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How to Be Smart When Building a Strong LinkedIn Profile

Fresh out of college and ready to enter the job market? Here's how to build a LinkedIn profile for new grads who have little to no work experience.

One piece of advice you’ll likely hear as you, the new (or soon-to-be) college grad, prepare to enter the job market is to create a LinkedIn profile. Outside of creating a top-notch résumé and cover letter, it’s one of the most important steps to take with launching yourself professionally. As the working world’s chief online networking tool, LinkedIn is the go-to portal for jobseekers looking to market their professional brand and discover new opportunities—and for recruiters on the hunt for suitable candidates. It goes without saying, then, that failing to set up a LinkedIn account is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to get a job.

But building a profile isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially if you’re a student or young professional with a limited work history. What do you write in the “Experience” section? How do you sell yourself as an employee worth hiring when you’ve never been hired before? Fortunately, there are ways to shape a compelling portrait of yourself even when you’re lacking in certain departments. To get it right, follow this advice on how to craft an effective LinkedIn profile for new grads.

Pick the right profile photo

Just because you’ve never been a working professional doesn’t mean you can’t come across as one. Communicate professionalism by choosing a high-quality headshot of yourself for your profile—make sure you’re alone (no friends or pets), smiling, and appropriately dressed, and keep the background clean and simple. Selecting a suitable picture will help you send the right message to prospective employers, and it should pay off: it’s been proven that LinkedIn users who include a professional photo receive 14 times more profile views.

Related: How to Establish a Professional Online Presence

Start off strong with a compelling summary

One of the hardest-working parts of a LinkedIn profile for new grads is the “Summary” section. It’s your chance to make a strong first impression, show off your stellar personality, highlight your strengths, and capture why employers should take a chance on you. Use this opportunity to tell a captivating story—starting with a strong hook—that outlines what drives you, what your assets and values are, what you’re up to now, and what you’d like to achieve at your future place of work. If you’ve just graduated or are still in college, say so, but be sure to clearly state your career goals.

Draw attention to your skills

Because you don’t have an extensive list of past positions to speak of, you’ll want to focus your LinkedIn summary (and the rest of your profile) on your transferable skills instead. These are abilities you developed at college and through extracurricular activities that will come in handy in the workplace. The idea is to connect the dots for recruiters so they can see you have what it takes to do the job, despite having never filled a similar role before. Choose phrases that are frequently used in your industry to describe your skill set and reiterate your strengths by listing them under the “Skills & Endorsements” section of your profile — this will up the chance that employers will discover your account when they search for skill-related terms online. Remember to mention technology you’re familiar with as well as your interpersonal strengths.

Related: The Top 10 Hard and Soft Skills All Employers Want

Adjust your definition of experience

For obvious reasons, the most intimidating component of a LinkedIn profile for new grads is the “Experience” section. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you have nothing to say here just because you’ve never had a full-time job. Many graduates will have completed an internship during their studies, engaged in part-time work, or held leadership positions in clubs or sports societies. These are all worth including, as they show that you’ve been exposed to the workings of the “real world.” The key thing is to go beyond simply listing titles and dates—also detail what you did, learned, and accomplished in each role.

List volunteer work

LinkedIn gives you the option to populate a separate section called “Volunteer Experience & Causes.” If you’ve done any community service or helped out at a local organization in your spare time, include information about this experience. It’ll no doubt have equipped you with skills that you could draw on in a work setting—maybe you learned more about fundraising or project management, for example—so let this be known.

Related: 7 Great Opportunities for Students to Volunteer Online

Upload concrete examples of your work

It’s all well and good to say you’re a great writer, competent in Photoshop, or capable of building a responsive website. But what’s really going to win recruiters over? Evidence. Fortunately, it’s now possible to amplify the impact of a LinkedIn profile for new grads by adding rich media and documents to various sections, including “Experience” and “Education.” You could upload an article you wrote for the college newspaper, your final-year thesis, a paper you’re proud of, a logo you designed, a presentation you put together, a pitch for funding…the list goes on. And in so doing, you’ll give employers a reason to trust that you really can perform if they bring you on board.

Make the most of the “Accomplishments” subsections

Take the focus off your limited experience by adding a range of other profile sections that talk to your strengths. Under “Accomplishments,” you can list awards and accolades you’ve received, projects you’ve spearheaded, relevant courses you’ve taken, publications you’ve been featured in, languages you’ve mastered, and organizations you’ve joined. Naturally, all this information works to paint a full picture of your capabilities so that recruiters can get an accurate sense of your potential.

Quick tips for a successful LinkedIn post-setup

Building a successful LinkedIn profile isn’t as simple as just filling out various sections. Once you’re done with this step, remember to do the following:

  • Summarize who you are, professionally, with a headline that captures what you graduated in and what you aspire to do in the future
  • Personalize your public profile URL
  • Adjust your profile’s visibility by changing your privacy settings to public
  • Build your network by sending connection requests to college alumni, professors, friends, former employers, and colleagues
  • Join groups that align with your career interests
  • Follow influencers and organizations in your industry
  • Ask your connections to endorse your skills
  • Request recommendations from those with whom you’ve worked or studied closely
  • Regularly update your profile to reflect changes

Related: Top Social Media Do’s and Don’ts for Job Seekers

Having a LinkedIn profile that makes you feel professional and you can feel proud of is incredibly important to your confidence in the job search. A properly curated profile will show potential employers you’re ready for the working world and will bring amazing things to their company. You got this!

Improve your chances of finding a great job even more by checking out the articles and advice in our Internships and Careers section.

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