!!! Join groups, participate in discussions and update your profile and status often. Join groups that are related to your desired career. There are professional societies for almost all career fields, and they usually post relevant information including networking opportunities and job offers. Participating in discussions or starting a discussion gets you tons more profile views and the opportunity to connect with professionals. Use LinkedIn status updates to broadcast your recent achievements. On your homepage you can see the statuses of your connections - comment on them to build relationships and start discussions. Then you can use direct message for more in-depth discussions.

11. Send personalized connection requests. Especially for connecting with professionals you've never met, don’t use the generic connection request. It makes you look like a weirdo. Instead, add details about who you are and why you want to connect. Make your intentions clear! I usually say something like: "Although we don't know each other, I'd like to connect. I am a biology PhD and health communications student at Stony Brook, and I am exploring career options. I'd love to connect and learn about your career path. It seems exactly like what I am aiming for." Everyone likes flattery, and most people are willing to help poor, inexperienced graduate students.   

12. Find ways to stand out. This may be a little trickier, and something you can think about after you've taken the challenge. You can get creative with your headline, the layout of your profile, in your summary, and your point of view in discussions. Again, the idea is to entice people to click on your profile, be wowed, and hire you.

13. Find a job! Obviously this is one of the main functions of LinkedIn, but you can benefit from it in many ways, even before you are ready to apply for a job. Use the job search feature to learn more about jobs available in your field of interest - what skills and experiences are they requiring? what companies are offering the jobs? Save these listings so you can revisit them (you can save them on LinkedIn or take a web screenshot).  Follow the companies posting jobs that interest you and connect with people that work there (see number 11). Check frequently for new postings, as they come and go quickly. When you're ready to start applying, you can direct message your connections (*people you've actually communicated with) to let them know you are actively looking and to keep you in mind (be professional and personal).

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