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Making the most of LinkedIn: A guide for students and recent graduates

Samantha Brown

Careers Commentator
Establishing a great LinkedIn profile is essential for students looking for an internship or graduate job.

As of 2021, the world’s largest professional network has more than 756 million total users, and 310 million active monthly users. That means that one in every three professionals in the world is on LinkedIn. Daunting? The good news is that only a minority of students and graduates are here, so establishing a great profile here is a way to give yourself an edge over your competitors. 

A side note: While posting articles, commenting on other posts and otherwise engaging on LinkedIn can be done strategically and can be important, it isn’t essential. What you do unequivocally need is a profile, which is the equivalent of your online CV, available for public consumption. Some 75% of Australian employers in a 2021 survey said they found LinkedIn “extremely effective”, “very effective” or “somewhat effective” in recruiting graduates. You need to have skin in the game.

LinkedIn is your online CV, but it’s so much more. 

LinkedIn and your career 

LinkedIn is more than just an online CV

LinkedIn has the potential to be useful at every stage of your career.

i) Use it to identify job opportunities and build knowledge of your industry. 

  • Create customised job alerts. 
  • Discover “under the radar” employers by using filters to search for companies by location, sector and number of employees. See the following clip as an example.

  • Benchmark your own profile against other graduates who are already in roles that you want. 

ii) Use it to prepare for an interview. 

  • Find mutual connections who work in your target organisations to ask for introductions or for some advice over a coffee. 
  • Learn about the organisations you are targeting and their current projects: Employers often complain that interviewees lack understanding about their organisation, which is inexcusable given the amount of easily accessible information now available online. Dig around to find the latest company news and make sure you ask related questions during your interview. 
  • You can also research the people who are interviewing you ahead of time to establish if you have any mutual contacts or interests. 
  • After your interview, send a thank you message via LinkedIn and keep their connection even if you don’t get the job. You never know what kind of impression you made, and an even better role with the organisation might be around the corner. 

iii) Use it while you’re on the job. 

  • Build a strong network of professional contacts. 
  • Stay informed of developments within your industry and with your competitors by carefully customising your feed. 
  • Post to build your brand in a way that fits within the culture of your organisation and industry. Share your accomplishments, without bragging. 

Your LinkedIn profile

We covered getting your profile up and running briefly when discussing how to manage your online profile ahead of a job or internship hunt. Here we go into a little more detail.

Your LinkedIn profile is the version of your CV most appropriate for general employers and recruiters to see. It will possibly be your first chance to catch an employer’s eye, and first impressions are important! It’s worth taking the time to craft a LinkedIn profile that is succinct but colourful, and emotive but true. You’re showing a potential employer how you think, and who you are as a person. Representing yourself with a well-thought out profile  shows that you can represent them well, too.

A strong LinkedIn profile is similar to a strong CV. You want it to be a crisp, digital version of the two-page paper CV. In fact, it’s useful to draft this CV first, then translate it into a LinkedIn profile.

Here’s our guide to creating the perfect profile:

  1. Upload a professional photograph of yourself, smiling and forward-facing. Employers are up to 21 times more likely to view your profile if you include this. Add a background image that’s suggestive of who you are in a professional capacity—use a copyright-free image from somewhere like unsplash.com. You want to show a reflection of who you are in a professional sense (perhaps bookshelves for an editor, a beautiful bridge for an engineer).
  2. Add a concise headline describing what you do. 
  3. Your “About” section should be highly informative and written in the first person. Use simple, accessible language to explain what you do; avoid buzzwords and vague terms that don’t really add any value like “detail-oriented” and “team player”. Do describe any career highlights and paint a portrait of your passion and expertise, while keeping it punchy and to the point. Check out these examples!A well-written LinkedIn summary is a way to differentiate yourself from the masses
  4. About 90% of the rest of your profile should focus on experience and skills, with about 10% on education—just like a paper CV.A strong LinkedIn profile will have a similar structure to a strong paper CV.
  5. As a new graduate, you’ll likely lack work experience. You might not think it’s worth mentioning the bar job you had during first year uni, but you are 12 times more likely to be viewed if you have more than one position listed in your profile. This means it’s time to get creative! Tell the truth, but tell a strong story. You might find the “STAR” (situation, task, action, result) framework useful here: describe a situation, explain the task you had to do, outline the specific actions you took to complete the task, describe the results and what you learned/contributed.

    Instead of this… 

    Try this... 

    ❌ Data entry and analysis in excel.

    ✅ Modelled 25 years of historical financial data in excel to determine relationship between commodity prices and profitability.

    ❌ Bar work including waiting tables, working the bar & hosting wine tastings.

    ✅ Managed 200 person capacity bar, requiring exceptional customer service, dispute resolution, and time management. 

    ❌Chair of soccer club social committee.

    ✅ Chaired social committee of 8 and organised events throughout the year attended by 200-300 members.

    ❌ Tutored Year 12 commerce students.

    ✅ Developed tutorial content, marketing, pricing, and time management strategies to establish a successful small business tutoring Year 12 commerce students.

    ❌ Launched internal team productivity reporting dashboard.

    ✅ Liaised with senior leadership and sought team feedback to develop a productivity reporting dashboard that cut weekly team task allocation time by approximately 50%.

    ❌Organized the college’s tutorial program and headed up the academic team.

    ✅ Planned and led a year-long academic program for 230 students across 8 faculty areas, resulting in a 98% pass rate.

    ❌Edited articles submitted by student journalists.

    ✅ Reviewed 20-25 articles per week to evaluate their suitability for publication, selecting and editing up to 5 per week for publication.

    ❌ Researched CRM SAS options.

    ✅ Collaborated on a team of 4 to evaluate alternative software platforms to drive sales team productivity, ultimately saving an estimated $600,000 per year.

  6. Upload relevant documents that an employer would be impressed by, such as any publications you have written or co-authored.
  7. Your education history should be a synopsis of relevant learning. Include any training, licenses, and accreditations, such as industry certifications. 
  8. Include volunteering experience. Many managers view volunteering as equivalent to formal work experience. 
  9. Include awards and achievements. They don’t need to be only professional, so long as you can tie them back into how they reflect on your professional life. Telling a potential employer that you are a martial arts expert, say, lets them know that you’re disciplined and care about your physical and mental health as much as your work. If you’ve been an exchange student, mention this insofar as it helps an employer understand that you have a truly global outlook.

More LinkedIn best practices

  • Set your profile to public in order to get the most out of LinkedIn. 
  • Turn off automatic profile updates! The default setting is for LinkedIn to update all your connections when you make even a tiny change to your profile, which can be annoying if you are regularly tweaking the information here. Be deliberate instead with what you share to your network.
  • Make your connections visible to help people find you via mutual connections. 
  • Customise your LinkedIn profile URL so it’s neat and easy to share.

  • Be sure to upload examples of your work if you have them.
  • Complete as much information as you can. More complete profiles are given priority in search results. 
  • Keep your profile up to date so people can easily find you as you move through your career.

Start connecting—scale quickly!

LinkedIn networking is based on “connections”. An invitation to “connect” must be sent and accepted, just like a friend request on Facebook. 

Your “degree” of connection to someone will determine who you can view, connect with, and message:

  • You can see the profile of a “1st degree” connection and message them freely. 
  • You can view the profile of a “2nd degree” connection, and request a connection.
  • For a “3rd degree” connection, you will only be able to see limited profile information and you usually have to pay to message them. 
Your degree of connection determines who you can view, connect with and message on LinkedIn

Connect with everyone to expand your network! Adding connections “unlocks” an exponential number of people. Connect with lecturers, recruiters, classmates and alumni, friends and family. Joining relevant groups means you will unlock everyone in that group (once you have been a LinkedIn member for 30 days and a member of the group for four days). Connecting with someone does not mean you endorse them, and it gives you access to all their connections, so accept any offers made to you as well.

Be warned that LinkedIn may restrict your account if you send too many invitations within a short period of time or too many of your invitations have been ignored or marked as spam. This is unlikely to happen during the normal course of using the network.

Personalise your connection requests to improve the likelihood of your invitation being accepted. 

Personalising your LinkedIn connection requests will make them more impactful

In summary

For a graduate, LinkedIn can be a not-so-secret weapon when it comes to winning the job you want. Spend time crafting a considered profile, then spend time making connections. Do research ahead of interviews, and maintain your connections as you embark on your career. It’s an investment likely to pay off again and again.

If you’re interested in more information, check out the full 90-minute workshop on the topic available here: https://youtu.be/3gyVKYSMXpU