Wednesday, June 19, 2013

LinkedIn: An Essential Tool For Career Development

LinkedIn is considered the non-sexy, sleeping giant of social networks. It keeps a low profile, perhaps due to the professional nature of its users. Nonetheless, LinkedIn continues to exert a powerful influence on connected job seekers, brands, recruiters and industries. I live by LinkedIn. I attained two of my internships by reaching out to people through LinkedIn that I otherwise might not have gotten. Its quite simple.

Since the site's official launch in May 2003, LinkedIn has grown to 250 million members in over 200 countries, making it the world’s largest professional network on the Internet (by comparison, Twitter has 500 million registered users, and Facebook has 900 million). Currently available in 17 languages, LinkedIn remains a relevant platform across the globe.

That being said,  As a college student or recent college grad, LinkedIn is a great social networking tool you can use to locate jobs or internships all over the world. It's also a tool you can use to  spread your personal brand . For this reason, when deciding what social media tools you should be investing your limited time and energy into, LinkedIn in can bring great benefits! LinkedIn isn't perfect however and there are certain shortcomings which make it less practical or usable to college students. 

LinkedIn: The Bridge to the Future

Overall LinkedIn is an essential tool for the college student or young professional. A LinkedIn profile will likely be one of the first online public representation of yourself that you want everyone to see (unlike your Spring Break photo album). LinkedIn is best suited for college students looking to begin managing their professional brand, begin building their network and also finding opportunities for internships or full time employment.  

Managing Your Professional Brand
Controlling your online presence and your professional brand is will be important to your professional success. Your online presence will be one of the first impressions a recruiter or business contact has of you. You can be certain that most professionals you will come in contact withwhether it be alumni, fellow interns, hiring managers, recruiters or even professors. You will be Googled, you have been Googled and you probably Google. LinkedIn is where you want to be found. 

LinkedIn provides a space to present a succinct and professional presentation of yourself for all to see. It will allow you to communicate everything you need to without sharing anything you don’t want to. By creating a LinkedIn profile you are taking control of what other professionals are going to find. Maintaining your image (and ensuring recruiters don’t see your spring break photos) makes LinkedIn an essential tool for young professionals and college students. 

Build Your Professional Network
It’s never too early to start building a network with people in your career area. Yet, contacts you make during the job hunt and throughout your career may not necessarily make sense as Facebook friends.  LinkedIn offers a platform for maintaining your professional network while keeping it separate from your personal life. 

You can start your network by linking to classmates who are in your major. While they are friends and classmates now, in the future they become business referrals. You can also add professors and alumni to your network. If there is someone on LinkedIn that you would like to meet, ask a mutual acquaintance to for an introduction. LinkedIn also automatically shows you groups ( i.e. industry, interest, profession) you may like to join based on the information in your profile. As a member of the group, you have access to thought leaders and experts in your industry. 

LinkedIn creates opportunities to bridge relationship gaps when professionals are early in their careers. It is invaluable in this area but it is also not perfectly suited for college students in some ways. While LinkedIn’s free account version provides a variety of useful features, reaching out to certain people requires a paid account which might not be reasonable for college students. 

Find Opportunities
The final essential benefit offered by LinkedIn which makes it an essential tool to college students is Jobs search function. When you click on the Jobs link, it shows jobs that are compatible to your profile. You can also search for additional job openings. While having access to jobs posted in LinkedIn is great, LinkedIn has a unique feature that is not available on other job websites. LinkedIn tells you how many people in your network or group who works at the company. Those people can help you get the job that you are interested in.

LinkedIn: Not Built For the Social Media Generation
As discussed already, LinkedIn is invaluable to young professionals and college students. Unfortunately LinkedIn is not designed or built specifically for a younger generation. While LinkedIn offers many benefits it is important to also be aware certain limitations or challenges young professionals might face. 

Limited Direct or Mass Interaction 
LinkedIn is more passive then certain other social networks. While you can constantly update a status and your network is able to see updates to your LinkedIn profile or experiences there is far less activity on LinkedIn than on other social networks. Because of this LinkedIn might not have the same enjoyment factor other social networks offer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing it just requires a slightly different approach. Checking LinkedIn multiple times a day, the way you might check other social media sites, will likely be frustrating and not provide much benefit. Don’t let this frustrate you; instead create a system or schedule to check LinkedIn once or twice a week. The slower pace of LinkedIn also sometimes results in delayed responses. This too may be frustrating but you have to adjust to make the most of the site. To challenge yourself make a goal to message or request someone each time you log in. While LinkedIn slower pace doesn't perfectly align with our social media generation the pace makes sense and shouldn't get in the way of your LinkedIn goals. 

Managing Your Brand … Carefully
LinkedIn has less flexible privacy settings than some of the more popular social media sites. For example, on Facebook different friends can be classified into different groups and you can broadcast certain messages to some groups while excluding other groups. LinkedIn does not have this functionality. While you can determine whether content is 100% public or restricted to your network, it is still important for you to be conscious of the privacy policies and know who you are broadcasting messages to. You also need to be careful to avoid contradictory information between your LinkedIn account, resume and applications. While it makes sense to customize your resume to different opportunities, LinkedIn does not allow you to show different profiles to different recruiters or industries. Because of this you need to make sure that your profile does not contradict what you are writing somewhere else in your professional portfolio. 

Free Account vs. Paid Accounts
Most social media and networking sites that college students and young professionals utilize are 100% free. While LinkedIn has a comprehensive offering under their free accounts some of the most useful features such as a premium email / message service require a paid account. This is a major drawback for some users but free accounts still offer enough to make LinkedIn a essential tool. 

The Bottom Line 
LinkedIn is a great tool which will allow students and young professionals to launch their careers and get a jump on the professional world. While LinkedIn is not specifically built for a young generation so certain features require a paid account, these minor drawbacks are tiny in comparison to the benefits. If you are not already on LinkedIn I suggest you set up your account ASAP!

I am going to share with you an inspirational slide show created by the ever so successful Reid Hoffman (The creator and CEO of LinkedIn) reminding you that Graduation is NOT the end of learning. We are all works in progress: Reid Hoffman: Amazing Career Advice for College Grads

In these challenging times every advantage helps. Whether you are a college student a recent graduate or a transitioning professional, it’s never too early or too late to start! Mr.Hoffman's presentation and his platform, LinkedIn, touches on the importance of developing your competitive advantage, building your network and taking intelligent risks. 

1 comment:

  1. LinkedIn is a great network to join! Thanks for the information!