Creating and fostering professional connections, or networking, is widely considered the most effective way to land a job. Based on data that suggests more people find employment than there are positions publicly available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that 70% of jobs are found through networking.
What’s more, LinkedIn—the online social networking platform for professionals—is changing the networking and recruiting landscape in just about every industry. In a 2013 survey of nearly 1,900 employers, 97% said they actively use LinkedIn to recruit new hires. Now becoming a resource for everything career-related, employers believe a LinkedIn profile is essential for every individual. For college students especially new to the professional world, LinkedIn can be the gateway to making new connections, finding a career path, and, most importantly, to cinching job opportunities and interviews.
Mastering the art of networking is a long process that takes work and dedication. Spend the time cultivating relationships and you will eventually build a strong professional circle that may open doors to new opportunities down the road. To learn how to use LinkedIn as a networking tool and career builder, follow the advice of NerdScholar’s college career experts.
[Find more career advice on our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Build your LinkedIn before your job search begins.
Students who are active on the online networking platform during college will be better equipped for the job search when they graduate. Making connections and asking people for career advice will help in your job search later on, says Patricia Simpson, director of career services at the University of Illinois. “It helps to start the networking [and] connecting process before the student has a real ‘ask’ to make of an alum or other connection.” Simpson adds that “most people love to offer advice” and are more likely to help with your job search once they’ve gotten to know you.
By having a LinkedIn profile, Simpson says, students will “have many more resources to draw upon once they’re doing a job search than they would without LinkedIn connections.”
2. Update your profile regularly.
One of the many benefits of LinkedIn is the opportunity to stay on the radars of potential hiring managers and recruiters. Be sure your LinkedIn information is always accurate and up to date to whoever views your profile. More importantly, in order to increase your odds of landing a job through a connection, regularly update your profile to ensure “your new information appears on your connections’ news feed,” says Stephanie Morris, assistant director of career services at Niagara University.
LinkedIn profiles should be accomplishment-driven and include a professional portrait photo, Simpson says. “Rather than just provide the reader with a list of things they’ve done, students should demonstrate what they’ve learned and accomplished.” This could be in the form of links to presentations, publications, projects, or blogs, she says.
Morris also cautions students to avoid updating their profile too often. “A few updates [per] week” is an appropriate balance of activity.
3. Connect with people on LinkedIn as soon as you meet them.
Because networking is important to a person’s continual professional growth, Bob Franco, senior assistant director of career services at Seton Hall University, says students should make it a routine to build connections on LinkedIn as often as possible. Connecting right after you’ve met someone will ensure they remember you. What’s more, he says, “people will appreciate the invitation.”
Franco recommends this approach for all connections a person can possibly make. “Students should be linking to professors, internship supervisors, individuals they meet at networking events and, maybe most importantly, to each other,” he says. “Linking to other students clearly has long-term benefits in that, at some point, these students will be managers and executives—getting connected to them early may be one of the most important things to do.” When your professional network is limited, Franco advises students to connect with professors and faculty members that may be able to expand your number of secondary contacts in relevant fields.
4. Make invaluable alumni connections.
According to Franco, “LinkedIn can be a terrific source to find mentors and individuals who can provide excellent insight and advice.” He advises students to connect with their college alumni using LinkedIn’s relatively new ‘find alumni’ function. The tab’s ‘students and alumni’ category offers a breakdown of where your college’s alumni live and work, and in what industries. This function is a great network builder for current students looking to make connections in their field or city.
If you might want to relocate after graduation, Morris advises getting involved with your university’s alumni chapter in your desired city. “LinkedIn is a great way to facilitate an informational interview,” she says. Learning from alumni in your city or field can help you hone in on your desired career path.
5. Participate in group discussions.
Simply joining groups on LinkedIn is not enough. Being active on the page by participating in discussions is what will get you noticed by group members—and potential hiring managers. “I definitely encourage students to find groups that are relevant to their future profession,” says Simpson. When adding comments to discussions, students should make sure to convey intelligent ideas using proper grammar and spelling. Doing so, Simpson says, will help “to elevate their status in the group and may cause other members to visit their profiles and connect with them.” The more connections you make this way, the better your chances that one will be a hiring manager or recruiter in your field.
6. Ask for recommendations and introductions.
Similar to how a resume might include a list of references, a LinkedIn profile with several recommendations will stand out to a hiring manager. “Ask for recommendations by former employers and faculty members,” advises Francyenne Maynard, dean of student support services at North Lake College. Having recommendations visible to the public will enhance your profile and give interested hiring managers and recruiters a better idea of your work ability. The more recommendations you receive, the more likely a hiring manager will take a chance on you.
In LinkedIn terms, a first connection is someone you’ve already connected with and a second connection is a person linked to you by your first connection. LinkedIn can identify second connections at companies you may want to work for and who may be able to refer you to a hiring manager. Simpson says “students should connect with people whom they already have off-line relationships with and use those connections to ‘ask’ to be connected to someone who is a second-level connection.” These introductions can spark meaningful relationships that might be the key to a potential job offer.
Bob Franco is the Senior Assistant Director at Seton Hall University’s Career Center, where he works with undergraduate and graduate business students and alumni. He is also Past President of the New Jersey Association of Colleges and Employers.
Francyenne Maynard is the Dean of Student Support Services at North Lake College, part of the Dallas County Community College District. Maynard’s former experience includes serving as the Director of Career Services at the college.
Stephanie Morris serves as the Assistant Director of Career Services at Niagara University in Lewiston, New York.
Patricia Simpson joined the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign School of Chemical Sciences in August 2007 and serves as the Director of Academic Advising and Career Services. She has worked in career services for 17 years.