We know that, due to the pandemic, there are fewer jobs and internships being advertised than there were previously – and we don’t know to what extent this will continue to be the case post-Covid, as employers continue to grapple with the economic aftershocks of the pandemic. So, we wanted to explore an alternative way of approaching employers than applying for advertised work experience: using LinkedIn to create a network. And there’s nothing more powerful than a true success story – a student who has used LinkedIn to successfully launch a career. Seeking that story, we turned to Ashley Dunsmore.
Ashley is a quantity surveyor at Kier and, while at university, she set out to use LinkedIn to find herself a placement. She joined LinkedIn, not knowing what to expect or how it really worked. But by sending connection requests to anyone who worked in construction and surveying or was connected with the professional body the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), she ultimately:
- got a place on an RICS training day
- had her CV reviewed by professionals in the field
- was recommended for a surveying placement that turned into a part-time job
- was approached to apply for a graduate job at Kier.
Watch the webinar to hear her talk to Abi, an editor from TARGETjobs, about how she achieved this and to find out their top tips for making a speculative application away from LinkedIn – or you can read below for the takeaway points.
Let LinkedIn find connections
When Ashley first joined LinkedIn, she had no idea whether she only had to add people to her network who she knew in real life. She soon found she could use LinkedIn’s search bar – type in the professions and companies and you should, in Ashley’s words, get ‘hundreds and hundreds of suggestions’.
If you are a student member of a professional body, they will also have LinkedIn groups that you can join; your university may also have alumni groups.
Find connections with your LinkedIn connections
Do not try to connect with ‘just anyone’, nor send the ‘standard’ LinkedIn connection invitation. And never start by asking if a person could get you a placement or job. ‘I’d look at their profile and see what their journey was to get where they are now, and then maybe pick one or two items off their journey that I liked the look of and ask them about that,’ Ashley says of her approach. ‘You can say… “I've had a look at your page; I really like the route that you've taken to where you are now. I'm just starting out in my career; I would really like to do X, Y, and Z. It would be great to connect with you and potentially ask you a few questions, if you'd be OK with that.”’
A bonus post-webinar tip: Depending on whether you are using the web or app to access LinkedIn, there are different routes to producing a personalised LinkedIn connection request. Check how to do this before you press ‘connect’ or you will end up sending the standard invitation.
Create an ongoing connection with your connections
Once you have connected, it is essential to build an ongoing relationship. While you can and should continue a dialogue whereby you ask them questions, you can also show an active interest by liking or commenting on their posts. If you know they are working on an interesting project, message them from time to time to see how it is going.
Be confident that you’re not a bother
It’s totally understandable if you are nervous about contacting people you don’t know or don’t want to be a bother. But the worst they can do is ‘ignore’ or ‘dismiss’ your request; you haven’t lost anything and you may not even be aware of it. If people didn’t reply to Ashley, she just moved on – she didn’t message them again. But she stresses that everyone she did connect with was super-helpful, so it is worth giving it a go. Plus, the reason that many professionals go on LinkedIn is to expand their network.
Pointers for a profile and posts
Of course, if you are going to send out connection requests people will start to look at your profile. To create a strong profile, make sure that you fill out as many of the sections as possible, with all of your work experience and volunteering, even if you think the experience is irrelevant; it will give your network a better sense of your skill set. People do not expect to see a profile full of experiences and extracurriculars gained during the coronavirus pandemic – just know that anything you do have from during or before the pandemic will be a bonus. Get as many professionals as possible to review your profile for you – for example your tutors or careers advisers.
Although Ashley did not post a lot when she was a student, nowadays she agrees that some judicious posting can help you to stand out in the minds of your network. What can you post? First think about the image you want to project: do you want to come across as interested in a particular sector, for example? Do you want to show off your skills? Then, post anything that supports that. For example, you could:
- post about webinars such as this one, saying what you found interesting about it
- post about any voluntary experience you’ve gained over the past few months and what skills you’ve learned
- post about an interesting piece of work you’ve undertaken on your course
- share a company’s post if it has done something that interests you, adding a comment of your own.
Your posts can be brief; they don’t need to be long-winded.
And don’t worry about your profile picture. It doesn’t need to be a professional headshot – as long as you are not falling out of a night club, it will be fine!
Get more advice on how to create the perfect LinkedIn profile and how to use LinkedIn for research and networking purposes.
Alternatives to LinkedIn
Of course, LinkedIn isn’t the only place that you can build your network: you could attend careers events (such as those run by TARGETjobs) or seek out mentoring programmes run by your university.
You could write an email covering letter (with your CV attached) to a company, on the offchance that they might hire you even though they are not advertising. This is not an approach that Ashley has used, but has proved successful with other students TARGETjobs has known.
- How to write a speculative application for a graduate job
- How to write a speculative application for an internship
The key thing is to create a researched covering letter. Don’t write the equivalent of 'I don’t know what you do, but I hope you could give me a job'.
A combined approach gives you the best chance
Ashley suggests that for the best chances of being able to start your career in the time of Covid-19 and its aftermath, it is best to try the joint approach of applying for advertised vacancies and growing your network on LinkedIn.