LinkedIn is a powerful tool for college students seeking internships and full-time jobs. With more than 45 million users, the site lets you tap into a wealth of connections for the purpose of career networking. Beyond this, LinkedIn gives you a platform to develop and express your professional identity. If you don’t have a website or blog, it may be the only means by which to represent yourself as a budding professional online.
As such, the way that you conduct yourself on LinkedIn has far-reaching implications as you start your career. A strong LinkedIn profile, with sharp descriptions and glowing recommendations of your work, can provide a potential employer with a very positive impression of you. On the other hand, a poorly-crafted profile or a rude LinkedIn networking encounter can detract from your professional image in a big way.
Here are some common mistakes that college students make on LinkedIn, along with advice for avoiding these pitfalls.
The generic invitation to connect
If you’re going to reach out to someone that you don’t know, make sure to include a personalized message with the invitation to connect. Whenever I get an invitation from a student with the generic language, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn,” I cringe. If you send this to an alum from your school, or to someone working at your dream company, it indicates that you’re not putting a whole lot of effort into building a relationship. He/she may think you’re just trying to connect with mass numbers of people and may not even be genuinely interested in talking with him/her as an individual.
It takes two minutes to come up with a customized message. Aim to answer the questions of what you have in common with the other person and why you’d like to connect. It can be as simple as, “I’m a current senior at University X, your alma mater. I’m interested in pursuing a career in retail management and, given your career path, I’d love the opportunity to connect.” By crafting this brief message, you’re showing yourself to be a thoughtful individual with a real reason behind connecting.
Even with someone you already know – maybe an internship supervisor or classmate – the invitation can be a great way to show that you value the person and also to remind him/her of your career goals. An example: “Lilly, how are you? I miss Marketing 509 with Professor Smith! Anyway, I wanted to connect on here so that we can help eachother in our respective job searches. I am looking to pursue brand management positions in Boston. Let me know if I can be of any help to you.”
Lack of selectivity
Just like a resume, your LinkedIn profile is a marketing document for you. Everything that you include in your profile should enhance your personal brand and be relevant to your goals. One of the biggest mistakes I see is students listing out everything they’ve ever done on LinkedIn. Just like entry-level resumes are supposed to be limited to one page, your LinkedIn profile should be brief and targeted as well.
This means that it may not be appropriate to list all of your previous jobs. The other day I saw someone’s employment history section, which listed, “Food Server – ABC Dining Hall,” “PR Intern – Company Y,” “Bartender – ABC Cantina,” “Office Worker – Family Business,” and “PR Intern – Company Z.” He had so much clutter that it took me a few glances to realize he actually had (quite substantial) PR experience. There’s nothing wrong with eliminating irrelevant jobs from your work history.
Similarly, it may not be best to list all of your academic awards and activities. A limited selection of activities can provide a nice glimpse into your college experience. A barrage of 8 clubs and 14 awards (none of which are easily recognizable by name) may just make an employer skip over that section of your profile, potentially missing an important activity hidden within. Try picking the most meaningful awards and activities to showcase.
Spelling/grammatical errors, inconsistencies
I’ve seen everything from misusing medium-difficulty vocabulary words to incorrectly spelling the name of one’s university. Just as you would carefully check over your resume for errors, you should proofread your LinkedIn profile. Remember that this is your professional identity out there for the world to see.
Additionally, be consistent with how you deliver information within the profile. If you use bullet points to describe your responsibilities at one internship, and you use full paragraphs with first-person narrative to talk about your responsibilities at another, this will look weird. Every minor choice you make on your LinkedIn profile shows your attention to detail, and more largely, reflects on your professional identity.
The headline is the space on your profile right under your name, and it can say whatever you want it to say. This phrase will also appear elsewhere on the site below your name. If your headline simply reads, “Student at University X,” this doesn’t tell me a whole lot about you. You have leeway to be creative; put some personality into this. Most importantly, clearly identify your career interests.
You can broadly classify yourself: “Emerging public relations practitioner with interests in social media and brand management.”
Or, you can include more specific information: “Fashion Design student at Syracuse University seeking a summer internship in fabric design in the New York City area.”
You can also choose to identify by your current job/internship title, but make sure that it’s directly relevant to where you’d like to go in the future. For example, I wouldn’t recommend your headline reading “Analyst, JPMorgan Chase” if you’re looking to switch into non-profit human rights activist work.
Remember that this is the way that you’ll be identified throughout the site, and it is the first thing that people will see upon opening your profile. Make sure that you’re using the headline to your advantage.
LinkedIn has a built-in utility for collecting recommendations from previous supervisors, colleagues, classmates, or anyone who has had experience with your work. You’re missing a big opportunity if you don’t have recommendations. It can be very powerful for a potential employer to see your previous colleagues endorse you.
The key to asking for recommendations is to ask people who are truly enthusiastic about you and your work. The only thing worse than having no recommendations is having a lukewarm recommendation from someone who doesn’t really know you or doesn’t value your work. That’s why I always encourage students to request recommendations from people who know them well — professors, supervisors, and peers — so that the recommendation is both genuine and specific in its praise.
Once someone agrees to write a recommendation for you, it never hurts to give them some very general guidance on things you’d like to see emphasized. For example, you can say, “As I will be pursuing work in social media marketing, I’d really appreciate it if you could touch on my experience assisting in the development of your company’s Facebook fan page.”
LinkedIn is a wonderful way to begin crafting a strong professional identity and forging connections with relevant players in your industry. By being mindful of these common LinkedIn missteps, you can succeed in utilizing this dynamic tool for your personal branding and job search endeavors.