Recent graduates have grown up surrounded by social media. But that doesn't mean they have a clue how to use it to their advantage when it comes to building their careers. 

Make your headline unique to stand out when a recruiter quickly glances at your profile — all in 120 characters.

For most, this will mean mastering the art of using professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn. Careers coaches say it really pays to create both a strong LinkedIn profile and remain active on the site, even if you don’t have a lot of work experience or professional skills to show off.

It can be tough for graduates to even get their foot in the door at a firm if they don’t have any connections, explained Julbert Abraham, LinkedIn trainer and managing partner of Abraham Global Marketing, a social media marketing company that specialises in LinkedIn. Being active “can help create this network for people” making it more likely someone at a company you want to work for is connected to you — at least online.

For many career newbies, figuring out how to begin on LinkedIn is the first step.

To catch the eye of recruiters and create a strong network to help with your job search, here’s what recent graduates really need to know.

It starts at the top

The site has a simple profile that members must fill out, at least in part, and the headline is arguably the most important part, said Alexandra Levit, co-founder of the Career Advisory Board, a website dedicated to counselling recent university graduates. Located at the top of the page, it’s a first impression. So, make it memorable — don’t just insert a recent or desired job title (that’s not what that space is for) or that you’re a graduate of such-and-such university. Make your headline unique to stand out when a recruiter quickly glances at your profile — all in 120 characters.  

If your field is advertising, for example, a good headline could read “Paid Content Advertising Expert in the Entertainment Industry”. Or if breaking into the literary world, try “Writer of Short Stories and Aspiring Editor”.

“The idea is that you're branding yourself as someone who focuses on a specific skill in a specific industry,” wrote branding strategist Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0, in an email.

To sum it all up

Many new graduates skip over the summary section. But, it’s here that you can elaborate on your professional endeavours and sum up what you’re looking for in a career. If your summary is more than 40 words, you’re more likely to turn up in an employer’s search, according to Catherine Fisher, senior director of corporate communications at LinkedIn.  

“You need a summary to catch attention, especially when there’s not a lot (to include) in the experience section,” advised Lynne Sarikas, director of the graduate career centre at Northeastern University’s school of business, in the US. This is the place to explain what you do (or want to do, if you just received a qualification) and what skills and talents you can bring to a company.

Think of ways to make your summary compelling. To get yourself in the right frame of mind for writing this section, try telling a story in which you faced a challenge or big task, the action you took and the results that were yielded, Abraham advised. If you were, for instance, responsible for social media in a university club, explain in numbers the increase in Facebook likes or Twitter retweets that you’re responsible for. From there you can develop a narrative for your summary.

What have you really done lately?

The next section, detailing your experience, is among the hardest for new graduates — if you think too traditionally.

You don’t need to limit yourself to unrelated side jobs you’ve held or the one internship you completed. “List anything that demonstrates transferable skills or volunteer roles,” advised Levit. “Think of any organisation that has been better off because you were a part of it.”

From the example above, if listed as experience, you might say, “Through running the club’s Twitter account, I increased the amount of daily Tweets, gaining over 800 new followers in three months. I implemented various strategies until recognising that humorous Tweets received the most retweets and favourites.”

Consider anything relevant to the type of role you’d like to hold in your career. “If you volunteered at an animal shelter, include it… Make sure that there is some professional relevance; explain how volunteering has influenced your professional skills,” Levit explained.  

 It’s not as hard as you might think to translate non-related experience for your profile, where it makes sense. “If you’re going for the Management Training Program at Enterprise, even a waitress position shows leadership skills and possibly management experience if you were a manager,” depending on how it is explained, Abraham said.

Don’t forget to highlight any specialised or advanced courses, awards, school activities or membership in a fraternity or sorority (in the US) — 42% of hiring managers view volunteering as equivalent to work experience, according to Fisher.

Opt for “managed”, “created”, “resolved” and “improved” instead.

As you detail your experience, remember the key to getting noticed by recruiters and potential connections: use keywords that they will be searching for. If you’re unsure what those keywords are, look up the skills listed in job descriptions you’d like to be considered for and duplicate those, said Sarikas. Schawbel advised avoiding overused words like “motivated”, “passionate”, “driven”, “creative” and “extensive experience”… Opt for “managed”, “created”, “resolved” and “improved” instead.

It’s who you know

So your dream job is to work as a curator at your favourite museum. But you don’t really know anyone at the organisation and only know a handful of people in the field. How do you make the connections on LinkedIn that you need to get closer to the role or others like it?

 

Experts advise starting with LinkedIn’s alumni tool. This tool allows you to scroll through profiles of users who also attended your university, seeing who they know and where they work. In the US, you may find that alums who are owners, managers, or CEOs at companies or organisations that you want to work for will accept the connection request because of the shared affinity for your university.

 “A lot of people don’t know what to do with a generic message from someone they don’t know, so customise it, give it a frame of reference,” Levit said. Let the potential connection know how you’re connected or how you came to know them, and introduce yourself with context. For instance, if you wish to connect with someone after reading an article he or she published on LinkedIn, explain why the article made you want to reach out.

Later in your career you might want to filter connection requests to more pertinent people. Schawbel recommends accepting all legitimate contact requests to try to make your network as big as possible as you start out.

Beyond connections

Beyond your profile, there are plenty of ways to start building a reputation and persona on LinkedIn. These efforts might not pay off immediately, but can help in the future.

Being active on LinkedIn’s company pages and joining groups related to your field, like “Banking Careers” or “Non Profit Network”, can help you build exposure and a larger network. Levit suggests posting articles, and liking and commenting on other’s posts in order to gain visibility with professionals in your field.

You can’t sit back and wait for it to happen.  

As you get more comfortable with using LinkedIn, you can also post published articles (or publish your own with LinkedIn’s Pulse feature), videos or documents to support your experience. These all make your profile more interactive and attractive to recruiters.

LinkedIn is not the only professional networking site out there — if it’s not your thing, try XING (15 million users) or Viadeo (65 million users). Other sites cater towards specific professional fields, like EFactor (entrepreneurs) and Zerply (production professionals).

LinkedIn’s fastest growing demographic is students and recent graduates, Fisher said. So for many employers, having a LinkedIn presence — not just a profile — has become an expectation for those just beginning their careers.

“The most important is building your profile, and then continuing to engage with your network. You can’t sit back and wait for it to happen,” Fisher said.

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