Your LinkedIn account is a representation of your personal brand. In the same way that social media influencers use Instagram to create a brand and sell themselves to the general public, professionals use LinkedIn. The difference is in their target audience.
Influencers are targeting the general public, while LinkedIn users are targeting recruiters and hiring managers. If you create good personal branding, your LinkedIn account can help you attract recruiters and win job offers.
Here’s how to set up your LinkedIn account and optimize your profile so you can impress recruiters — even if you’re still in school or just starting your career.
How To Create a LinkedIn Account
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, head to www.LinkedIn.com and select either “Join now” or “Join with resume.” If you “Join with resume,” LinkedIn will ask you to upload a copy of your resume. Then, it will automatically fill out your LinkedIn profile with the information in the document. If you select “join now,” you’ll need to manually update your profile later on.
When you create your LinkedIn account, you’ll need to provide your email address, password, and other contact information, like your phone number. LinkedIn uses this information to verify your identity, but it won’t appear on your public profile.
If you have Gmail, you can sign in with Google, which will link your email account to your LinkedIn account. This option allows you to skip some steps when you set up your profile — you won’t need to create a separate profile or enter your contact info.
Once you complete your initial account set up, you’re ready to start working on your profile.
LinkedIn Profile Checklist
LinkedIn will walk you through the process for building your profile. If you don’t already have a resume, it can take some time to complete. So, don’t feel like you need to finish your public profile in one go. But do fill out every profile section before you start networking. Here are the sections you’ll see, plus tips for filling them out if you don’t have a lot of work experience.
The background photo appears at the top of your profile behind your profile picture. The most important thing about this photo is that it shouldn’t be distracting or offensive. You can choose one of LinkedIn’s standard backgrounds, or you can use an image that expresses who you are, like a photo of your workspace, your pets, or your city.
Professional dress can vary by industry. So while an aspiring lawyer may need to wear a suit, a software developer might be able to get away with a T-shirt. But at a minimum, you should ensure that your shoulders are covered and your shirt has a conservative neckline.
Take your profile photo in front of a neutral backdrop or use portrait mode to blur the background and ensure nothing distracts from your pretty face. If you’re tempted to leave off your profile picture, don’t. There may be other people with the same name as you — a clear photo will help your network ensure they’re connecting with the right person.
The summary section allows you to explain who you are as a professional. You can use your summary to do one of two things: Make a personal pitch that highlights your qualifications, or explain what motivates you personally and professionally. The best professional summaries do both.
If you don’t have a lot of professional experience, use this section to explain what interests you about your chosen field. Talk about why that field is the perfect fit for your personality, and explain how your education, life, and work experience so far has prepared you to succeed.
If you’re applying for new jobs that are different from your current position, your summary is a good place to explain why you’re making the change. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to explain how your current and past positions have prepared you to succeed in your new field.
The featured section allows you to show off your work. You can use this space to link to your personal website or portfolio. If you’re a college student or recent college grad, you can upload documents from your classes that are closely related to the work you hope to do after graduation.
For example, if you wrote a business plan for a class assignment, you can upload the project to show off your skills.
This section makes up the bulk of your LinkedIn profile, and it’s where you’ll explain your work experience. Add your past positions one by one, including a job title and job description for each.
Make your job descriptions relevant to your current job search by looking at the descriptions for jobs you want to apply for. Make connections to the skills those jobs require in the job descriptions for your past positions.
If you don’t have a long work history, you can include volunteer experience or extracurricular activities.
Skills & Endorsements
In this section, you’ll highlight your hard skills, like your ability to use technology that’s standard in your field. Then, members of your professional network will be able to “endorse” your skills — verifying that you are what you say you are.
Different industries look for different skills. If you’re a computer programmer, for example, you might mention your proficiency with different coding languages. If you’re a designer, you can explain your skills with Adobe Suite. If you’re not sure which skills to include, look at a few job descriptions in your field and see which skills they mention.
This is the final section of your LinkedIn profile. You can add a variety of accomplishments, including your publications, patents, courses, projects, honors and awards, test scores, languages, and organizations.
College students without a lot of work experience can flesh out their profile by adding their relevant college courses, mentioning their important projects, or highlighting their test scores on any professional certifications they’ve taken.
How To Optimize Your LinkedIn Account
Once your LinkedIn account is live, your profile page will start appearing not only in LinkedIn search, but also in the search engine results when someone Googles your name. So, you shouldn’t stop working on your profile just because you’ve filled out all the sections.
To make your profile stronger, click your photo in the top right corner of your screen and select “View profile” from the dropdown menu. Just below the summary section, you’ll see your dashboard. Mouse over the LinkedIn profile strength meter to see what you can improve. Keep making improvements until you achieve a LinkedIn All-Star profile.
How To Build Your LinkedIn Network
When you search for a person’s profile, you’ll notice they appear with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or no number next to their name. This refers to 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree connections.
If a LinkedIn member shows up as a 1st degree connection, that means you’re already friends on the social network. If they’re a 2nd degree connection, then you have a mutual friend. And if they’re a 3rd degree connection, you have a friend of a mutual friend.
Any of these people could become a new connection. But before you press that connect button, keep in mind that the quality of your LinkedIn connections is more important than the number of connections.
Choose your new contacts carefully. If you decide to reach out to someone you don’t know, use the messaging feature to introduce yourself and explain why you want to connect.
To build your LinkedIn network with more high-quality connections, attend a professional networking event or join a LinkedIn group to meet people in your field. The meaningful connections you make will lead to a stronger professional network in the long run.
Get Linked Up
Then, use LinkedIn to build your network and power your job search. Up to 80% of job seekers find potential employers through their network, so creating a LinkedIn account could be your first step toward a bright future.
For college students looking to start their career, a LinkedIn account allows you to connect with college recruiters and discover new opportunities. For more ways to kickstart your career, check out Scholars — the largest hub of career information for students and recent grads.