At 21 years old, I graduated from USC with about a quarter of a million followers on Linkedin in 2018. For a platform that notoriously favors those with long careers and bountiful wisdom from years in business, I was a bit of an anomaly. I didn't set out to "grow a following" per se. I started working on my Linkedin because I needed internships and eventually, a job.
In today's unconventional job market, I learned how to navigate the platform to join startups, start a consulting side business, land my first salaried jobs, and more. Here are some of the best practices I've learned through the years.
Practice #1: Optimize your profile
My advice for people early in their career hungry to move up quickly is to be open to multiple kinds of career experiences. Getting a salaried job, joining a startup, and joining a project can all be achieved through optimizing your profile correctly.
Linkedin is an SEO engine, optimize it like you are optimizing a resume for ATS screen.
This is will help you catch people who are actively looking to recruit and hire people for their company or project. What this means in practice is making sure you have filled out your whole profile with quantitative, succinct experiences. You will want to make sure you fill out your whole profile, including a captivating summary. The more sections you fill out, the better your profile will do with the algorithm, but make sure you are actively pointing readers to the parts of your profile you want them to focus on the most.
The part that people struggle with the most is the summary. I can't begin to tell you how many of my friends have asked me to edit these and for me to look at a first draft that is a whole page long. If you are looking for your next job, you will want to make sure your summary is succinct, but ultimately drives readers towards your chosen call to action. There are a few ways to do this.
Past, Present, Future
Know that all summaries should be less than 350 words and in first person. In terms of what to say, an easy way to formulate a summary is to write 2-3 sentences about how you got to where you currently are, what drives you to do the work or major you are currently in, and what you are looking for. This is great for users who have a bit of history in a field who can articulate any pivot or next steps they are looking to make. I included an example of my past, present, and future summary I used in college.
Passion + Execution
I used to work a lot with college students on their Linkedins and the past, present, and future format often felt daunting to those with only a few internships under their belt. Instead, I recommended talking about what they were currently passionate about in their field or what they were currently exploring, then write a few sentences about how you are looking to explore that passion. I included an example of one of my passion + execution summaries I used in college when I had just only one internship in entertainment under my belt.
Steer clear of buzzwords like "highly-motivated", "detail-oriented", or "analytical" and focus on keywords that are relevant to your industry. Everyone on Linkedin can claim these words at one point or another.
The most important part of any summary is the ending CTA. There is no way you can be "too much" with this. Looking for project management roles in California? Say it. Trying to meet more people in HealthTech? Say it. Currently exploring projects related to racial justice? Say it. Don't put the responsibility of figuring out what you are open to on the person reading your profile. Frankness works in your favor here.
Practice #2: Network with hiring managers and alumni
Once the profile is looking snatched, the next inevitable step is to use it to network. If you are actively searching for a new role, there are four kinds of people you will want to reach out to: your hiring manager, recruiters, your past coworkers, and potential future teammates.
Your past coworkers
Ask for recommendations and use Linkedin to maintain those relationships. The "hack" I did after college was to give recommendations to all of my managers and close coworkers when I was leaving a job or a project. Not all of them gave me recommendations back, but a large portion of them did. Get in the habit to do this for everything and you will not only strengthen those relationships, but you'll also strengthen your networking on Linkedin.
There are always questions about Linkedin "faux paus" and what is okay to reach out to hiring managers with. In my experience, feel free to reach out to hiring managers about the role directly. Don't ask for a phone call right away, try commenting on their posts first or finding an overlap in experience that you can message them about or invite them to connect with a personalized message. I personally think that Jerry Lee's template works well for those who may be nervous about reaching out directly.
Recruiters and Potential Teammates
Feel free to reach out directly about the role or ask them more generally about the company and team. One quick tip for new grads, check if any of them are alumni of your schools or workplaces using Linkedin search before reaching out. If you have the time, don't be afraid to reach out regarding their volunteer or project experience in case there are smaller ways you can get involved in your field before joining their team in a full-time capacity.
Practice #3: Create Content
From the dawn of Linkedin's existence, people have been trying to "game the algorithm" and gain notoriety through content on the platform. Instead, here are a few evergreen content ideas that will not only make your profile look great, but actually help you network and introduce you to new opportunities.
The first option is to foster your existing relationships by sharing stories through posts. In the post below, I introduced one of my closest friends Michelle Kwok. Michelle had just invited me to explore advising her startup FLIK. I used this post to help drive sign-ups to her company's female founder survey and make a public connection between Michelle and I. After the post, I was contacted by 20+ female founders who were involved with FLIK not only looking to connect, but also to find out what I was currently working on and to ask questions about what opportunities I was open to based on my profile's summary.
Another evergreen content tactic is to document your progress with your roles and projects. While the "I am excited to announce" posts can become monotonous, giving updates after a project/role is over and during the intensity of major campaigns and projects can help you connect with those that may be in a similar situation in your industry. For example, when I left 500 Startups, I outlined my process for leaving a company well. From this post, I made connections with those looking to move both in and out of venture capital.
If I had to boil it down to a few key takeaways, I'd focus on:
- Optimize your profile with keywords and a strong CTA for users scanning your profile
- Tailor your networking depending on their present and future relationship to you
- Use Linkedin content to give updates and maintain relationships
What are some of the common questions you have about Linkedin? I've spoken at 25+ events on the subject and am happy to answer any of your toughest Linkedin and networking questions in this forum. AMA.