Career 101: Building Your LinkedIn Profile

linkedin

Last week I talked a little bit about building your brand and how to do it. Even if you’re still trying to figure out how to market yourself, the best time to make a LinkedIn profile is now. Think of it as your lemonade stand where you can set up all of the ingredients you need to be the best lemonade stand you can be. Okay, maybe, that isn’t the best analogy in the world, but the point is that in order to get people to buy what you are selling, you have to let employers know that you are on the market.

It doesn’t matter if you’re still in high school or in college. There is an internship out there waiting for you and you’re only a LinkedIn profile away from finding it. Don’t waste anymore time; if you don’t already have an account, sign up! It doesn’t hurt to have another social media outlet. Don’t panic if you’re not sure where to start. I’m here to help!

While I was building my profile, I did a lot of research on how to make my profile look as professional as possible. You don’t have to read countless articles on how to make a good LinkedIn profile – here are the 10 things that you should include:

1. Professional photo: LinkedIn may be like Facebook in the sense that it connects you with other people, but that doesn’t mean the profile picture you use for Facebook (the one where you’re making silly faces with your friends) should be the same one you put on your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is like the more conservative cousin of Facebook. Whereas Facebook is for personal usage (though this doesn’t mean you should post anything and everything), LinkedIn is the Internet’s door to the professional world; a place where recruiters from different companies look at the profiles of students just like you.

Keeping that in mind, don’t let their first impression of you be a picture of you sticking a finger up your nose. Instead, use a headshot that has a plain background. If you’re like me and can’t afford to have a professional photo taken at the moment, take the picture yourself with your phone or camera in front of a white wall. Or, use an old picture and use Paint (or any equivalent program) to cut yourself out of the original photo and paste it on a white background. The second choice is really time consuming, but is ultimately can be a good option for the time being.

2. Summary: This is the section where you talk about yourself. You don’t have to share your entire life story, but it may be good to talk about your college major or write a paragraph about what your future goals are. You can also mention your purpose for making a LinkedIn profile, i.e.  to find an internship in [insert field]. Remember to keep the summary brief since recruiters won’t spend an hour on your profile. You want them to get past the summary and onto the good stuff, such as your work experience and courses that you have taken.

3. Collegiate/high school experience: The four years you spend in high school and in college tell a story. Whether you participated in after-school programs or in clubs, it doesn’t matter. Document it all! If you held any leadership positions, that is especially great.  These are the kinds of things you should put on your LinkedIn profile to let everyone know that high school and college isn’t just about the academics for you. Don’t forget to list all of the relevant courses you have taken so far. This means any business, language, major, etc. classes you have under your belt. Displaying a sample of your work (i.e project, paper, etc.) in this section might also be a great idea. Or, if you don’t want to do that, make an online portfolio and link it to your profile. That way you can have a separate space for all of your work.

4. Skills: We are all good at something, whether it’s having great written communications skills or being good at building websites. There is an employer out there looking for someone with your expertise, so make sure you list the things that you have excelled in. If you can get endorsements (people who can attest that you possess said skills), then that’s even better! The more endorsements, the better. Try not to have more than ten skills on your profile though. Only list the ones that are important and the ones that you think will make you stand out from the crowd.

5. Awards: Are you the student who gets good grades or is a star athlete? Good for you! List all of your accomplishments in the awards section. Let people know that you have rewards as proof for outstanding work.

6. Headline: A headline on LinkedIn is like the headline of a newspaper article. It’s the attention grabber; it’s your chance to send out flares to recruiters so that they can find you more easily. You can constantly change your headline to fit your liking, but if you’re not sure what to put there, start off with ‘Student at [insert school].’ or ‘Intern at [insert company]’. If you don’t have an internship and would like one, try using ‘Aspiring [insert profession] seeking an internship in [insert job/field].’ You could use a combination of the three, just play around with it and look at other profiles to help and inspire you.

7. Contact info: You don’t have to provide your phone number (and I advise against putting your phone number online) but what you can do is put your email address on LinkedIn. This way, recruiters or anyone who is interested can contact you through email. LinkedIn may be a professional site, but you always want to be careful with who you give your information to.

8. Groups/companies/universities: The great thing about LinkedIn is that you can join groups that fit your career interests. LinkedIn groups, once you become a member of them, give you access to thousands of people that otherwise wouldn’t show up in the ‘People You May Know’ section. Getting involved in discussions will get you noticed, and you may even learn valuable lessons from professionals that you aren’t connected with. Also, ‘Like’ or ‘Follow’ the companies that you would want to intern for or possibly work for in the future. If you want to go college or graduate school, ‘Follow’ your dream universities to stay on top of what’s going on.

9. Connections: Make sure to only add people you know. If you do get those few random invitations, make sure to check out their profiles first before you add them. It’s good to have a lot of connections, but it’s not good if you don’t know your connections. That said, connect with professors, teachers, old friends, family members, people you’ve worked with, etc. Sometimes it’s not about what you know but WHO you know. Keep that in mind as you navigate the networking realm.

10. Alumni tool: LinkedIn has become more accessible to college and high school students alike in recent years, especially with the addition of the alumni tool. Here you can see what people who graduated from your university (or your dream university) went on to do with their degrees. You can also look at their profiles for tips on how to structure your own. If you have any specific questions, you can message them. I love the alumni tool and it’s certainly something you should check out if you’re new to LinkedIn. Go to ‘Connections’ and click on ‘Find Alumni’ to access that tool, and for more information on a particular university, go to ‘Interests’ and click ‘Education.’ Both of these can be found at that top of the page.

I hope that this list was helpful to those of you new LinkedIn users who don’t know where to start. I don’t want to tell you how your profile should look because not one profile should look the same. I do, however, want to give you a sturdy foundation to build your profile upon. Just remember that you don’t have to get it ‘right’ the first time. You can always edit your profile to your liking. With that said, make sure to keep it updated. If you get a new job, update your experiences on your LinkedIn profile. Or if you’re unemployed but you have an internship or are involved in a club, let it be known that you are staying busy even if it’s not a job. Also, if you haven’t participated in a lot of extracurricular activities, internships, or jobs, don’t let that discourage you from not making a LinkedIn profile. Maybe that blank profile can be what motivates you to get more involved. Who knows?! Just don’t wait to create your profile because you won’t know how successful your lemonade stand will be until you build it.

Image: Esther Vargas, Flickr