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Getting a Head Start Through LinkedIn: Networking Tips for College Students

I recently had an opportunity to speak to a group of up-and-coming marketing interns at the local college who are going through the same course of study that I completed ‘back in the day’. As I sat on the discussion panel with two other marketing-program alumni, talking about what is expected of interns during their work terms and offering advice and tips to help them get the most from their experiences, it struck me that one thing that must be mentioned to this group was LinkedIn. After all, LinkedIn is a crucial tool that allows professionals to network, share ideas, learn, and build their reputation as well as seek out career opportunities of all types.

So, when my next turn to speak came around, I brought up the topic of LinkedIn, and asked for a show of hands for any who knew what it was. Out of a group of 25 or 30 students, only two hands rose in the air. TWO. That’s less than 10% of the group that were aware of the biggest professional social network in existence. I was simply astounded.

Suffice to say, I promptly unleashed a large batch of reasons why they should get their LinkedIn profile up and running as soon as they got back home. The benefits for students to get themselves setup on LinkedIn are just as numerous as the benefits for any professional out in the world today. Here’s a few of the key ones that I feel students can start to realize almost immediately:

1 – Always keep your experience and references complete and up-to-date.

Your LinkedIn profile is like a resume on steroids. It is constantly evolving, and allows you to incorporate much more information than what is feasible in hard-copy form, such as things like Twitter accounts and links to blogs. While we’re not quite at a point where you can strictly direct people to your online profile, I can easily see resumes created in Word or Acrobat to go the way of the dinosaur in the near future. After all, why shuffle around files or attachments when a simple web link can accomplish the same thing, and much more? But in the meantime, maintaining a LinkedIn profile allows you to easily pull out applicable experience and information for the job you’re looking for, and put together a targeted application in virtually no time.

2 – Engage in discussions and learn more from industry professionals.

Want a job at Nike? How about Coke? Or one of the major agencies? Find their reps profiles on LinkedIn and see what groups they belong to. Join those groups and start asking questions and participating in discussions. Hearing about the latest trends and industry effects allows you to take the core concepts and ideas that are in the curriculum and textbooks and apply them to the current state of things in the real world. The business battlefield is now changing faster than ever, and talking to the soldiers who are out fighting in the trenches right now will be crucial in developing an effective career strategy.

3 – Build up your network.

Though they may only be fellow students right now, they’ll all be professionals in your field someday, so making meaningful connections with the superstars in your class can have major benefits in the long run. Also, any teachers or professors that you have a good relationship with can be a great source of referrals and references for you. Connecting with them on a professional level is a huge plus. In addition, if you go to any seminars, shows, or events where prominent businesspeople are present, make sure to connect with them if you can. Let them know that you’re a rising star, and that they should be paying attention to you. Lastly, don’t forget to connect with any professionals you meet or work with at any internships or work placements. If you do a good job with them and keep in touch, they can be excellent contacts to be called on in the future.

4 – Learn proper modern business communications early.

You can’t act the same way in business as you do at the college bar on Friday night. The sooner students learn this, the better off they’ll be by not posting incriminating or embarrassing things that can deep-six their careers before they even begin. The professionals you’ll find on LinkedIn networks have no time for joking around or unprofessional behaviour, so it’s a great way to get conditioned for how to communicate in a business environment. Respect everyone’s opinion. Proper spelling and grammar are important. Don’t let texting become your default communication style. How you talk to your buds on Facebook doesn’t jive very well with the Fortune 500.

5 – Begin forging your personal brand.

Every individual is their own brand, and LinkedIn is an excellent tool for letting the world know who you are, and what you’re all about. Your specialties will come to light through your experiences, and you will probably find that it will help you discover where your real aptitudes are, and assist you in enhancing them. Your ever-expanding LinkedIn presence helps develop your reputation as a professional in your field, and eventually as an expert. The earlier you start, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. LinkedIn’s benefits also stretch in to your overall web presence, and the job postings on LinkedIn are proving to be far more valuable than those on traditional job posting sites. It allows you to connect directly with individuals at certain organizations that are of interest to you. Finding that ‘dream job’ may still be hard, but with LinkedIn you have a greater number of paths available to you that you can use to find your way to your career utopia.

When you first start out, you’ll want to make sure that your LinkedIn profile is complete, and follows the best-practices used by successful LinkedIn users. Here’s a few quick tips to help you get your profile setup in a good way:

Use a professional looking picture. No beach pics, bar pics, party pics, baby pics, or anything else other than you looking like you are a smart, savvy, intelligent person. First impressions are huge.

Make your headline about YOU, not your current job. Anyone can look at your profile and see where you work and what your title is. Your headline should talk about what YOU, as a professional, are all about.

Shorten your public profile URL to http://linkedin.com/in/yournamehere. Here’s a link to the instructions on how to do this. Having a custom URL makes it easier to share your link, and is also a piece of your personal brand.

Personalize your network requests. When you ask someone to connect with you, make sure to include a personalized message with your request. Professionals find it extremely frustrating to get a generic LinkedIn request that tells nothing of how you might actually know the person. Let them know who you are, how they know you, and why you are connecting.

I hope that these tips are found to be helpful. I sure wish that I had a tool like LinkedIn back when i was going through college. Even though I’ve since connected with a great deal of people I would have back then anyway, I can’t help but wonder where life would have taken me if I’d had this amazing tool at my disposal. Just one of those ‘what if’ things that I’ll always be curious about, I suppose.