This is not a paid endorsement for LinkedIn -- not that I would turn away its money -- but I do think LinkedIn is one of the greatest professional networking tools available today. No matter where you are in your career, from student to seasoned employee, you can leverage LinkedIn. Here are some high-impact (but-low effort) strategies to try out:
As a student: High school and college students (and a few helicopter parents) have much to gain by accessing the Education section of LinkedIn. Hidden under the Interests drop-down menu, Education enables you to explore different colleges and universities. You can check out rankings by career focus. For example, want to be an accountant? Villanova University leads the list for new graduates who land accounting jobs after receiving a degree in accounting. You can investigate different career paths and review the roles graduates have taken after college. You can even keep of track of your interests for future deliberation and research.
In short, LinkedIn helps to show the "rubber meets the road" connection between academic institutions, majors/fields of study and what jobs their graduates land with those degrees. Of course, you still have to get into the school, do well, go to interviews and so on -- but, the data displayed per university is a very powerful way to connect academics to the world of work.
When you're ready to intern: A proven way to land an ideal internship is to reach out to prospective employers that interest you. Many employers never post an internship on a job board or attend a career fair. But they may be very willing to let you prove yourself during an informational meeting.
Often, hiring authorities do not believe they have the time or bandwidth to bring on an intern. However, if you use LinkedIn as a means to research desired companies and career paths, send a well-written inMail message to request an informational meeting and then conduct a professional interview, then you may actually get a shot at a project with a targeted company or a referral to someone else who is hiring.
At the very least, you will learn many things that will help you land (or excel in) a future internship. The key to all of this is being prepared and professional. LinkedIn's Company pages and People Profiles are a researching goldmine when you take on this proactive networking tactic.
Once you're a career employee who's ready for a promotion: Many professionals quickly realize that the grass isn't always greener somewhere else. Sometimes the best way to get ahead is to add more value where you are. Mid-career professionals can get bored (and stale) when they stay in one role for too long. However, most hiring managers are stretched very thin and rarely have time to think about how to improve their own career, let alone those of their employees. Successful professionals realize that to move forward (or even sideways), they need to suggest new tasks and projects.
One way to start this is to use LinkedIn to look up other professionals or job listings with your job title. See what they "do" or what is required. You can also look at roles connected to your role -- i.e., careers related to what you do or roles that may be a promotion away. When you review the duties and responsibilities of others, you have an excellent list of new responsibilities or increased value you can add to your employer. By suggesting additional ways to contribute that are on trend professionally for your industry, you add a new dimension to your work and you have made it easy for your manager to increase her overall team contribution. This is a pretty powerful return for a few hours of reading profiles and open job listings on LinkedIn.
When you're changing career paths: The key to changing career paths is to have an idea of how your skills can be applied in another industry and have connections who can help you be considered for a seemingly unrelated role. To tackle this, you can start with Find Alumni to reconnect with old classmates or do a People search to look up previous colleagues (or neighbors and so on.) As you find people from your past, take some time to see what they are doing today. Does their LinkedIn profile show involvement in nonprofit, project-based or volunteer endeavors that appeal to you? Are they members of networking Groups on LinkedIn?
All of these data points are searchable and can help to uncover potential new roles and areas of interest for a career change. Additionally, when you reconnect with people from successful times in your past, you increase your confidence and feeling of self-worth. Making a career switch can be an arduous process. Employing a strategic approach by leveraging LinkedIn to reconnect and explore can make a tough experience more manageable and boost the results.
In short, LinkedIn is chock-full of information that can be sliced and diced multiple ways to allow users to implement more strategic research and networking strategies. Users in every phase of their professional development can leverage LinkedIn to get an advantage for their future.
Now, if only you can remember the password you used when you created the account ...
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.