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I’ve been using Linkedin since I was about eighteen – I set up my free account with the bare minimum during Sixth Form, and left it ticking over in the background until I was about twenty one and had graduated from university.
However, once I had graduated, and I realised I had no real plans on what my next steps should be, I turned to Linkedin to reach out to people who were working in my dream roles within the sports industry to ask their advice (and even managed to set up in-person meetings with a couple of them).
Y’see, Linkedin isn’t solely for job hunting, or sharing your career highlights or the GCSE grades you achieved – instead, it’s an amazing networking tool which allowed me to confirm the industry I wanted to establish myself within and build a supportive base.
Through Linkedin, I now receive messages from new grads and students asking for advice – and I’m always happy to give it. Through Linkedin, I had a lecturer from an American university contact me to ask me to deliver a seminar to their students on what it’s truly like working within the sports industry. Through Linkedin, I have secured job interviews, grown a following of over 4,000, and regularly keep up to date on business news across the world – which then helps me guide my outreach in my professional role.
I think it’s safe to say, I’m a fan.
So, what would my top tips be to somebody looking to use Linkedin to further their career, at any stage of their career?
First up, create an in-depth profile
Think about it – your Linkedin profile is your online CV, and you wouldn’t just throw your CV together the way you create a one-liner for your Instagram bio. Instead, you want to focus on the following key parts:
Carefully choose your photo
Your photo is incredibly important – people want to know what the person they’re speaking to looks like, and it shows your readers the human behind the updates.
Make sure your profile picture is only of you (nobody needs to know what your partner or best friend looks like), DO NOT USE ANY FILTERS (seriously, leave the dog ears for Instagram), and pick a clear headshot which represents you. It could be smiley and approachable, it could be serious – just make sure it’s a nice, clear photo.
When people are scrolling down Linkedin, all they’ll typically see of you is your photo, your name, and your headline, so make sure it’s a great summary of what you do.
Some people like to keep in a little mystery, such as ‘Contact me to find out how I can change your life’, but I think that’s a total waste of a headline. Nobody is going to reach out – you’re not telling them how you’re going to change their life, so it’s going to be too much work for them to reach out to enquire incase it’s not an area they’re interested in. Instead, either include your exact job title (as I typically do), or change it to something that hints heavily at what you do – for example, ‘Sales professional with extensive experience in the sports industry’.
Your About section is where you should summarise your background, your achievements, and your professional passions within about two paragraphs max. You can absolutely inject some personality into this bit, and as I work in sales, I always recommend including a call to action at the end with the best contact information to reach you on, if somebody is interested in the services I offer.
They don’t need your full life story in this section, but they should be able to get a better gauge of you, what you can bring to their organisation (through either recruiting you, or working with you) and what your main achievements are.
You can keep this section brief, but absolutely include a summary of how many GCSEs you achieved, any A-Levels you completed, and whether you went to university.
Where GCSEs are concerned, you don’t need to include a breakdown of every grade for every subject, but summarise it with something along the lines of ‘8 GCSEs from A – C including English Language (B) and Maths (B)’. Many employers require a minimum of a C in English and Maths, so it’s always worth just spelling these two out for them.
This is where you can include a little more meat. You don’t need to necessarily include all jobs since you were sixteen, but there’s no harm in doing so either.
I typically like to include a summary of my responsibilities at each organisation, what I loved about the role, and what I achieved whilst there (for example, ‘Achieved the highest sales within the company for 2014’). Where possible, use examples like you would in a job interview – if you say you supplied administrative support, consider any large projects you worked on, changing the point to ‘Supplied administrative support to the organisation, including on the [insert project] which saw 1400 delegates attend the event and required meticulous attention to detail and the ability to work to a deadline’.
Skills & Endorsements
This section is there for you to highlight your main skills so that recruiters can have a quick scan as to whether you might suit a role they’re hiring for. Skills listed could include broad areas such as ‘Microsoft Office’, or it could include incredibly technical skillsets that you had to train for. Personally in sales, I include the likes of ‘Business Development’, ‘Business Strategy’, ‘Sales Strategy’ and ‘Customer Relationship Management’.
Your connections will then be able to include endorsements for your skills, and can also leave recommendations for your capabilities.
Keep your profile up to date
I’ve said it before, and I’ll absolutely say it again before this post is over – Linkedin is your online CV, so make sure you keep it up to date.
Whether you sign up to a new course, take on a new voluntary role, or change jobs completely, make sure this is displayed on your profile. Likewise, if you achieve something at work, create a post on it (more on content creation later!) and share it with your connections.
Next up, connect
Linkedin is a social networking platform, and building connections is absolutely key to increasing your exposure, and thereby furthering your career.
Start off by connecting with those you know – there’s the option to connect with the contacts saved in your phone, and then you can also go through searching for people you know manually.
Linkedin etiquette is slightly different to Facebook etiquette (where adding strangers can sometimes be seen as weird). It’s totally normal to connect with people you don’t know on Linkedin, and I definitely recommend connecting with individuals who went to the same university and schools as you, so you can build an unofficial alumni network of your own.
When you send a connection request, you can simply request to connect, or you can include a short message with it. There’s nothing wrong with a simple connection request, but ideally, you want to try to build relationships through sending personal messages too.
When I was first starting out in my career, I would send connection requests to strangers working within the professional sports industry and would typically include a message about how I was a new grad and looking to start a career within the industry, and would appreciate the opportunity to connect as would love to learn from their posts.
More often than not, they’d simply accept my connection – but sometimes, they’d reply, and then I could go about asking for their advice on how to get to where they are.
I think there’s an element of flattery at play here – it’s flattering to be asked for advice because of past achievements, and many are willing to help, whether Linkedin strangers or not.
Social networking is based on establishing relationships, so if you are going to send a message (be it a ‘I’d love to connect’ or ‘Thank you for connecting’ message), take a little more time to personalise them rather than sending a copy and paste message.
Follow influential individuals in your industry
You don’t always need to connect with individuals to have their updates in your feed – you can follow them instead. In particular, I typically follow successful well-known businesswomen (think Michelle Mone, Sarah Blakely, Sophia Amoruso etc).
Their posts will appear in your home feed, and you can then comment on these and have your opinions visible to their followers and connections too.
Join groups and follow companies
Aside from connecting with individuals, you can also request to join groups within your industry (or desired industry). The great thing about groups is that they’re a particularly useful destination for industry updates and news, and best-practice-sharing. Industry jobs are also advertised within them, so if you’re looking for a new role, it’s well worth joining a handful that are of interest.
In order to do so, just search out the kinds of groups you’d be looking for, and request to join – typically within active groups, you’ll be accepted within 24 hours and are able to then post and network in no time at all.
It’s also possible to follow companies and brands that you’re interested in – and again, you’ll receive company updates and job opportunities posted by these companies within your home feed.
Linkedin is a great platform to share content and blog posts – and doing so is the best way to increase your profile’s reach and exposure.
Sharing a post – be it a short update or long-form content – should give the reader a sense of what you are all about. Of course, sometimes you might need to sell through your posts, but break it up with thought-provoking updates, career achievements and any lessons you’ve learnt along the way, which will encourage others to interact with your post. As more people engage through likes and comments, your post will be shown to their connections, increasing the chances of you gaining more followers and connection requests.
Note: if your posts are always based on you trying to make a sale, people will start to zone out and pay less attention to your posts, thereby ensuring you receive less exposure through lack of comments and interactions. As with most other social media networks: content is king. Break up sales with content.
Likewise, comment on posts you read that you feel particularly drawn to – and not the standard ‘great post xoxo’ you see all over Instagram. Add to the conversation, make a point, and reply to any comments that are directly to you. Again, your comments will be visible to your connections through their home feeds, but your comments will also be shown to those who are connected with the individual post author.
The more you interact through comments, posts and updates, the more your exposure will increase. The more exposure you have, the more opportunities you will receive.
So your connections are growing and your posts are gaining traction – but why is Linkedin so well placed to help you build your career?
- All industries are on Linkedin – you name it, you’ll find it. Reality TV stars are on there, Presidents are on there, teachers are on there, council workers are on there – everyone is on there!
- It’s your online CV (see, I told you I’d say it again before this post is over…) – this means the more exposure you receive, the more chances you have of 1. being approached by a headhunter/recruitment agency within your industry, and 2. discovering opportunities you never would have known about had it not been for following relevant companies, groups and individuals.
- Research – if you’re invited in for a job interview, you’ll usually be notified of who will be in the interview with you. Once you have the names, there’s no harm in doing a little Linkedin research on them. Yes, they’ll see you viewed their profile (this is typical on Linkedin, but is a feature you can disable if you’d rather) but it shows you’ve done your homework and you never know the similarities you might find. If nothing else, you can learn from their work experience how they got to where they are now, which might inspire you to take similar steps.
- Exposure – there’s a real potential for your posts to go viral on Linkedin due to the algorithm and the way your content appears in the feeds of anybody connected with somebody that interacts with it. More exposure = more opportunities.
- Connect with (global!) strangers – it’s not weird to connect with people you don’t know on Linkedin. If anything, it’s encouraged. I’m connected with plenty of people who do my job overseas, and it’s a great way to share best practice (and job opportunities, should any arise).
- Opportunities – I’ve found job opportunities on Linkedin that I would never have come across using job sites, through either my connections sharing the opportunities, or through using their online job board.
- Networking – people use Linkedin for one main reason: to build their online network. They’re there to touch base with connections, and more often than not, to meet new people – so don’t feel awkward when reaching out to connect. You never know how you might be able to help somebody within their career, and you never know who might be able to help you.
Think of Linkedin as a way to build your own personal, professional brand. You want to present yourself in the best way possible – and following the above tips, I have no doubt that you’ll reap the benefits in no time. Engage with others, comment with your opinions and insights, and secure interviews for jobs you never would have known were available, had you not set up your profile and started using it to further your career.