Starter Guide to Getting the Most Out of LinkedIn

For most professionals, a LinkedIn profile is as common as a business card, and the platform itself is the most dependable social media platform to help you build your network and land a job. Whether you are just starting to consider your future career or in the middle of your job search, the time to start building your profile is now.

“It’s becoming more and more common for undergrads across the board to be using LinkedIn,” says Tom Halleran, manager of the ACS Career Consultant Program. “You can use LinkedIn to help you find internships, and it is really never too early to start networking with folks in your field.”

But becoming part of the LinkedIn community requires far more than uploading a photograph and entering a list of work experiences. You’ll need to put thought into exactly how to present yourself, whom to connect with, and how to maintain those connections. To find out what it takes to make the most of LinkedIn, we spoke with Halleran, as well as Sandra Long, author of "LinkedIn for Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide".

Read on to see what they had to say about this pivotal tool for launching your career.

Introducing… You, the Professional

The first step in joining the LinkedIn community is to think about how you want to present yourself as a professional. You need to ask yourself, “What unique skills, insights, or experiences can I bring to an organization?”

“It’s not just that I got this GPA at this university. That’s just not enough,” says Long, who is also the owner of Post Road Consulting, which helps companies and universities leverage LinkedIn for their employees or students. She advises students to think about their values and passions, as well as how they approach their work and what makes them unique. “All those things are important for hiring managers to understand about you,” she says.

Along with your values and passions, you also want to think about your short- and long-term goals, your specific talents and skills, and your interests. Maybe you have a passion for polymer chemistry, regularly hold leadership positions in your chapter, and enjoy volunteering in your community. Or maybe you are pursuing a career in food chemistry, love blogging about your research, and work really well with teammates. These things about you, along with information you compile when you do an Individual Development Plan, are all important components of you that can serve as material as you build out your profile.

Building Your Profile 

Now that you've thought about the general scope of who you are, add in the details that tie your professional profile together. You’ll want to fully complete the background sections of your profile. This includes listing your work experience, education (including your high school), certifications, and volunteer experiences.

“Undergrads might not have a lot to add for work experience, but that is totally fine,” says Halleran. Instead, he suggests highlighting skills gained from volunteer work or school projects, as well as directly listing a handful of transferable skills in the “Skills & Endorsements” section.   

In the accomplishments section, you can list awards, specific courses you’ve taken, publications, and organizations that you are a part of, especially ACS. If you’ve done research, include any tangible successes that might not show up in a paper (e.g., “rebuilt a used UV/vis spectrometer to analyze cobalt complexes”). In the featured section, you can include poster presentations, articles, or videos.

“The profile is not just your résumé. It’s much more,” says Long. “It can become a chemistry student portfolio.”

No LinkedIn profile is complete without a photograph of yourself, preferably something from your shoulders up that is of high quality. Including your picture helps establish you as a real person; you want to look like you are ready to go to work so that potential contacts feel you are already on the job.

Though the picture should look professional, there’s no need to pay for a pricey photography session. “Use a smart phone on portrait mode,” Halleran recommends. You can also have a professional headshot taken for free at most ACS meetings.

You’ll also want to upload an image for the background banner. This space is an opportunity to show off something unique about yourself, perhaps a picture of your lab or university, says Long. You should also carefully craft the headline that runs under your headshot. Long recommends writing something like: “Chemistry Student Graduating June 2022.” Then, following a separator line, you can write the specific type of chemistry that you specialize in and want to be hired for.

A new LinkedIn feature called Cover Story now allows you to add a brief video to your profile. Think of this video as an opportunity to talk directly to hiring managers, says Long. “If you are looking for an internship or looking for a job, you can say, ‘Hi, this is [name]. I’m studying chemistry at [institution], and I’m really looking forward to doing this [specific thing] when I graduate.’” 

To boost the odds of recruiters finding this profile you’ve so carefully crafted, you’ll want to include keywords that match the qualities that job postings in your specialty list as important. “LinkedIn is a search engine so making sure that the skills you have listed and the keywords in your experience section are relevant is super important,” says Halleran.

Keywords are also important to use in the headline, says Long. But she advises students to be careful to choose keywords that are authentic to them. “It’s got to be something you’ve studied or something you have knowledge of,” she says.

There are also a couple of LinkedIn settings that are critical for getting noticed. First, check to make sure that your account is set to public. Then, make sure that you’ve selected “open to work” in your profile. “This lets recruiters know that you are actively looking for a job, and in this section you can also list the types of positions that you are interested in,” explains Halleran.

Making Connections

With your profile complete, you’re ready to step into the LinkedIn community. And the best place to start is by connecting with people you know, whether or not they are in your field. “That English major could work at a company that hires chemists,” says Long. “Everyone is connected, so you can’t just assume you’re only going to get your career leads from chemists.” 

Long suggests students connect with high school classmates, friends from sports teams, college classmates, professors, coworkers from internships and jobs, parents’ friends, and friends’ parents. When you reach out to connect, be sure to send a brief, customized note along with the connection invitation. “You want to say something personal and interesting,” says Long. You might comment, for example, on a class you’re currently taking together.

You can then consider connecting with people you don’t yet know, like alumni from your university or high school who are working at companies that interest you. “I think people are at just how willing most alumni are to give them a hand,” says Halleran.

But there’s a right way to reach out to someone you don’t know, Long cautions. “You don’t ever send a message asking for a job. You’re asking for advice because people always want to give advice to students.”   

And really, being a part of the LinkedIn community is about far more than finding a job. LinkedIn is a networking tool, and networking is about making connections and sharing information. Just as you don't make personal friends just to have people to help you on moving day, you don't make professional connections just to hit them up for a job. Your connections on LinkedIn can help you learn about different career paths, troubleshoot professional challenges, and celebrate your successes. You, in turn, can do the same for them.

Once you’ve built your LinkedIn network, you’ll need to maintain these meaningful professional relationships through friendly interactions. “Think about all of the people that you work with. Don’t you build friendly relationships with them? It’s the same thing online,” says Long. “It’s a professional site, but you need to incorporate a thread of who you are as a person, and to be friendly and helpful to other people.”

This practice, which Long has coined as her personal mantra, is called “Be a Friend First.” She recommends commenting on others’ posts and congratulating people for their successes, as well as showing gratitude whenever possible by, for example, thanking someone who took the time to offer advice or interview you. To make a thank-you more personal, you could even send a private message using the audio or video message feature. “It will make you very distinct, and students are good at this,” says Long.

Halleran also recommends interacting with your network by sharing interesting articles, videos, or your own posts about items relevant to your industry. Your contacts might share your posts and you, likewise, can share theirs. “If a contact posts an achievement they’re proud of, or an article they find especially interesting, showing your support by sharing that post increases engagement,” says Halleran. 

These friendly interactions play a vital role in how you present your unique self as a professional. “It’s not just your profile,” says Long. “It’s your whole presence, which also includes your content and engagement.”

Landing a job

Whenever you are ready to find a job, the relationships you’ve built on LinkedIn will be key. The more you’ve grown your LinkedIn network, the better your odds are of knowing someone who is working in precisely the place you’d like to be. And knowing that person could very well get you a look from the hiring manager. “Typically, the number one way that companies hire is through employee referrals,” says Long.

Let’s say you want to work for a specific pharmaceutical company. You can go on LinkedIn and see who you know who works at the company. Contact that person to express your interest and ask for advice. That person might then refer you to management. “They’d say, ‘I just had a conversation with this terrific student,’” says Long. 

And even if they don't, you can still gain insights into that particular company, pharma careers in general, or pharma research that may prove valuable down the line. So, be sure to stay in touch with the connections you make.

If you’re not sure where you want to work, you can reach out to your LinkedIn contacts to request informational interviews to learn more about different companies or even industries. You can also use LinkedIn to do a search for companies in your field in a particular geographic area. You’ll be able to click on a company to see the content they post, watch videos about the company, and check out any recent job postings. You can look to see someone you might know who could offer insight into what it’s like to work there.

In some cases, you may not be connected with anyone at a specific company that interests you, but one of your connections may be. You could ask that person to introduce you to the employee, says Halleran.

There really is some truth to “six degrees of separation.” The more people you connect with on LinkedIn, the more second- and third-degree connections you have. The bigger your network, the easier it is to map a path to the particular job you want, says Long. “You are really at a disadvantage if you haven’t connected with all of the people who you know and trust.”

LinkedIn Help When You Need It

If you have questions as you’re navigating LinkedIn, ACS Career Consultants have you covered. They’ve trained with Long and are available to share their expertise with ACS members. ACS Career Consultants hold virtual office hours for small groups every Thursday. ACS members can drop in to ask questions, make connections, and network with fellow ACS members. Students regularly use these sessions to ask for advice on using LinkedIn, says Halleran.  

Members can also find a career consultant and request a one-on-one Zoom meeting. The career consultant can give advice on strengthening a LinkedIn profile, as well as offering other support, from general career advice to mock interviews. 

For students, creating a strong LinkedIn profile and building a network is critical, says Long. “What they’re doing now is setting themselves up, yes for their next job, but really for their whole career.”

About the Author
Carolyne Beans headshot

Carolyn Beans is a biologist turned science reporter specializing in food, agriculture, and health. You can find her on Twitter: @carolynmbeans