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Navigating LinkedIn for Student Career Success

According to LinkedIn, over 61 million people use the platform to search for jobs every week, and 8 people are hired every minute on LinkedIn. A well-optimized account and effective usage are crucial for success on the platform. We sat down with Jeffrey Wilson, Lecturer, iLEAD Professional Development Program (PDP), to gain insights into how students can leverage LinkedIn for their career pursuits.

What is the primary advantage of students using LinkedIn?

LinkedIn, as a network, doesn’t serve much purpose if you’re not actually engaging with people. Otherwise, it’s merely a list of names. Thus, utilizing and nurturing your network becomes the most crucial aspect of the entire platform. When everyone is just a few clicks away, you have the opportunity to connect with individuals in the field you aspire to enter. This allows you to discover what they enjoy about their jobs and what challenges they face. Looking back, if I had spoken to professionals in the field during my time at university, I might have considered changing my major from engineering to something that better matched my interests.

What encourages professionals to respond positively to students’ requests for informational interviews?

I believe that most people have a natural inclination to help others. When someone reaches out on LinkedIn and requests an informational interview, I, as a human being, feel that I should say yes. Of course, there might be factors that prevent me from doing so; perhaps I’m swamped with work, as many of us often are. However, especially if there’s some kind of connection, like we went to the same college or were part of the same organization, the closer that link, the stronger the feeling that I should indeed do this.

Crafting the request correctly is key – it’s usually less than a hundred words. For instance: “Dear Mr. Smith, my name is Jeff Wilson. I’m a graduate marketing student at UIC. I’m really interested in Leo Burnett and would love to hear about your career there. Could I have 30 minutes of your time for an informational interview? Thanks very much for your consideration. Most sincerely.” You don’t need to delve into your life story or attach a resume. Just ask one clear question in your LinkedIn message.

Now, there are a few possible outcomes. First, they might not respond at all – they either missed it or marked it as unread for later decision-making. That’s okay, and you can send a follow-up email, but remember, never make them feel bad for not responding. Second, they might say no. And that’s alright too. It just means they may have been busy or not available at the moment. If you did manage to arrange for an informational interview, remember it’s all about them. When they talk about themselves, they light up – it’s like experiencing a burst of endorphins. By asking for an informational interview, you’ve given them a compliment, indicating that they are important enough to be interviewed. This often leads them to think about how they can help you – perhaps they know someone who could offer advice, or they might consider job openings that could be suitable for you.

How can students effectively expand their LinkedIn network and create meaningful connections? 

Start by connecting with people you already know, which might include high school acquaintances, UIC classmates, neighbors, your parents’ friends, and your friends’ parents. After attending networking events or parties, send connection requests to individuals you interacted with. For those you haven’t seen in a while or met at an event, consider including a brief note along with the request. 

The more connections you have, the wider your reach – and it goes beyond just your immediate connections. Every person you connect with has their own connections, making them your second-degree connections. Why is it so important?

Imagine you’re looking for a job at a specific company that you really want to work for. When you check the list of people working at that company, you see names of people you’re not directly connected to, but they’re connected to people you know. In that case, you can reach out to your mutual connection and request an introduction: “Hi Jeff, I noticed your connection to someone at Unilever. I’m really interested in working there. Could you please introduce me?” I would most likely agree to help. It’s a small favor that doesn’t cost me anything. 

The golden rule is to always follow up and express gratitude to every participant of the communication. If they suggest additional contacts, circle back later and let them know that you have followed through. 

How can students effectively find job opportunities using LinkedIn? 

There are three main strategies students can use on LinkedIn to discover job opportunities. The first approach is what I call the ‘passive’ method. This involves creating a strong and appealing profile that recruiters might come across. Second, you can utilize LinkedIn Jobs. You will find this very similar to The third method starts with you making a list of the top 20 companies/organizations you would most like to work for.

This targeted strategy involves mining LinkedIn for alumni. Once you have your top 20 list, utilize LinkedIn’s search bar to search for the first company on your list. On the company’s page, click the number of employees. This takes you to what is essentially, the company employee directory. To refine your search, click on the ‘All Filters’ option. Under ‘School,’ add ‘UIC,’ and then click on ‘Show Results’. This gives you the list of all UIC alumni that work for the company. You can refine this further by typing ‘marketing’ into the search bar, leaving you with a list of all UIC alumni that work for the company, that have the word ‘marketing’ somewhere in their profile. By scrolling through this list, you can find the most relevant people to reach out to for an informational interview. Repeat this process for all companies on your list.

How can students make the most out of their LinkedIn profiles?

Certainly, here’s a comprehensive breakdown of optimizing your LinkedIn profile for maximum effectiveness:

  1. Headshot: Begin with a professional headshot featuring you in proper attire and a friendly expression.
  2. Background Picture – You can use one of those provided by LinkedIn, a slice of one of your own photos, or do a Google search on ‘LinkedIn Background Photo’. Choose an image that looks professional – perhaps an image that represents your profession, a hobby, or a geographic location, like Chicago.
  3. Headline: Customize your headline to stand out. Make it aspirational. For instance, you can go with “Marketing Student @ UIC | Aspiring Advertising Executive.”
  4. About Section: Treat this like the “Tell Me About Yourself” question in an interview. Present why employers should consider you. Share your field of interest, relevant skills, and experiences. Conclude with a specific goal, such as “Seeking a Financial Analyst internship.”
  5. Experience: Include all experiences, even from high school, in reverse chronological order. Mention job titles, companies, and timeframes. Elevate this section with conversational descriptions highlighting job aspects you enjoyed, skills you utilized, and your accomplishments. Avoid cutting and pasting the bullet points from your resume.
  6. Education: Accurately state your degree and expected graduation month/year. Don’t forget to mention minors or concentrations. Your current degree should be listed first. Create entries for all other degrees earned beneath that.
  7. Licenses & Certifications: List any licenses or certifications you’ve earned.
  8. Volunteering: Highlight continuous volunteering experiences.
  9. Skills: Emphasize major/career-related skills, including software proficiencies. Encourage people you know to endorse your skills on your page.
  10. Languages: If you are bi/multi-lingual – own it! Declare any languages you’re fluent in, including English.
  11. Organizations: Showcase your campus engagement. Include the organizations, officer positions held, and timeframes here.
  12. Recommendations: Seek recommendations from former and current supervisors or coaches who can vouch for your performance.
  13. Groups: Leverage the power of LinkedIn by joining groups. Use the search bar and click on the ‘Groups’ tab and select any that interest you. Repeat this process by searching on UIC, and any other interests you might have. Not only will this populate your news feed with relevant, career-related posts, it also gives you the ability to message anyone in those groups, without being connected to them.

While optimizing your profile, consider incorporating industry-relevant keywords and skills. These enhance your visibility in recruiter searches. Remember, your profile acts as a 24/7 representation of your ambitions, skills, and experiences. 

Can you offer some extra tips for students looking to find job opportunities?

Absolutely. Based on my past role as a director at the Business Career Center (BCC), I can confidently say the BCC is a valuable resource for everyone. Make an appointment with a BCC Career Coach and ask for their assistance with your resume, search strategy, or interview preparation.  And keep an eye out for the many workshops, employer visits, and career fairs that they sponsor.