How to use LinkedIn: research, networking and building your brand

The more you put into LinkedIn, the more you’ll get out of it. Find out how to use the service to help your job hunt, improve your applications and build your network.

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How to use LinkedIn: Growing your network | Building your personal brand | Improving your applications

Building an eye-catching LinkedIn profile is only the first step in using the online platform to boost your job hunt and your graduate career. The most ‘switched-on’ job-seeking graduates will be actively using LinkedIn to inform their applications and to grow their personal brand (how they're perceived professionally) and professional network, gain useful advice and to stand out to headhunting recruiters.

To find out how you should be using LinkedIn, we spoke to Joanne Eaton, the careers team leader at the University of Hertfordshire, and Simon Katchay, ATS business manager at GTI Recruiting Solutions (a recruitment solutions organisation that is owned by the same business as targetjobs).

This is part two of our guide to LinkedIn. In part one, we walk you through putting together a LinkedIn profile, including what you need to include and what headhunting recruiters will be looking out for .

Not using LinkedIn for research is a major error. If you put a company in that search bar, you can find people, jobs and the content companies put out.

Top tip: always keep it professional

LinkedIn may be a social network, but it’s still a professional social network. Treat all of your activity on LinkedIn as if you were interacting with a potential employer at a networking event. Be polite and respectful of each person’s time. Think about the image you’re going to put across on the platform; you want to show how you would be in an office alongside senior colleagues.

How to grow your network on LinkedIn

The core of LinkedIn is building up your ‘connections’ – people who accept you as contacts on LinkedIn. This works much the same way as sending a friend or a follow request: you send a ‘connection invite’, which the other person can accept or decline.

However, you might not just be able to send connection requests to everyone straight away. LinkedIn only allows you to send invites to people who it considers to already be ‘in your network’. This includes:

  • connections of connections (called ‘2nd degree connections’)
  • people LinkedIn suggests based on your academic or employment history
  • contacts that you import from your email address book
  • people who are in the same LinkedIn groups as you.

As you use LinkedIn, gain connections and grow your profile, more potential connections will become available to you.

Top tip: personalise your connection request

When sending a connection request, you’re given the option to ‘Add a note’ to it – we strongly advise you to do so, especially if it’s someone you don’t know well personally. ‘Think carefully about who you’re messaging,’ advises Simon. ‘For students, we always say make sure you put information into your connection requests.’ Use your judgement when sending connection requests; if someone has thousands of connections and is an active LinkedIn user, they probably won’t mind adding you to their network, but it they have a bare-bones profile and 20 connections, don’t expect them to respond quickly or favourably. Joanne says, ‘You’re dealing with people at the end of the day. Everybody does things differently, so the crux of it all is being professional.’

Top tip: widen your net by joining groups

Joining LinkedIn groups is a sure-fire way to start building your LinkedIn network. These function like groups on Facebook and you can request to join them in much the same way. Even if they are not ‘in your network’, you will be able to view the full profile of, and send connection requests to, people who are members of the same groups as you. Your university will likely have a group of its own for students and/or alumni, which is a good place to start. Look out for groups related to the sector, job role or employer that you’re interested in. Groups are places where like-minded professionals can share resources and have discussions.

Top tip: take offline networking online

You don’t have to do all of your LinkedIn networking online. If you’re attending a careers fair or a networking event, and you feel it is appropriate, you can ask people whether you can connect with them on LinkedIn. Don’t do this purely to get your connection numbers. Make sure there’s a concrete reason for the request: maybe you have more questions you’d like to ask or you'd like to find out more about vacancies at their employer. If professionals are unable to, or are unwilling to, connect with you, they might direct you towards relevant groups that you can join instead.

Growing your personal brand on LinkedIn

While it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to turn your LinkedIn usage into a career as an influencer, putting time into building your personal brand is well worth it. Simon explains that this is something that recruiters will pay attention to: ‘I might look at student or graduate's activity, to see what articles they like and whether they’re posting comments themselves, because it’ll give me a really good insight into what their interests are.’ Employers are keen to see that applicants have a genuine interest in their work and in their sector, and an active presence on LinkedIn is one way to demonstrate this.

Top tip: start posting and being an active presence

Join in with discussions in groups related to the career field you’re interested in. You can also write and post your own content, images, videos and documents on LinkedIn – these can be longer-form ‘article’ style posts or shorter ‘updates’. Remember: your posts should be professional in tone. For example, you could post about a recent networking event that you attended, explaining why it was useful for you. Remember that you can tag appropriate connections and use any relevant hashtags.

The key to posting on LinkedIn is quality over quantity – don't feel you need to post every day. However, it can be helpful to dedicate time to using the service early on in order to start building up your network. 'What other social media are you using?’ asks Joanne. ‘Take ten minutes off of Instagram or Snapchat a day and direct that towards LinkedIn. The more you use it, the more you’ll understand and gain from it.’

Top tip: remember to check your messages

There’s no point networking on LinkedIn if you don’t use it as an opportunity to communicate with people. As you continue to grow your network through your job hunt and once you have a job, soon enough people may seek you out to connect and add you to their network. Make sure you don’t miss these opportunities. ‘You need to be checking your messages,’ advises Simon. ‘You might also get notifications in your email inbox but you should be regularly checking messages and responding to people.’

Using Linkedin to boost your graduate job applications

It is possible to apply for jobs via LinkedIn (although naturally we would urge you to check the targetjobs vacancy search first!). When applying via LinkedIn, most information will be taken automatically from your profile (you can amend it). The employer can also ask you to upload a CV and sometimes, in a separate field, a covering letter. If you aren’t explicitly asked for a covering letter, you do not have to supply one along with your CV. Instead, at the top of your CV include a personal statement that is tailored to the company, one that briefly explains why you are interested in the role and why you would be a good hire. We don’t usually advise including a personal statement on a graduate CV , but this is one time when we make an exception.

You can also use LinkedIn to boost your chances of being successful, even if you don't apply through LinkedIn. Recruiters will expect you to have researched the organisation you are applying to and for this research to inform your other application and interview answers. ‘That search bar in the top left is gold dust and students don’t realise how much they can learn about a company by using that,’ explains Joanne. ‘Not using LinkedIn for research is a major error. If you put a company in that search bar, you can find people, jobs, the content companies put out, information and even groups related to the company.’

Other students are making the most of LinkedIn for research purposes, so make sure you do too. According to the Cibyl Graduate Survey 2021, which polled 67,688 students and graduates, 79% are using LinkedIn for careers purposes. Of that percentage, 53% were using it to learn more about an employer's culture, 66% to learn more about an employer's opportunity and 58% to follow an employer's activities.

Top tip: research by visiting employer pages

Each employer will likely have its own LinkedIn pages where it will post content and news. This page gives you a chance to examine how the organisation views itself and to keep up to date with the current issues and topics that it is interested in. You can compare this with the LinkedIn profiles of other companies in the same sector: essentially use it to discover what differentiates the organisation you are applying for from the competition.

You can also draw on your connections as part of your research. Talking to someone who already works at the organisation, whether it’s via a one-to-one message, in person or as part of a group discussion, is a great way to find out about its culture, its values and what it’s really like to work there. As well as helping you in your applications, this research can also confirm whether this job is the right opportunity for you.

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