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The Best Ways for Students to Use LinkedIn

LinkedIn, which launched in May of 2003, has 590 million users and gains two new members per second. The business and networking site is for people who are interested in interacting with professionals, looking for a job, hiring for a job opening, etc. But when should a young person start on LinkedIn? Is there a checkbox one needs to tick before creating a profile?

Read on, students, and get tips on your LinkedIn questions.

When Should I Start a LinkedIn Account?

The first question is when to start an account. Well, there’s no stock answer that is 100% correct since it depends on the individual. “The right time to start a LinkedIn profile is when you are ready to start developing professionally and want to add value to others,” says Hannah Hassler, founder of Hassler Freelance, which helps people create and manage online profiles. This may begin as early as high school, or may not be until towards the end of college.

Even though there is no one answer to when to create a LinkedIn profile, some say there is a time when a student should not. It is best for students to wait to create a LinkedIn profile until they are ready to think of themselves in a professional way. “When a student starts a LinkedIn profile too soon, he/she can prematurely feel pressure for the future which can take away from their enjoyment in life,” says Denise Riebman, director of one of the graduate career centers at George Washington University and a career happiness coach.

How early to create a LinkedIn profile is ultimately dependent on one’s future plans. “If you want to start a business in college, or go to a business college, it’s good to get familiar with LinkedIn in high school,” says Jason Patel, founder of Transizion, which helps students take the next step in their journey. Patel also notes that one should start a LinkedIn profile before his or her next professional step as a way of preparing to move forward.

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How to Create a Good LinkedIn Profile

Just like a resume for anyone at the beginning of their career, a student will probably find his/her LinkedIn profile is bare. Yet, there are things that can be done to make it more presentable.

For starters, having an example can make just about any process easier, so review profiles of peers. Consider what they have on their profiles and if you have anything similar you could share. Not only can it help you populate your profile, it can give you an idea of how to gain experience. Reviewing profiles of professionals in your field enables you to consider the paths others took. Finally, feedback is also helpful. “Go to a college career center and talk it over with a counselor who can help identify strengths to highlight,” says Riebman.

While LinkedIn is a professional site, you can and should put school-related material on the site when beginning.

One aspect of a profile that anyone can have is a photo. Having a photo helps garner views. A professional head shot is nice but unnecessary. Simply dress appropriately and have a decent background, and the photo will suffice. The tagline under the photo is also prime real estate and should be used wisely. “Be straightforward and not wishy-washy, altruistic, or pretentious,” says Patel.

Under the tagline, there is space for a summary. Again, this is space that someone who is viewing your LinkedIn profile will see right away. Patel suggests, “Be very succinct. Include one short paragraph about what you worked on, what you are doing now, and what you’ve accomplished.”  The summary is also an opportunity to get your message out there. “Include a call to action and keywords, and be targeted,” says Hassler.

While LinkedIn is a professional site, you can and should put school-related material on the site when beginning. Things such as extracurricular activities, honors, awards, and challenging classes can be noted. If papers have been written that others might find valuable, links can be added to the work. Recommendations from teachers or professors are also a good addition to a profile.

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Finally, the profile is not only about you. “After you’ve added your own relevant experiences and skills, round out your profile with information that your desired audience might be interested in, such as industry based articles, portfolio pieces, or relevant trending topics,” says Hassler.

How to Gain LinkedIn Connections

LinkedIn is about connecting to other professionals. Without connections, the site has little value. As a student, you probably have few professional connections. However, there are ways to grow your network.

Use LinkedIn to find professionals in the field you are interested in. Reach out to them and ask to connect. Personalize the message. One way to do that is to ask a question, or simply let the person know you are considering their field. “People increase their positive perception when you reach out for help and ask smart questions,” says Reibman. “Just remember to approach people on LinkedIn how you would want to be treated in a relationship.”

One thing to avoid when approaching people you don’t know is a direct ask, such as for an internship. “It should not be, ‘Hi I’m here. I have needs,” says Hassler. “Think about the end game as LinkedIn is not an instant gratification site.” Hassler suggests a person have genuine interest and interact with the other person’s content.

Patel finds networking events are great ways to expand one’s LinkedIn network. “When at an event, be proactive in how you pursue connections and follow up on LinkedIn.” He also found that publishing articles on LinkedIn that offer insight is a great way to add contacts, as the site allows for organic reach for news pieces, meaning it will get in front of some people you’re not connected to. This can help you reach people who you did not even consider reaching out to.

The Bottom Line

LinkedIn has a good deal to offer students. However, before you create your profile, make sure you are ready. It’s important to stay engaged and act in professional business manner. Once on, LinkedIn can be critical for students wanting to get ahead.

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Author: Larry Bernstein

Larry Bernstein lives in North Jersey with his wife and two sons. In addition to serving as an adjunct and tutor, Larry is a freelance writer who focuses on education, construction, and retail. He has been seeing green rainbows since his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.