Create a winning LinkedIn profile

One of my students said, “LinkedIn is like Facebook for the business people.”

Okay, that might be underselling the value of Facebook for business and professional networking. Still, it’s a pretty accurate description.

LinkedIn is one of the largest business-oriented social networks with more than 300 million members in 200 countries. We use LinkedIn to search for jobs and network, and as employers, we post jobs openings and evaluate potential employees.

“We are power users of LinkedIn for a multitude of applications,” said Jim Cossler, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator. “It is absolutely our go to database for ‘people’ talent.”

When my student equated LinkedIn with Facebook last week, it made me think about how we present ourselves on professional networks. Let’s face it: Our LinkedIn profiles are usually much different from our Facebook and Twitter profiles, posts and images.

This spring, as a new crop of graduates will earn degrees and hit the job market, many will go to LinkedIn to set up professional profiles, connect with employers and begin networking.

“In vetting people, we look at a number of things,” Cossler said. “We look at educational attainment, professional societies and associations, work and internship experience and history, volunteer and charitable interests and contacts.”

Contacts are key for some employers. It’s a new take on the old business adage that “who you know is just as important as what you know.”

Our contacts on LinkedIn give employers a glance at our personal and professional networks. And networking is one of the primary reasons the Youngstown Business Incubator was selected as the top university-affiliated business incubator in the world (yes, the world).

“Contacts are really important,” Cossler said. “What we often can’t see, but what is very important, is who does the person we are onboarding ‘know’ who might be valuable to YBI. The number of first contacts on LinkedIn is important. But, the quality of the contacts is of greater importance.”

Of course, a complete LinkedIn profile is important, too. Don’t leave your profile blank. One option is to provide employers a snapshot of who you are and what you can offer in the “summary” section. It’s also important to share your experiences and tell a good story.

Select a professional image, one that shows the real you without offending potential employers.

“We scan LinkedIn profiles for ‘dumb’ stuff,” Cossler said. “That runs the range, but an example would be to have a profile picture of you in your favorite band T-shirt holding up a beer in tribute. We might love the band, but it’s not going to get a job at YBI.”

Of course, if you’re a newly minted college graduate, you may not have the ability to showcase an extensive professional network on LinkedIn. But you do have skills, and a story to tell. Be charismatic, highlight your skill set and build a professional-looking profile on LinkedIn to attract the right employers.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chairman of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. You can follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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