The Complete College Student’s Guide to LinkedIn

This post originally appeared on Medium.

If you’ve set one foot in your school’s career center, we’re guessing you’ve heard of LinkedIn by now—it’s the largest professional networking platform, and it’s used by workers and job-seekers in nearly every industry. LinkedIn is one of the best tools for learning about new opportunities and making valuable connections, but a lot of college students shy away from signing up. We don’t want you to be one of them!

You might feel like your profile looks a little thin when compared to professionals with years of experience and hundreds of connections, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. No one expects you to have the experience level of a 30something, and your profile will naturally grow as you take steps in your career. 

Regardless of your experience level, it’s worth signing up—and if you already have a profile, there’s always room for improvement. Let’s dig in!


The Must-Haves

To start, upload an appropriate photo of yourself. A good rule of thumb is to present yourself the way you might present yourself at a job interview, i.e. wear work-appropriate clothing (doesn’t have to be business formal, but shouldn’t be party gear, either), stand or sit up straight, and smile. Ideally, the photo should have a high resolution, good lighting (overcast days are best to avoid sharp shadows), and a simple background. Save the selfies and party pics for your finsta. 

Now, let’s talk headlines. Even if it feels a little cheesy, headlines matter—not everyone is going to take the time to read your entire profile, and a succinct headline is a great way to quickly communicate what you’re interested in, and what you have to offer. Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager what’s the most important thing for them to know about you? The same principle applies to writing a short, compelling professional summary. Think of it like the first page of a novel—it’s not the entire story, but it has to be good if you want people to keep reading. 

When building the body of your profile, you’ll want to highlight relevant coursework and extracurricular activities in addition to professional experience. Once again, put yourself in your future manager’s shoes: what skills have you gained that would make you a valuable hire? If you’re stumped, check out our tips for turning college experience into a startup-ready resume


Be Social 

LinkedIn isn’t TikTok or Instagram, but at the end of the day, it’s still a social network. So, be social—and not just with your friends. If you attend a startup networking event, a hackathon, or a launch party for a new company, remember who you chatted with and find them on LinkedIn the following day. (Not sure how to meet interesting people in the startup world? We’ve got a guide for that.)

Once you’re connected, engage with your professional contacts by logging in once or twice a week and liking, commenting, and sharing their activity. Earning a reputation as a positive, supportive person who celebrates the successes of others can only benefit you, especially in the startup world, where everyone seems to know one another. It’s a significantly better strategy to remain loosely in touch with professional contacts than to appear in their inbox only when you want a favor.

And don’t just click that like button—read the articlesyour contacts are sharing! LinkedIn is a great way to understand the issues facingthe startup world today. You’ll impress during an interview if you can demonstrate a broader understanding of the startup landscape, and where the company you’d like to work for fits in. (Read our tips for acing a startup internship interview.)

You should also make it a point to share posts yourself. Whether it’s an interesting article about the startup world or a piece of your own writing, your contributions will help to build your social presence.   


Gather Recommendations 

Endorsements are a strong way to boost your credibility and set you apart from other candidates. You can ask for recommendations from past internship supervisors, college professors or coaches, close faculty members, and prior employers. Startups are often looking for a hardworking, high-character generalist, so a diverse set of recommendations will show employers that you can shine under any circumstances. Be strategic when seeking endorsements. If you have a strong relationship with your recommenders (which, ideally, you should), let them know what kind of opportunities you’re looking for, and what traits of yours you’d like them to highlight. The more specific, the better.


Develop A Living Profile

As you progress through college and start to gain more experience in the professional world, make sure to regularly update your LinkedIn profile—think of it as a real-time documentation of your professional life. Make a calendar reminder once a quarter to update LinkedIn, and then sit down for an hour to freshen up your skills and professional experience, and to share something you’re proud of. Remember: being a successful startup employee is all about executing on projects without the resources you might have at a big corporation, so even if your work feels scrappy or low-budget, it can still demonstrate your can-do hustle. 

Did you plan an event on a shoestring budget that your entire dorm attended? Share it! Have you started a fashion blog that half the campus reads? Post that link. You’ll never know what might attract the attention of a hiring manager.


Stay True To Yourself 

You might feel tempted to embellish your profile, but it’s important to resist that urge. Fabricating skills or jobs will come back to bite you—reputation matters, especially in the startup world, and consistent integrity is more important than any one job opportunity. We absolutely recommend tailoring your experience to suit the job market, but don’t lie. An honest and genuine profile will set you up for success.   

You’re ready to get started on your LinkedIn profile! Opportunities, new insights, and valuable connections are just a few clicks away. Happy connecting!

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