LinkedIn is the professional social network. Job seekers, recruiters, hiring managers and industry leaders use LinkedIn to share ideas and connect. It’s also a content-sharing and publishing platform, making it a great place to get exposure for your work and ideas.

For soon-to-be and recent college graduates, LinkedIn has a lot to offer:

  1. LinkedIn is where the long-form version of your résumé should go. This frees you to make your “real” résumé a one-page highlight reel. LinkedIn provides a solid template, so there’s no need to worry about keeping your profile organized. Plus, profiles are searchable. The more extensively you describe yourself, the more opportunities you create for LinkedIn’s automated algorithms to scoop you up. Recruiters, hiring managers and prospective employers are looking for someone like you. With a strong profile, they’re much more likely to find you.

  2. It’s a place to learn about your industry or field. LinkedIn has put a lot of focus on the content side of its business. You can read articles by “Influencers,” get news updates via a service LinkedIn acquired called “Pulse” and read (and participate in) industry-specific discussion groups.

  3. It’s a place to publish content. Anyone can publish short updates. And many can publish longer posts via LinkedIn’s publishing platform. LinkedIn posts are long-form articles, often with media. They’re aggregated across various parts of the LinkedIn platform and searchable outside LinkedIn.

  4. It’s a place to make professional connections. This is the stated purpose of the site, and in many ways it’s the easiest part to deal with. If you focus on the first three items and do good work, your professional network will build itself. The key to this ingredient is focusing on your connections, not yourself. Interact with others on the platform and help them establish their presence.

LinkedIn has a lot of tools that can help you in your career, but many aren’t immediately apparent. This post will put a spotlight on the most important features and offer some advice on how to make them work for you.

Some Background

Reid Hoffman, Allen Blue, Konstantin Guericke, Eric Ly and Jean-Luc Vaillant founded LinkedIn in 2003. Jeff Weiner is the current CEO. LinkedIn’s headquarters are in Mountain View, California, less than a mile from Googleplex.

At present count, LinkedIn has over 330 million members. That makes it bigger than Instagram and Twitter, but not nearly as large as Facebook.

According to the company’s press kit, students and recent college graduates are the fastest-growing group. More than half of new members now come from outside the U.S. (The site is available in over twenty languages, and it has offices in about that many cities around the world.)

LinkedIn is a public company, and it’s very successful. It has 6,000 full-time employees and a market cap of about $29 billion. (To give that some context, Twitter has a market cap of about $25 billion, Facebook’s capitalization is $216 billion, and Apple’s is $648 billion.)

Signing Up and (Maybe) Upgrading

LinkedIn operates on a “freemium” business model. It’s free to sign up and access the service’s core features. Advanced options cost anywhere from $30 a month to over $100 a month. (To a lesser extent, the company also makes money on display advertising.)

LinkedIn groups these features into packages tailored for different members — recruiters, job seekers, and so on. The package for a job seeker is $30 a month.

Some of the key features of a premium membership include:

  • The ability to contact anyone on LinkedIn with “InMail.”

  • More prominence on lists that recruiters pay for.

  • A 90-day view of who’s looked at your profile (free members see the five most recent views)

  • Advanced stats (for example, the ability to see profiles of similar job seekers)

  • Advanced search options

So, is the upgrade worth it? Maybe, but you probably don’t need to upgrade right away.

There’s a lot to do with LinkedIn’s core features. And it’s easier to take advantage of the premium features when you already have a strong profile and have built connections. So, my advice is to spend a lot of time maximizing what the free version has to offer. Then, when you’re ready, you can sign up for a 30-day trial to experiment with the premium features.

Adding a Résumé (AKA Completing a Profile)

If you’re going to be on LinkedIn, you’re going to want a really good profile. This is something worth spending time to develop. The more details you include, the better. Beyond basic employment and academic experience, look for opportunities to post coursework, club and organization membership, skills, volunteer work and so on. Remember, this content is searchable, so it’s important to think about the keywords you’re using. In other words, are you using terms that prospective employers and others interested in your work might use? A few more tips:

  • Add a profile picture. This is essential. Look at other profiles for a sense of what’s typical. Most profiles use a basic, professional headshot.

  • Spend time on your summary. Make sure it’s accurate, positive and current. Revisit it periodically to make sure it’s up to date.

  • When you add your current and past employers, make sure you’re linking to their profiles, if they have them. Using my profile as an example, my role as an assistant professor at USF St. Petersburg links to the school’s profile automatically, but not my role as a web strategist and consultant. That’s because I typed the school’s name differently for that job — something I’ll need to fix.

    experience-employer-links

  • Add media. Documents, photos, videos, links and even presentations can be added right to your profile. This is a great way to not only tell but also show what you can do. Media can be added to your overall summary or to specific items on your profile, so there’s a lot of flexibility here.

  • Update your public profile URL. The address to your LinkedIn profile will contain a string of random characters by default, but you can click the edit icon next to the link to customize it.public-link-and-badge

Bear in mind that there are two versions of your profile: the private one accessible to your connections and the public one accessible to anyone online. You have some control over who sees what on LinkedIn, though the privacy controls aren’t as sophisticated as, say, Facebook’s. Here are the basics:

  1. Your “private” profile is viewable to anyone with whom you’ve connected on LinkedIn. These are also known as your “first degree contacts.”

  2. “Public” in this context means accessible to anyone, anywhere. Non-members will see your public profile, and search engines will crawl its contents.

Your default public profile will display only limited information. Consider making your profile public and turning on as much content as you’re comfortable sharing.

customize-public-profile

Connect with People

Figuring out whom to connect with is a basic philosophical issue on LinkedIn. Most members seem to fall into two camps:

  1. Connect strictly with people you know. This is LinkedIn’s official policy around building connections on the site, and it’s designed to make your LinkedIn network an accurate reflection of your actual network.

  2. Connect with everyone. The rationale here is that connections are good and the more the better. If you’re publishing content to LinkedIn, this makes particular sense since the more people with whom you’re connected the more feeds your updates and posts will hit.

The best approach is probably somewhere in the middle. Connecting with too few people limits possibilities. Connecting with anyone and everyone makes our presence less authentic. Yes, more people may have the opportunity to see your content, but how many of them really care about what you have to say? Is it better to have a vast audience that isn’t paying attention or a small one that’s engaged?

I like Sree Sreenivasan’s advice on this: Connect with whom you know, but also with whom you should know.

Endorsements

Endorsements are stamps of approval from colleagues. LinkedIn prompts your connections to confirm the skills you possess, and their certifications appear in your profile.

Ostensibly, endorsements show you’re skilled. But they’re really about showing the strength of your network. Lots of endorsements mean people like you enough at least to say you’re skilled in one or more areas.

You have a lot of control over how your endorsements appear. You can hide them on a skill-by-skill basis or one at a time. You can reorder or add new skills for people to endorse you on.

It’s a good idea to hide endorsements for skills that don’t complement the rest of your profile. (If you accept enough connections from members you don’t know, you’ll occasionally receive endorsements from unknown people for undiscovered abilities.)

What about endorsing other people? Endorsing colleagues for whom you can vouch can be a great way to boost others’ profiles, and that’s always a good thing for our own presence across social networks. Just be careful not to click every prompt LinkedIn throws your way, endorsing everyone for everything in the process. Make your endorsements mean something.

Recommendations

Recommendations are lesser-known but potentially much more powerful than endorsements. Just like old-fashioned letters or recommendation, LinkedIn recommendations are a narrative endorsement. They can be long or short, but they work best when they’re specific and personalized.

LinkedIn provides tools to give and receive recommendations. Once signed in to your profile, request a recommendation or give one. Recommendations can only be exchanged with connections. They don’t appear on public profile pages.

The key to getting a good recommendation is to ask the right person at the right time. Pick people who know you well and know your work. And, rather than waiting until a recommendation is needed for a specific job application, get them out when you’ve just completed a big project or had a major success at work or school.

Updates & Posts

Updates and posts are the two basic publishing options available on LinkedIn.

  1. Updates are short-form entries that populate LinkedIn users’ personalized streams. You see your connections’ updates, and they see yours. Many LinkedIn updates include links to news stories and blog posts. To make an update, type it into the box at the top of your stream. Updates are capped at 600 characters. You can make your updates publically viewable and searchable or push them only to your connections. Files can also be attached to updates.

  2. Posts are long-form, blog-style entries created on LinkedIn’s publishing platform. To add a post, click the “pencil” icon in the corner of your update box. That will take you to the post creation tool.

    pubishing-platform

    Adding updates and posts are good ways to stay active on LinkedIn. Pushing out relevant, interesting content to your connections — whether something you found or something you made — shows you’re not just informed but also providing value to an audience.

    And although you might consider a variety of other places to publish your work — Medium, WordPress or perhaps your personal site, to name a few — some content will be of particular appeal to the LinkedIn audience, and they may not otherwise see it. Publishing on LinkedIn also provides a certain amount of free marketing as the site will aggregate and curate your work in different ways.

Groups, Companies & Influencers

Another way to get involved on LinkedIn is by joining groups and following companies and influencers.

Groups and companies that you follow will appear on your profile. With groups, you usually have the abilities to ask (and answer) questions in discussion boards, view group membership, access job boards and view content that’s been promoted. One good group to join is “LinkedIn for Journalists.” This group has about 75,000 members and offers all the features mentioned above.

linkedin-for-journalists

“Influencers” are promoted content authors with large followings. When you follow an influencer, their posts also appear in your stream.

Some Privacy Considerations

Privacy concerns are par for the course with social media, but LinkedIn has some special considerations.

  1. By default, people will know when you look at their profiles. You can adjust this behavior under “Privacy & Settings.” Click “Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile.” You can choose between (1) your name, position, company and picture, (2) just your company or (3) completely anonymous. If you choose options 2 or 3, you lose access to Profile Stats, a dashboard that shows how your profile’s being viewed and how you compare to others in your network and organization.

    how-people-see-your-profile

  2. Here’s another issue: You can inadvertently broadcast a change in employment — real or otherwise — by making tweaks to your profile. Updating your current employment can be particularly perilous as this will propagate into your connections’ feeds. Even if you make a small tweak to your title, it will look to your connections like you have a new job. Thankfully, there’s a solution: Stop broadcasting activity while you edit, then turn this option back on.

    notify-of-changes

  3. A final consideration is that you may telegraph that you’re looking for a new job based on companies you follow, discussions you participate in or profiles you view. There’s a two part solution to this issue:

    1. Don’t just connect with a few people or follow a few companies. And don’t just make connections with places you really want to work at. Think more broadly about how a professional connection might serve you in your career, now or in the future.

    2. Don’t get active on LinkedIn only when you’re looking for a new job. Start much earlier.

Going Deeper

Here are a few ways to get even more out of LinkedIn:

  1. Rapportive is an add-on for Chrome and Firefox that brings LinkedIn to Gmail. It presents highlights from your contacts’ LinkedIn profiles and makes it easy to connect from your inbox. Also see shared connections. This is a big time saver.

    rapportive

  2. Advanced Search is a powerful research and reporting tool. See who used to worked at a given company. Search by skill and location. Search within a large organization.

    advanced-people-search

  3. Save to PDF is an easy way to make a traditional résumé. This feature is accessible when you click to “View Profile As,” and it generates a quick and dirty printout of your profile.

    save-to-pdf-feature

Learning More

The best way to learn how to use LinkedIn is to dive in. Build out your profile, make connections, join groups and jump into discussions. For some extra help along the way, here are some resources worth a look:

  1. LinkedIn produces weekly Webinars. These free training sessions cover topics like building a presence, developing a network and utilizing premium features.

  2. LinkedIn for Journalists and Educators is a $30 Webinar from Poynter’s NewsU. Yumi Wilson, a corporate communications manager at LinkedIn and journalism professor, leads the session.

  3. Sree Sreenivasan has lots of great tips and training. This post is heavily inspired by his teaching on LinkedIn, a tool he’s been urging journalism students to adopt for several years now.

Additional Reading

  1. How to Use LinkedIn – Basic information on registering and setting up a profile.

  2. 5 Ways Journalists Use LinkedIn for Research and Reporting – More on how to use LinkedIn as a source.

  3. Mastering LinkedIn: Tips for Journalists – How to make a solid profile and use LinkedIn to gather news.

  4. About LinkedIn – Basic company information from the official source.

  5. 10 Tips To A More Professional LinkedIn Profile – Some more advanced tips for getting the most out of your profile.

  6. Everything You Need To Know About LinkedIn Endorsements – Additional thoughts on endorsements.

  7. How to Write Your First Blog Post on the LinkedIn Publishing Platform – Tips for using LinkedIn’s publishing tools.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on RedditShare on TumblrTweet about this on Twitter