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Using LinkedIn: A Primer for Undergrads

Connecting with people in your industry is as easy as creating a LinkedIn profile and using it as a live resume. Treat LinkedIn as the “suit & tie” social network and put forward your most professional self. Your profile should be kept up-to-date and polished regularly.

A LinkedIn profile, as you’ll see, is a great way to build your network & a place to send prospective employers to get info about you and your experience.

So how do you get started?

First step is to sign up & complete your profile:

  • Use your complete name
  • Fill in your title (Public Relations student at the University of Oregon is ok… but what about Intern at XYZ Company or Account Executive at Student PR Firm?). You can have more than one title & then choose the one you want as your headline. My profile includes significant volunteer experience in my title alongside my business titles. Your primary title is what people see first, so be smart about what you include.
  • Create a summary of your experience, aspirations and inspirations. Keep it relatively short and edit like a madman/woman. This is your first impression and the info that people see before they’ll see your specific work experience details.
  • Include the last three positions you’ve held. Internships, volunteer positions and student organizations are all okay and show your breadth of experience.
  • If you have a blog, add it.
  • Claim your custom URL/public profile link. Then use it! Include it in an email signature line, on a business card, etc. Mine is: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kellimatthews

When you think you’re done, walk away and come back later. Try to look at it with fresh eyes – they eyes of a potential employer. Does this profile say, “wow! I need to hire this person!”

The second piece is to make connections:

  • Start by letting LinkedIn scan through your email address book and find people who are also on LinkedIn. People who are on LinkedIn will have the little “in” blue box next to their name. You’d be surprised how many people you find. I always am! Don’t just add everyone, but go through each contact and be smart about who you add (especially at first).
  • Want to connect with particular people or particular types of people? You have two options. Look at the connections of those in your network and ask for an introduction (more on that in a minute) and also do a search for people by location, employer, job description and more.
  • When you add connections, be sure to include a personal note. The standard LinkedIn templates are boring and well, standard. This is particularly important if you are asking someone you don’t know to be part of your network. Tell them why you’re knocking on the door.

A word about introductions: Asking for an introduction is a great way to meet people and build your connections. When you do, though, be extra conscientious of the message you ask your contact to forward. For example, I should feel comfortable forwarding what you write to me with a note that says, “this person is worth your time.” As a general rule of thumb, treat that message as a mini cover letter.

Now, my LinkedIn contacts are comprised of people I know in real life and those I know via social networks, but they are all people to whom I could forward a message and make an introduction. It’s important to note that everyone cultivates their networks in different ways, however. It’s always good to ask first if someone is comfortable with this process generally and making an introduction to a specific person.

This should get you started, but here are some other LinkedIn tips worth a read:

Thanks also to @jmartens, @mihaela_v, @ValerieSimon & @mhonald for their tips, too. In an upcoming post I will talk about how to join and participate in groups. There are several for PR students that are worth checking out.

If you’ve already started with LinkedIn, what tips would you share or what questions do you have?