If I delivered a commencement speech to 2018 college graduates, I'd tell them that nobody will ever care as much about their career as they do.
They'll always need to do a little public relations for themselves--and they should probably think of LinkedIn as their personal PR tool for showcasing their professional skills and achievements. If they spend a fraction of the time on their LinkedIn profiles as they do on their Instagrams, they'll gain connections and opportunities galore.
When I graduated college and landed my first job, there was no social media. Internet and email barely existed. By the time LinkedIn debuted in late 2002, I was on my third job and had moved to three different states.
Since then, LinkedIn has become the biggest social media tool for professionals, with half a billion users worldwide. And I've developed a LinkedIn expertise that I now use daily on behalf of my clients and to grow and promote my public relations and communications business.
I see what people of all experience levels do wrong on LinkedIn and what they get right. Here are my top five LinkedIn tips for today's college grads:
1. Include your contact information.
Yes, it feels weird to publicly list your contact information--but you want recruiters and prospective bosses to have an easy way to connect with you outside of LinkedIn. Make sure to include your phone number and email address.
LinkedIn's recent redesign places that information in a more prominent spot at the very top of your profile near your name, title location and photo. Speaking of photos...
2. Use photos to help tell your story.
Just like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn has spots for a profile picture and cover photo. Use this prime real estate to help convey who you are.
First priority is the profile picture. You'll want to keep it professional. If you can't afford a pro headshot, have a friend snap an appropriate photo of you in work attire against a plain background. "The key to a great LinkedIn photo is a natural, relaxed expression and great lighting," professional photographer Heather Liebler told me for a column back in February. "It's really that simple."
As for the cover photo, LinkedIn's standard issue blue background just won't do if you want to stand out from the crowd. Find an image that speaks to who you are.
Maybe it's your city's skyline or your college campus or a favorite pattern or a representation of what you do--like a keyboard for a writer. You can get free images on sites like unsplash.com and pixabay.com.
3. Own your experience, don't exaggerate.
You're eager to prove your smarts and skills, but keep it succinct and factual. Exaggerations don't yield the best impression.
"No one believes that as an intern you renegotiated a contract to save the company millions, or led strategic initiatives to gain new market share," says Wendy Zang, managing consultant for executive search firm Helbling & Associates. "Be honest about what you were exposed to as part of a team."
4. Connect, not collect.
You want to connect with people on LinkedIn--not collect them like trophies.
I currently have a LinkedIn invitation from a 2018 graduate of my alma mater, and she's a fellow journalism major. But the invite came without any note and there's a grammatical error in her profile headline. Yikes. The invitation has been sitting in my inbox for months.
Before you go crazy sending LinkedIn invites to everyone who ever went to your school or worked for a company that you'd like to work for, think about it. Take the time to include a note with each invitation, saying why you'd like to connect, explaining who you are and maybe asking for a five-minute introductory phone call in which maybe you have something to offer too.
This woman could have said: "I'd love to hear about your career in journalism and communications and share how I'm putting to work what I learned about social media at Ohio University."
5. Use it every day.
If you engage just a little bit each day, you'll be a LinkedIn superstar in no time. Most People visit LinkedIn only when job hunting or when they fear being laid off. That's wrong. Keep your professional profile up to date and your activity frequent.
Take care of a LinkedIn task every day. Update your experience section with new responsibilities you took on at work. Take time to read someone's article or post and like it, comment on it or share it. Maybe you have knowledge and expertise to share--do it! Write a LinkedIn article on what you learned on your last internship or your new job.
Remember: Nobody will ever care as much about your career as you.