A Twenty-Something’s Guide to LinkedIn

LinkedIn. You probably joined it as a thing that everyone did while you were an undergrad. You’ve updated it a few times, sent requests, but other than that there it lies, dormant. But guess what? That’s a MAJOR missed opportunity particularly in this volatile job market. Think of LinkedIn as an insurance policy. It’s a way to create a network that can benefit you in the future. Whether you want to start a side business, go freelance, or find yourself in the horrible situation of being suddenly unemployed, building your network is crucial to success.

BUT all of that being said, LinkedIn has its own etiquette and if you fail to follow that your networking attempts can actually backfire so listen up!

1. As a recent college grad in Cleveland found out, “cold-calling” is a big no-no on LinkedIn. This is not to at all justify the backlash that she received but it does speak to the etiquette of LinkdIn. Don’t send a request to connect if you don’t have a separate connection. Also don’t appear to eager. Allow a few back-and-forth emails to occur before you reach out to connect. You shouldn’t view LinkedIn as a way to make new connections (that’s for Twitter!) but as a way to reinforce and save them. Think of it as a follow-up email after exchanging business cards. Now there’s a caveat here—you can make new connections on LinkedIn if you participate in group discussions. This isn’t something that I’ve done but I know that in certain industries it can be fairly effective.

2. LinkedIn has a status update option. Don’t mistake this for Facebook! It’s not the place to tell everyone that you’re glad it’s Friday. For this same reason I’m not a fan of linking Twitter and LinkedIn. Any content that you create should benefit your job profile. You also don’t want to spam your connections. Use your updates to either post linked to content you’ve created (like a blog post) or articles that are relevant to your industry. Use it to demonstrate that you follow the latest updates in your field and are active in creating content. And don’t forget that when you’re stumped for status updates you can always repurpose content from other platforms. Click here for LinkedIn repurposing ideas.

3. Carefully curate your profile.  Don’t simply upload your resume. LinkedIn is an opportunity to delve deeper into what you’ve accomplished. Look at the profiles of people who hold positions that you would like to get. Mimic their style. Don’t be shy about asking for recommendations from former supervisors or co-workers. But, of course, make sure that they are professional and appropriate. Headhunters use LinkedIn more and more to find possible job candidates so make sure that the headline under your name is appropriate. For example, I work as a freelance social strategist. Even though I currently have some gigs that I’ve listed under my work experience, I still have my profile headline as “freelance”. This signals to headhunters that I’m available for projects. If you have a solid job then use your headline to boast about your position to help you build up your network.

4. Get to the magic 500+ number. I’m serious. Success breeds greater success. Once you get past 500 connections LinkedIn stops posting the exact number. Use the “you might know” feature to reach out to your secondary connections (this isn’t cold-calling) in your industry. College contacts are a great way to build this network. Remember—you want people to think you’re a big deal. The number of connections you have helps that along.

5. Use it to take advantage of those random connections. My go-to app is called “CardMuncher.” It allows you to scan business cards that you receive and matches them with their LinkedIn profile. You can then generate a connection request and given that you’ve just exchanged business cards, there’s a high chance that they’ll connect back with you.

Bottom line: Ignoring LinkedIn is no longer an option. If someone googles you, chances are your LinkedIn profile will appear somewhere on that first page. So why waste that? Moreover, a neglected profile can indicate a lack of ambition or tech savvy, particularly as a millennial. Even worse, if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile that can just look odd and that’s the last thing you want if you’re looking for job opportunities.

The economic crisis and subsequent lack of response by politicos to millennial unemployment has shown us that we are on our own. It’s up to us to pave our own way through this jobless recovery. Building up a personal network is a great way to go.

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