Improving your LinkedIn profile is the topic University of Florida doctoral student Charlotte Bolch and I will be discussing as part of my talk on networking on the University of Florida’s Graduate Student Research Day.
When I was invited by the Organization for Graduate Student Advancement and Professional Development (OGAP) to be the luncheon speaker, talking about networking, I decided that I wanted to include LinkedIn as part of my discussion.
I find that many college students aren’t as strategic as they could be with their profiles. I asked the OGAP officers I met with if they would recruit a volunteer graduate student who would like to work with me – going through a “before” and “after” process with the student’s profile.
Charlotte, a member of Logistics Committee for Graduate Student Research Day, volunteered. We met twice and emailed a couple of times as we worked through the process of her revising her profile and discussed how we would share our advice in my luncheon talk.
Charlotte revised her profile during her Spring Break. I asked her what the response was from her friends that were on Spring Break with her when they learned of her “homework assignment” of revising her profile.
“They were really interested in advice about improving my profile,” Charlotte told me. “One of my friends said, ‘I’d like your top 10 tips.”
That request became the focus of our discussion about this blog post.
We brainstormed our 10 tips and discussed each. In some cases, one of us is adding some addition insights.
1. Choose a profile picture that really fits you at your career stage now.
Charlotte: The type of photo you have as your profile picture needs to support your career or career aspirations at that time. After talking with Julie, I decided that I needed to change my profile photo from a more informal nature picture to a more professional headshot to complement my career goals of entering academia. I did not have a professional photographer take my photo but instead used my iPhone and easily uploaded it to LinkedIn via the app. You should consider the quality of the phone or camera and make sure that the photo you are uploading is high quality.
2. Your headline needs to capture your career essence.
Julie: Use your headline as a descriptor of who you are and not just your current job title. That point really connected with me when I did an in-class LinkedIn critique with one of my students. I had her LinkedIn profile on screen. Her headline was Cosmetics Sales Associate. I asked her what her career aspirations were. “To be a sportscaster,” she immediately replied.
“Would someone looking for a sportscaster know that from your headline?” I asked her.
“Why, no,” she said.
We agreed that the cosmetics sales associate would stay in her job experience but that she needed a headline that conveyed her aspirations.
Your photo and headline are your first impression of the profile. So, it’s important to think about how to use those to catch the reader’s attention and create a positive first impression.
3. Recognize the potential to add to the education section to include examples of your work.
Julie: For college students and recent college graduates, I’d advise that you place the Education section near the top of your profile. Letting people see that you are graduating next semester or graduated recently helps your readers form the mindset of not expecting the amount of work experience that they’d expect of someone who had graduated 5 to 10 years ago.
Charlotte: LinkedIn has a new feature that allows you to link abstracts of titles of any papers that you have published. You can also connect co-authors to the paper if they are also connected to you on LinkedIn. Otherwise, you are just able to add the co-authors names as collaborators on the paper. This allows your network to see when you have published a new paper!
4. Separate yourself as a student from your research, field work and teaching experience.
Julie: When Charlotte and I first met to review her profile, I told her that her work experience as a teaching assistant and researcher was not showcased when she included it as part of her education section. I encouraged her to separate those experiences and include them in her work section.
Charlotte: This experience with Julie allowed me to understand that I have unique research and teaching experiences that need to be showcased separately from experience as a student. I think as an undergraduate or graduate student we tend to think about all our experiences within our college or university as part of our education. Hence, we tend to lump everything together in LinkedIn under the Education section. However, our research or teaching experiences should be showcased as individual experiences separate from our education so that our network can understand all the distinct experiences and skills we have learned and done outside of our coursework.
5. Include professional organizations you’re involved with.
Julie: Listing those professional organizations shows the readers that you are interested in connecting with other professionals in the field. But the real benefit is what you gain by joining professional organizations. You typically receive news about the field through a magazine or e-newsletter, the opportunity to attend conferences, and, very important, career coaching or a job database.
Charlotte: Joining professional organizations is a great way for students to start making connections early in their career! Usually, professional organizations have cheaper membership fees for students because the organization is interested in expanding their membership base. In addition, if the professional organization has annual conferences, they usually provide special travel and funding grants only available to student members, roommate matching services with other students to cut down on hotel prices, and student mixers during the conference with complimentary food and networking opportunities. Some professional organizations even provide mentor/mentee matching with a professional in the field.
6. Once you have developed your headline and summary, then review each section of the profile to create a holistic view of you — how each of the parts support your big picture view.
Charlotte: Seeing your profile as a whole can be difficult as a graduate student. As students, we are very focused on our course work. It is hard to create a profile on LinkedIn that encompasses all of the experiences we have had during our time as a student. These experiences are in a way shaping our future career path. Thinking about each of those experiences as a supporting portion of your profile can help you create a more holistic profile of you and your career.
7. Provide a brief explanation for you awards and honors.
Julie: We both agree that a list of award names usually is not that helpful beyond showing that you’ve been recognized. Those award titles often do not help the reader understand what the award represents. Include what the criteria for the award was and consider including other issues, such as the number of applicants.
Charlotte: The award section also allows you to showcase that you have been recognized by your department, college or university for your hard work and dedication in teaching or research. This is a great way for future employers to understand the high quality of your work.
8. Include photos or examples of your work.
Julie: Take advantage of the option of including links, photos and documents. Charlotte suggested including links to abstracts of your research in the Education section. You can include your resume, links to published or unpublished work.
9. Contact potential connections in a personal and professional way.
Julie: When you send a connection request, be sure to customize it to the person you’re sending it to if the request is to someone other than a good friend. I’m surprised at the number of requests I receive from former students who use the default: “Julie, I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn connections.” With more than 400 students each year in my undergraduate classes, I would appreciate a reminder of who the student is and the recognition that we probably weren’t on a first name basis: “Dr. Dodd – I was in your Multimedia Writing class last semester. I was the student who volunteered to have my résumé critiqued in class, and you suggested that I provide more explanation of my language and travel experience.”
10. Seek endorsements from people who can provide specifics about your performance.
Charlotte: Seeking endorsements is a great way to show that you have strong collaboration skills and understand how to work on a team. However, make sure that co-workers, peers or colleagues who are endorsing you for certain skills (especially hard skills, such as programing languages or research skills) have actually worked with you in some capacity using those skills. For example, it would be beneficial to seek endorsements from peers that you have had a class with or worked on a project with.
UF Graduate Student Research Day is Monday, April 3, and is open to undergraduates as well as graduate students. My talk — Bite-sized Advice about Networking — will be during the luncheon. You can learn more about the event by visiting the OGAP website.
Two of my former undergraduate students — Andrea Carroz and Erica Hernandez — attended a workshop on creating LinkedIn profiles and wrote these three guest posts that you might find useful.