Most of us probably have made an account on LinkedIn. Either you were convinced by the guest speakers who came in during Sophomore Symposium or you were convinced by the scary realization that graduating college does not actually guarantee a successful job. After signing up and carefully filling out your online résumé, asking fellow Wheaton students and work colleagues to ‘connect’ with you and picking out a professional yet fun photograph, you may have done what I did: left the account sitting alone in the vast openness of the Internet without ever touching it or acknowledging it unless you were deleting those annoying emails telling you about new opportunities and possible connections.
Believe it or not, this is the wrong way to use LinkedIn. The professional social networking site can actually be extremely helpful and can score you some pretty great connections and opportunities if you are willing to just put in a little effort.
After months of searching for a summer internship last year, LinkedIn became my salvation. I had begged and pleaded with a local newspaper to allow me to intern with them but because they stopped accepting interns due to legal issues, they politely declined and wished me luck. But for some rare reason I decided to stop ignoring my LinkedIn account and actually signed onto it and started fixing it up. It was then that I noticed a group of the Wheaton community literally handing out internships to current students, or at least that’s how it seemed. And to my surprise, that same newspaper that denied my request for an internship before just so happened to have a Wheaton alumnus on their staff, an alumnus who was offering to help students interested in journalism and new media create a personalized internship with the paper.
I took the leap; I sent him a message explaining my interest in the position and he connected me with the head of the New Media department. Within a week I had the perfect internship set up for the summer of 2012.
In fact, while creating my internship position, my boss ran in to a few other Wheaton alumni, including the newspaper’s lawyer. By the time I actually started my position with the paper, they were so impressed with Wheaton College alumni and students that I was treated like a respected employee rather than a lowly intern.
Perhaps I got lucky with my LinkedIn experience, (and I will admit that since then I have very much neglected my profile), but I think my story also emphasizes some of the best aspects of a professional networking site like this one. You don’t have to obsess over your LinkedIn account and keep it current and perfect all the time in order to have success with it; you just have to use it to present yourself in a certain professional way that will allow you to use it to your advantage when you need it. It is like always having a back-up way to find connections, internships and employment. You can find other members of the Wheaton community and they really will want to help you just because of your affiliation with the school, and you will find people in your field impressed with your ability to market yourself in the way they need.
We are already so good at using Facebook, Twitter and other social sites, so why not go the professional route? If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, go make one! And if you’ve been neglecting yours, now is the perfect time to start making connections for your summer or post-graduation plans.