This is the seventh article in my weekly Transitioning PhD Blog Series, which will run through April. If you’re contemplating a transition away from academia, sign up here if you want to be notified of these weekly posts.
When I give talks about LinkedIn, I often ask audience members three questions. First, “How many of you have LinkedIn profiles?” Nearly everyone raises their hands. Second, “How many of you feel really great about how you use LinkedIn?” About 30-40% may raise their hands. Third, “How many of you are on LinkedIn because you know you’re supposed to be on LinkedIn, even if you aren’t sure why?” Laughter ensues and more than half of the audience members will inevitably put a hand in the air.
That’s the rub with LinkedIn. We all know we’re supposed to use it, but few people actually know what to do with it. If you are an academic, you may also find yourself in this position because academia doesn’t typically require active use of LinkedIn in the way that the business world does—but if you’re looking to pivot in that direction, it’s definitely time to get familiar with LinkedIn and the powerful tools it offers.
In this article, I’ll give a brief overview of LinkedIn and then dive into four strategies for using the site to help you make a career transition. These strategies are applicable to all LinkedIn users, whether you are a business professional transitioning to a new field or an academic transitioning to the business world.
LinkedIn is the online networking tool for business professionals. When I started giving talks about LinkedIn a few years ago, there were a couple hundred million users. Each quarter, that number goes up. Currently, there are more than 500 million—half a billion—people on LinkedIn. And according to an April 2017 Fortune article, there are 10 million active job postings on the site. The vast majority of recruiters use LinkedIn to locate talent. (The percentage varies according to the source, but I feel comfortable saying that it’s at 90% or above.)
If you want to work in the world of business (inclusive of non-profits), LinkedIn is the place to be.
If you’ve been resistant to joining LinkedIn, here are a few tips to get you oriented. First, you’ll want to understand how a profile can help set you apart and garner attention from potential employers or future colleagues. Second, you’ll want to build a strong professional network. Third, you’ll want to optimize your use of LinkedIn’s many capabilities to enhance the benefits the platform gives you.
Strategy #1: Construct Your Profile to Reflect Who You Are as a Professional—and DON’T Treat It as an Archive
Your LinkedIn profile should present a compelling claim about who you are as a professional. It is not an archive, holding every last bit of information about your background. Think of it this way: the section where you list places where you have worked is called “Experience” not “Work History.” Although you want a complete profile, it need not be comprehensive, listing every last place you’ve ever worked or academic appointment you’ve held. Rather, you want a profile that encapsulates you as a professional and highlights your accomplishments.
To this end, think strategically about how you construct your profile. If you want to apply for research analyst positions, should your summary say “PhD candidate in Romance Studies studying blah, blah, blah,” or “Research and writing professional with strong analytical skills and 7 years of experience conducting research and presenting findings regularly”? Most people would say that the latter option is stronger and more accessible to a wider audience.
Use this same strategy and thought process for each section. Always keep in mind the point you are trying to make. For the Skills section, think about which of your skills are most marketable, and make sure you have an intentional list of skills—not just every last task you can perform. When listing your education, consider quantifying how many scholarships, grants, and fellowships you have received and their value if it’s impressive.
“Rock star” is your goal. When I work with clients transitioning to new careers, I want the profile to showcase “rock star status” in everything that is included there. So, if you were in school on a full scholarship for all of your degrees, then show it. If you were quickly entrusted to do more than other volunteers, show it. If you worked three jobs while maintaining full-time status as a graduate student, show it.
Employers hire doers, achievers, people who get stuff done. Show that you are one of those people and you increase your odds of getting attention on LinkedIn. Everyone can do tasks. Not everyone takes the same action or delivers the same results.
Strategy #2: Use the Articles & Activities Feature to Help Your Transition
If you were to find my LinkedIn profile, you’d see that after the opening information that shows my picture, the next section would say “Heidi’s Articles & Activities.” In the left-hand column, you’d see an article I wrote and in the right-hand column, you’ll see my most recent activities—connections’ posts I liked, shared, or commented on.
Imagine how you would perceive me if I had written an article about the growing popularity of the history major (I studied history), had liked an article about horrible co-workers, shared an article about how using paper towels is more sanitary than bathroom hand-dryers, and commented on an article that discusses why teens aren’t interested in Facebook. What overarching message am I sharing through such activity? Clearly, not a cohesive one.
But what if my Articles & Activities section showed an article I wrote about resume writing, and then that I had liked, shared, or commented on articles that all pertained to writing well, job searching, and professional documents? That type of activity would support my claim that I work with job seekers and on business writing.
Once you have transitioned, you can loosen the reins by not analyzing every time you want to like or share something, but when you’re trying to make a change, consider the message you want to send before taking any of these actions. Your Articles & Activities appear even before a viewer will see your Experience. This is prime real estate on the page.
Perhaps most importantly, do not like, comment on, or share anything that you don’t want everyone to see. LinkedIn is not the place for snarky remarks about politicians or a seething critique of people who believe differently than you on a hot button issue. Doing so could inadvertently sabotage an opportunity that you might not have even known existed. You can promote your field, even if it’s one not everyone agrees is important, but always do so with professionalism and class.
Strategy #3: Yes, You Should Apply to Jobs Listed on LinkedIn—but Do So Selectively
Literally millions of job postings are on LinkedIn at any given time, which is a tremendous resource for job seekers who can use them to apply directly and also to research the types of jobs that are available.
As of this writing, you can tailor the jobs that LinkedIn suggests to you by job title, location, industry, number of employees, and type of position (full-time, contract, freelance, etc.). From there, LinkedIn suggests jobs that “might interest you” at particular companies. If you’ve taken the time to grow your network, you will frequently have connections who already work at the companies that have the LinkedIn recommended job openings, and the job posting will often even share the internal recruiter who is filling the position. (This is the person to whom you can address your cover letter.)
There are many people who claim that there’s no point to applying to jobs they found listed on LinkedIn. They say that by the time the job is posted on LinkedIn, it’s too late. Well, I agree that you shouldn’t just click “submit” to every job posted that you think might possibly, maybe be an okay fit if the employer doesn’t mind that you have no relevant experience and lack the key skill set they require, but when you take the time to submit a compelling resume and cover letter tailored to a position that an objective outsider would agree you are qualified for, then there can be different results.
For instance, one of my clients decided to leave academia and had interest in working for a zoo, for a university, or for a non-profit. In a flurry of job application activity, she received interviews in each area including for a non-profit that helped disadvantaged children through sports. She earned this interview only through seeing the job posting on LinkedIn and applying. She knew no one at the company, which was in a different state. Other clients have had similar experiences.
Should applying to jobs found on LinkedIn be your only way to conduct a job search? Absolutely not. Should you automatically rule it out because the odds are against you? No way!
Strategy #4: Attract Job Inquiries by Having a Compelling Profile and Establishing Yourself as an Expert
Skeptics often ask me if I know of anyone who has actually gotten job inquiries from LinkedIn. My answer? Absolutely. Although my evidence is purely anecdotal, I know plenty of people—myself included—whose careers have benefitted because someone sought them out on LinkedIn. Sometimes these benefits have been outright job offers while others times they have been newfound awareness about a marketable skill a person didn’t realize they had, or an expanded network.
Demonstrating that you can craft a strong, compelling LinkedIn profile (see Strategy #1) can go a long way in landing you a job inquiry. I know someone who received a LinkedIn email that started with this: “Sara, I can see from your profile that you are a savvy LinkedIn user, so I’ll cut to the chase. Are you open to new opportunities?” Personally, companies have tried to recruit me for both full-time and contract positions four times. One would have been a great opportunity if I was looking to work for someone else as a full-time employee, two were duds, and the third turned into ongoing contract work. Not bad for a profile that I initially spent time on and now just periodically update.
Making your presence known on LinkedIn through Group discussions or in the comments of other connections’ posts can also lead to positive results. One job search strategy that I’ve probably said a thousand times is that you want to become known as someone who knows or does something. In other words, you want people to think of you when they hear of a job opening (or are trying to fill an opening) that fits your interests and expertise. This can sound like a long shot, but I’ve seen it happen. People appreciate the comment or helpful suggestion you made, they look at your profile, and then they choose to contact you. At a networking event for job seekers, a gentleman stood up and shared that his activity making comments on LinkedIn garnered the attention of a company that contacted him not only about a job but also asked him to hire his own team. He was elated.
If you use LinkedIn with a clear purpose and strategy, you will greatly increase your odds of finding value in the site. Moreover, if you use the site regularly, you’ll reap even greater rewards, especially when exploring new career directions. If you’re an academic who is less accustomed to using LinkedIn, the strategies I have outlined can help you not only get oriented, but can jump start your transition from academia to the business world.
About Heidi Scott Giusto, PhD
I have owned and operated Career Path Writing Solutions since earning my PhD from Duke University in 2013. Dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed when the stakes are high, I delight in helping job seekers navigate career change. One of my specialties is working with academics as they transition into roles off the tenure track, and I recently launched the Transitioning PhDs blog series. I teach workshops on proactive career management; hold certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching; sit on a Duke Advisory Board for the NEH Next Generation Humanities PhD Implementation Grant; and recently received the Forever Duke Award. I live in North Carolina with my husband, two kids, and two geriatric fish that keep me company as I work. You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter @HeidiGiustoCPWS.