Perhaps you've heard about LinkedIn, the professional social network, but you're not sure exactly what it is. Or, you've set up a LinkedIn profile but you don't really know what to do with it.
For students who are accustomed to Facebook, LinkedIn can feel like a foreign land -- a bit uncomfortable and a bit intimidating. It's true that LinkedIn is a different world from more socially minded online networks; however, it is a world where students need to be. If you are a student or recent grad who is looking to build your career prospects, setting up a professional profile and becoming active on LinkedIn are absolute musts. Here are the key reasons why.
Important People Are Googling You
First and foremost, LinkedIn is about professional visibility. When a networking contact, grad school admissions officer or prospective employer types your name into a search engine, you want that person to find something more than your Facebook profile or an article from your college newspaper quoting your opinion about what band should play at spring fling.
By having a LinkedIn profile, you'll guarantee that at least one search result is providing information about your professional accomplishments and goals. LinkedIn profiles rank very highly in search results (almost always on the first page), so having a LinkedIn profile is like a business having a listing in the yellow pages: it shows that you are proactively taking part in the professional community. Just as you build your professional visibility by showing up at a company information session, industry association conference or networking event, you need to "show up" online as well. LinkedIn is the place to do that.
A Resume Is No Longer Enough
In today's ultra-competitive job market, a good resume is not the only tool required to land a position. Online portfolios, blogs, Twitter feeds and other virtual tools are helping people present their credentials in new ways. Smart students know this and manage the online representations of their credentials as carefully as they craft their resumes and cover letters.
LinkedIn profiles can supplement the contents of your traditional one-page resume in several ways, even if you don't have much paid work experience. On your profile you can include volunteer positions, extracurricular experience, Web links to examples of your work and recommendations from people who can vouch for your skills and talents. To make sure that people find of all this supplemental information, be sure to include a link to your LinkedIn profile on your resumes, business cards and in your email signature.
Relationships Are Crucial To Your Career Success
We all know that success is not just about what you know, but whom you know. Another important reason for students to have professional online profiles is to use social networks to build and maintain professional relationships. A LinkedIn presence facilitates networking, and the earlier you begin to network, the more robust your professional relationships will be throughout your career.
"I don't know anyone!" many students will protest to this advice, but this is another important reason to join LinkedIn. By uploading your online address book to LinkedIn, you will discover that you know more professionals than you might think. This includes family, friends, neighbors, former teachers, professionals, work and internship colleagues and many others. And all of these people can potentially lead to connections with hundreds of other people and opportunities. Remember that people are in a different mindset when they are in the professional environment of LinkedIn, so even people you see every day will interact with you in a different, more professionally focused way on the site.
LinkedIn also helps you maintain your relationships over time. It can be difficult to keep in touch with the various people you meet in your career; however, when you have a strong online network, you can have small, frequent interactions -- like commenting on someone's status update or answering a question in a group discussion -- that keep your relationships strong.
Building A Global Profile
Finally, a professional online profile is an essential step toward a global presence and a global network. In nearly every professional field, international relationships are a valuable asset and can lead to exciting opportunities. Almost half of LinkedIn users are outside the United States, representing over 200 countries, so it's the perfect place to keep in touch with friends you have met while studying abroad, international classmates and alumni, and new connections from across the globe.
If you don't have many global relationships, you can make a few on LinkedIn by joining an internationally focused group or participating in some discussions on international issues. Within LinkedIn there are countless opportunities to forge new relationships and learn about different perspectives from around the world. Of course, none of that can happen unless you sign up and join the conversation!
In the end, building a professional presence and growing your professional network on LinkedIn are great ways to declare to the world that you are here, you are ready to contribute and you are eager to make your mark in the world -- the online world and the real one.
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