If you're a student, chances are you may have a Facebook account. You may even be on Twitter. Social media is rapidly becoming a part of our everyday lives. And although it is fun to check out pictures of your friend's baby or see what your favorite celebrity is up to, some social media sites aren't aimed specifically at helping your career. That's where LinkedIn comes in, a tool that can essentially help you create an online resume, said JP Jones, author of Market Yourself: A Beginner's Guide to Social Media (http://marketyourselfthebook.com).
"LinkedIn is all business all the time. You won't see anyone talking about their kids, dogs or what they watched on TV last night," noted Diane K. Danielson, social media marketing consultant (http://dkdnewmedia.com/).
LinkedIn launched in 2003, and, according to its website, two new members join LinkedIn every second. LinkedIn is a way for people to stay connected with their former classmates or colleagues, a good way to organize your contacts, stay abreast of what everyone is doing career-wise and potentially network to help find a job. The website also offers a job search engine and different career-minded groups. Additionally, employers can use these tools to search for potential job candidates.
"Unlike many other social media outlets, the primary purpose of having an account on LinkedIn is having a professional profile outlet," explained Jones, owner of Paige1Media and Paige1Publishing.
"It's an easy way for people to find you, find more information about you and your most up-to-date contact information," Danielson added.
This may sound like an ideal resource for laboratory professionals already in the field, but it is also a great tool for students and soon-to-be graduates. When people Google you, your LinkedIn profile should be the first item that shows up on the results list, Danielson said.
"When it comes to job searches, you want to do any and everything you can to make it easy on a potential employer. One of those things is creating and maintaining a professional account on LinkedIn," Jones told ADVANCE. A study by Jobvite recently cited that 80 percent of employers used LinkedIn to find potential employees.
In addition, Tracy Sestili, owner and CEO of Social Strand Media (http://socialstrand.com), noted that LinkedIn provides a great feature for students. It's called LinkedIn Career Explorer (and only works on Firefox and Internet Explorer browsers). "The tool allows you to define up to ten career paths and see all kinds of information about them including: salary, demographics, companies that have those jobs, other people who have chosen that career path and more," Sestili explained.
How Not to Use LinkedIn
Unfortunately, many LinkedIn members may not be using the website to their full advantage, or understand what the networking site can truly do for them.
"Too often people will try to treat LinkedIn as if it is just another version of Facebook or Twitter," Jones mentioned. "LinkedIn is not intended to be yet another place to gather with your friends and should not be approached that way."
In the same vein, Sestili noted it's a big mistake to link your Twitter account to your LinkedIn account. "That's a big no-no because the things you would say on Twitter, you may not want to repeat on LinkedIn and have a recruiter find," she said. She also mentioned that people tend not to use the status update feature because they think no one reads them. "And that's a shame because it's a free billboard for you to advertise that you are looking for a job, showcase a great article you just wrote or advertise an event you're attending," she added.
Danielson mentioned that many people do not fully fill out their profile and they don't effectively use keywords to help potential employers find them. Pay attention to the "progress bar" at the top of your profile to let you know exactly how much of the profile you have filled out, Jones advised. Also add many of the optional "extra" fields such as special skills, awards, publications, etc. "Keep in mind the more information you include, the better you would look to a potential employer," Jones said.
Make sure your bio highlights your key skills and strengths, Sestili mentioned, and use LinkedIn's applications to showcase your expertise by featuring a portfolio or a blog. And make sure you use a professional photo for your profile and a customized headline, Danielson added.
Some Additional Tools to Use
On LinkedIn, users can give and receive recommendations from other users, a feature that is essentially like your online references, Danielson said. "It's added assurance to people who might hire or work with you that others have given their approval," she said. But to receive recommendations, make sure you are willing to give them as well, Jones added.
The groups feature is another one to explore. "Groups are good to join for three reasons: 1) they are a place for you to showcase your expertise, 2) they are a good place to find partnerships and information about your industry, and 3) they are a database of information," Sestili explained. Check out the new Group Statistics section to look at not only the demographics of a group but the activity level as well. If not enough conversations are being started or jobs are being posted, leave that group and find a new one, Sestili added. There are over a million groups to choose from, so you are bound to find at least one that is right for you.
You can also ask and answer questions on LinkedIn using LinkedIn Answers, something that can help you meet experts in your field, help you make new connections and showcase your own expertise, Danielson said.
However you choose to use LinkedIn, the number one rule is to maintain professionalism at all times.
Amanda Koehler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer.