Within the digital age tools like social media and online search engines are not only a great way to discover jobs, but they’re also a great way for employers to find great employees (aka you). LinkedIn is one of the most widely used online platforms for professional purposes as it allows individuals to present themselves in a professional context, network with others, and connect them with the wider working world via the internet. For anyone, not just PhD students, having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile is essential if you want to maximise your job prospects and opportunities.
Being a PhD student, it’s always best to refer to data. A short report highlights that top recruiters are 60% more engaged with LinkedIn whilst highlighting that social professional networks are the best source, after internet job boards and employee referrals, for hiring good quality candidates. Not only is it useful for recruiters, it can also really benefit you. 75% of people who change jobs utilise LinkedIn to inform their career decision. Furthermore, networking is also a really effective tool to stumble across new job opportunities. This also applied fort LinkedIn.
In fact, 70% of professionals who are hired have at least one LinkedIn connection with someone at that company already. Not only does this demonstrate the benefits of LinkedIn, but it also emphasises the importance of networking with people in a digital space. Be overly generous with your ‘friend requests’ or ‘connections’, even if you’ve never met them. The more connections you have will only help boost your visibility and potential opportunities.
The next stage of understanding the premise of LinkedIn and appreciating the value of how a platform can benefit your career development and possibly help you transition outside of academia is to get to grips with maximising this tool for your benefit. There are a load of great resources out there which provide guidance on ‘how to design a good LinkedIn profile’. LinkedIn has its own official blog site which is a great place to start. Other resources can also include YouTube, or just searching a few things into Google. For a condensed and quick crash course on how to maximise your LinkedIn profile as a PhD student – keep reading.
LinkedIn is great as it provides you with a structure to follow. This saves you a lot of time and helps recruiters/employers navigate through your page quickly. As part of this then, it’s strongly recommended that you complete as much of the LinkedIn ‘boxes’ as possible, your title, summary page, previous employment, additional qualifications, educational background, skills, endorsements, the lot. Don’t hold back. Recruiters might differ in what they use to filter down candidates, so you don’t want one of these sections to hinder your chances. The more the better. So, for this approach, anything is better than nothing.
Next, pay attention to your job title, or your header. There are a lot of different recommendations here, but the key thing is that you want to try and imagine you are the employer. What kind of things would you look out for? This is extremely important, as not everyone appreciates or understand what a PhD is or entails. Depending on the industry you’re looking to break into, maybe having the word ‘student’ in your title isn’t the best approach. Phrases such as ‘researcher’ or ‘candidate’ can help bolster the credibility of your skills and profile. Furthermore, if you’re unsure of what sort of industry you want to aim for, listing ‘open to opportunities’ in your title might also be of benefit. The key thing here is that you want to take advantage of the LinkedIn search algorithm – in short, put common words or key phrases that are likely to appear up in a search engine.
Taking this a step further, do your best to accompany this with a respectable and professional photo. First impressions count, even if it is a digital one, it can really help emulate the ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ nature of a LinkedIn profile you should try to achieve. Building on this, you want your ‘about’ section to also be inviting and more digestible. Adopt a more ‘journalistic’ style of writing and keep it in first person. Informal conversation and a summary of your competencies and your PhD are a really good start – just try not to hyper focus on your hard skills too much.
Do your best to emphasise your transferable skills, and how these apply across a range of industries (if you’re unsure of where you want to go). Alternatively, if you’ve sat down with yourself, worked out your career values, and know roughly what field you want to work in – pick appropriate skills and phrases which are likely to make you more visible to employers. If you’re unsure what these phrases could be, try speaking to a few people in that industry, or use a few key phrases that frequently come up in interesting job descriptions. The further away you get from your PhD, whereby the desired career change is not as closely associated to your PhD research area, a broader and more general approach to your ‘about me’ section should be adopted. Here, you want to emphasise your versatility and adaptability more so than your ‘expert knowledge’.
Majority of this guidance is relatively straight forward and widely accessible when designing a LinkedIn profile. For more specific guidance for PhD students, try not to bang on about your publications to much – unless they’re really relevant and informative. Certainly, add your publications to your profile, but you do not need to explain them in great detail in your ‘about’ section. You could just briefly mention that you have publications, as you would on a CV, as opposed to the specifics. Moreover, a really good tip is to understand that white space is important.
People really have very little time to read everything on your LinkedIn profile and so you want to make this as easy as possible for them. Break up a few lines or each paragraph with white space, keep it brief and succinct, and be sure to make use of those key words which are likely to get you discovered by algorithms and search engines. This helps create a refreshing feel for recruiters, imagine looking through hundreds of profiles a day and then suddenly you have someone who is straight to the point and clear with who they are and what they can offer. This will most definitely count in your favour.
The next point of advice is to do everything in your power to demonstrate your enthusiasm and excitement for changing careers. Not only does this help make your profile feel warm and inviting, but it can really help stand you out from others. It might not feel natural, especially as academics we try to write objectively and tentatively. So maybe read a few good examples of what an about section should be and adopt a very journalistic style of writing. Writing in first person and carefully positioning certain punctuation can really add to your profile! Wow! (see what I did there).
The final and last tip is to be active on LinkedIn. We sort of touched on this earlier when trying to grow your network. But if you’re more active, posting content (even if it is or isn’t related to your PhD, and as long as it’s professional), commenting and liking other people’s posts is a great way to get noticed. Your objective here is to be more visible on the platform. By doing all of these things you increase the chances of someone ‘accidently’ stumbling across your profile. And if you’ve got ‘open to opportunities’ listed in your header or within your ‘about’ section, you’re more likely to be contacted for a potential role. Alternatively, you could increase the number of connections you have which may also turn into new and exciting opportunities.
LinkedIn can feel a bit of an extra faff and something else to worry about. However, if you take the time to get your profile up to scratch and spend a few minutes a day, maybe when you’re commuting or procrastinating (maybe replace Facebook or those cat videos on YouTube?), to post or engage with others you’re more likely to find opportunities and possibly interviews, from very minimal work! It might even feel effortless.
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