By Sierra Tishgart
Over 175 million members use LinkedIn to meet like-minded people in their industry, foster professional relationships, and search for new jobs. Though it's the go-to site for career networking, the social norms for using LinkedIn are a bit vague. When it comes to Twitter, we know that it's acceptable to "follow" and engage in conversations with complete strangers. With Facebook, it's awkward to "friend" a person you've never met. But what about LinkedIn -- who is appropriate to ask to "connect?" How do you turn a LinkedIn relationship into an actual job or internship? Even if you're not actively looking for a new career opportunity, someone may be perusing your profile to recruit you for a position -- so it's important that you monitor your self-presentation on this platform. We asked the experts about how you can create a stellar profile and expand your network on the site.
Make your profile detailed and thorough. "Fill out all the essential information, which includes your summary statement, experience, and education," says Lindsey Pollak, author of Getting From College to Career. "You can absolutely include unpaid experience in your profile: internships, part-time jobs, even extracurricular activities. Explain in your Summary Statement and profile headline what kind of career you're looking for."
Outline your skills. "If you report for the school paper, add writing as a skill to your profile," says Krista Canfield, the Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at LinkedIn. "It ensures that people can find you when they're searching for someone with your areas of expertise. LinkedIn Skills also points out groups related to that skill that you might want to join."
Include volunteer work. "Forty-one percent of the professionals that LinkedIn surveyed stated that when they are evaluating candidates, they consider volunteer work equally as valuable as paid work experience," says Canfield. "Get out there and do some good for a cause you care about while also getting coveted career experience!"
Add a photograph -- and smile! "You're seven times more likely to have your profile viewed on LinkedIn if you add a profile photo," says Canfield. "A simple headshot in front of a white background works best. Choose a photo of yourself where you look approachable, your hair is styled simply, and your makeup is muted. And as a general rule, profile photos should be from shoulders up."
Start by asking people you already know to connect. "Begin by approaching people closest to you who would be happy to help you find an internship or job," says Pollack. "People often forget to connect with their friends and family because they're personal contacts, but they can introduce you to opportunities. The easiest way to find these people on LinkedIn is to upload your contact list from Gmail, which will show you who has a profile on the site."
Expand your network to include professional contacts and alums. "Connect with managers from past internships and jobs," says Pollak. "You can also reach out to alumni of your university who shared your major or participated in similar activities."
Introduce yourself when you ask to connect with someone you've never met. "Whenever you connect with someone you've never met or haven't seen in a while, always write a note with the connection request," says Pollak. "Keep it short, professional, and polite. Mention something you found in his or her profile to show that you did your homework and are genuinely interested in the person. Never ask directly for a job or internship. This puts people on the spot. Instead, ask for advice, guidance, and suggestions to build an authentic relationship first."
"Ask to connect with anyone whose job or career path you admire, and explain why," adds Caroline Ghosn, co-founder of The Levo League, an online social network for young professional women. "If you've met the person before, refresh their memory by explaining the circumstance. If you have something in common like a mutual friend or membership in the same sorority, here is your opportunity to mention it. If you're connecting because you admire the person's career, be honest and explain why."
Join groups. "If you're a college student or a recent grad, make sure that you join your college alumni group," says Canfield. "If you're really interested in career in fashion, then join groups related to that topic so you can rub elbows with the people that live and breathe that industry."
"Alumni groups usually have job boards as well, which is another great place to search for internships," adds Pollak. "Many people post their internships in such groups because they'd like to hire a student from their alma mater."
Follow company pages to get updates on job openings. "There are over two million LinkedIn Company Pages," says Canfield. "When you follow a LinkedIn company page, like Louis Vuitton or CNBC, you'll get updates when people leave the company, join the company and when that company posts jobs. Those LinkedIn Company Pages will also tell you if anyone in your network connects you to employees at say, Apple or Nike."
Check the student jobs page. "LinkedIn has a dedicated Student Jobs Portal just for internships and entry-level job postings," says Pollak. "Reach out to any connections you have at that company to ask for advice, and you can also get in touch with the recruiter after you've applied to follow up personally."
Before an interview, study the hiring manager's profile. "Connect with managers from past internships and jobs," says Pollak. "You can also reach out to alumni of your university who shared your major or participated in similar activities."
Aim to foster natural, authentic relationships. "Congratulate your friend who has just been promoted, keep your information fresh, and don't reach out to people without purpose," says Ghosn. "Think of it this way: you wouldn't wave to someone in a room and then not have something you wanted to say once you caught their attention."
More stories from Teen Vogue: