By Kate Duttro
“I don’t have time to look for a job while I’m writing a thesis and finishing classes!” In my time as a career counselor at a major university, I probably heard this line a thousand times. Most grad students saying that are right, because they’ve avoided all thought of jobs since they started grad school, and they are especially pushed in the weeks before graduation. But LinkedIn offers them an opportunity to become known in their field while they are taking all those classes and writing that thesis – if they take advantage of it. The beauty of LinkedIn is in offering both a public profile of accomplishments and a communications platform. The profile can be filled in bit-by-bit, a few minutes at a time, and it can replace at least some of the email in their lives. If grad students started a LinkedIn profile when they began their first classes, and invested 5-10 minutes a week, by the time they graduated, they’d have developed both a complete profile that will help them attract job offers and a way to become known and stay in contact with colleagues in their field.
What’s the minimum for you to get started with LinkedIn?
1. Start with your name. First, Google your name to see if others share your name, and if so, find a way to individualize your name, perhaps using a nickname (but keep it professional), a middle initial, or writing it out in full.
2. Choose a descriptive profile headline, such as “graduate student, University of Michigan,” or “Master’s Candidate, E.E.,” or even, “MA expected June, 2010.” The headline helps define and label your focus.
3. Upload a photo of yourself, and keep it professional. Think of the head shots of professors you’ve seen in professional conference programs. You don’t have to be wearing a tie, but don’t use a picture of your dog, either. Save it for Facebook.
4. Use the summary section to describe your disciplinary focus. You can include your classes, your thesis title or a description of the research you’re involved in, but try to avoid sounding like a stuffed shirt. Interests, travel and languages you speak could fit here, too.
5. Fill in the education and employment sections as completely as you can. Include internships, assistantships or any special training or research projects, as well as student memberships in campus and professional organizations. Include awards and accomplishments, especially if they’re related to your education.
6. Fill in your status box periodically (at least every term, but monthly is better), so people know your profile is current. Note the courses you’re taking, the professional events you’re attending or leading, awards/ accomplishments, or papers/publications you’re working on.
7. Join groups, especially those connected to your discipline or the field you hope to work in when you graduate. This is one of the best kept secrets of LinkedIn because you can interact with experts in your field just by engaging with other group members. By paying attention to the group discussions, you can learn about the issues in the field, and in the workplace, which don’t always come up in the classes you’re taking. Ask questions (and answer them) whenever you can. It’s a way of signaling that you’re willing to contribute to the field.
8. Set up your personal URL. Make it easy for folks to find you by replacing the nonsense URL (that LinkedIn automates for you) with your name.
9. Ask for recommendations. Faculty are used to being asked for recommendations. Ask them, and recommend them, too. Ask employers as well, and anyone who has supervised your volunteer work or your co-authors or research partners.
10. Start adding connections by inviting your fellow grad students, then professors, advisors and anyone else you interact with by email, especially if it is related to your research or future work. It’s commonly said that 50 connections is a tipping point and you’ll begin to see significantly more activity when you have that many.
11. Add content--papers you’ve written, publications, PowerPoint presentations and other examples of your work. You can list books you’ve been reading and review them.
Remember that this is not just a social twirl. You are building the basis of your job search a little at a time, while you are making your way through grad school. By the time you’re half way through, your job search will be under way, even though you may not have time to cruise the job banks the month before you graduate.