If you want to give yourself an edge in your graduate job hunt, you need to use social networks to your advantage. For most this means increasing privacy settings and un-tagging embarrassing pictures. But for savvy candidates it means increasing their online presence and networking furiously.
Joining professional network LinkedIn is an ideal way to do this. It has more than one hundred and twenty million users, which makes it far and away the most popular professional networking website in the world. You will probably find that a significant number of contacts you know are already on it in some form or other, as are many employers.
Start in the right place
You need to know what career you want to get into and how you plan to do it before you set up your LinkedIn account. If you don’t currently know, you should talking to Careers & Employability. Knowing which industry, role or employer you are aiming for will help you develop your profile appropriately. It should also prevent you from taking too much of a scattergun approach. Having an ‘employer-centric’ approach gives you a much better chance of connecting with the people who matter.
Think before you act
Before creating a LinkedIn profile, think about what email address you will use; both comedy addresses and university-linked addresses are unsuitable. The former will damage your professional image, while the latter may be cut off when you leave. Instead, use the email address you are going to use to send CVs and applications.
Build up those contacts
Using the right email address is important because of the ‘import contacts’ function. You can search for people on LinkedIn who are already in your email address book. The sort of contacts you will want to make are not likely to be among your friends or classmates. Disassociating yourself from your friends may seem a bit harsh, but it is the only way to keep things professional. There are other social networks available for informal relationships.
On similar grounds, don’t connect to someone unless you have a viable reason for doing so. In fact, don’t send a connect request to someone unless they have a viable reason for accepting. Recruiters are unlikely to accept connect requests from unknown, unemployed graduates.
Move in circles
While you shouldn’t attempt to contact employers directly, you can follow their companies. Most companies update their news feeds fairly regularly, and this sometimes includes graduate jobs. Following companies should give you a good idea of how they are doing, whether they are recruiting, who their competitors are and so on.
LinkedIn groups are useful too; they’re a good place to get advice and find industry professionals. This is particularly useful for those who plan to work freelance. You should connect to relevant groups, get involved in discussions and leave comments.
Follow industry news. You can filter news to show developments in areas that you are interested in, and use the share function so employers can see you have the commercial awareness they’re looking for. Sharing and commenting are both good ways to keep yourself active and involved.
Upload your CV
LinkedIn has a spectacular feature that allows you to upload your CV as a word document, and it will recognise the relevant bits and lay them out in the right order. All you then need to do is a bit of editing and tailoring and the online ‘résumé’ is ready to go. This is such a neat trick that it is worth doing this before you do anything else to your profile.
Once you have uploaded your experience, you can solicit references. There is a specific function for this on LinkedIn, and since it only needs to be a sentence or two, referees probably won’t begrudge you their time. Potential employers will look favourably on this, since it eliminates the need for them to cold-call your referee. They will also be able to see your references much earlier in the recruitment process. In addition, you can now get endorsements for your skills, but be prepared to endorse others in return.
Make sure that your experience is fully explained. This makes the difference between a list of job titles and dates, and a full CV. It doesn’t have to be restricted to two sides of A4, so feel free to get descriptive. In fact, it can be something to refer employers to if you are running out of space in an application. For more tips on writing CVs check out Career Central Online for applications and CVs advice.
Round off the profile
One of the last stages is to get a photo on your profile. This lets potential employers put a face to your name, and helps them to imagine you in their workforce. Make sure you use a picture of yourself, not an avatar, that you look reasonably smart and that the employer can actually distinguish your face.
There are also a few blank boxes where you can get creative talking about yourself. The main three are professional experience and goals, and key skills – both of which are found in the summary box – and interests, which is at the bottom of the profile. You should fill these out to the best of your ability. Remember that this is about what a great employee you are. Keep the content full of active verbs, and don’t include information that could hamper your chances.
Know your networks
LinkedIn is a professional network, so it is a good idea to keep it separate from your private networks. This is worth remembering because LinkedIn gives you the option to include details such as Twitter profiles, websites and instant messaging addresses in your profile details. The simplest way forward is just to ignore these options altogether. If you have a suitable website or Twitter feed that might improve your chances of employment, then link to it at your own discretion.
What’s more, just as you should think twice before putting links to your private networks on your LinkedIn account, think twice before you link to LinkedIn on your out-of-hours networks. Who do you want to follow those links? It might be the case that a simple email invitation would do the same thing.
Plan for the future
LinkedIn is not a shortcut to a full-time, long-term employment. If you think you’re going to finish that profile and then sit back and watch the offers come in, you aren’t going to like the reality.
However, it is a great way to make sure that recruiters are aware of you. You can use it to make sure that your information stays in the public sphere, even if you aren’t actively looking for jobs. In short, LinkedIn is your friend, and one day, with a bit of luck, you will be the one giving references to students or employees.
Good luck with your job hunting, Amit.