If you’re a jobseeker, or might become one, you need LinkedIn

Academics are often unusual jobseekers with specific skills − LinkedIn allows you to take control of your professional self-narrative, says Stacy Hartman

April 2, 2021
The logo of social media giant LinkedIn. Any academic who is looking for a job, or who may be looking for a job in the future, should get to grips with LinkedIn.
Source: iStock

“I don’t need LinkedIn,” was a mantra I heard frequently just five years ago among both graduate students and early career academics. LinkedIn was not “for” academics, they argued; furthermore, they were concerned that even being on LinkedIn might send a signal that they were not “all in” on academia as a career path.

I hear this much less often now, particularly given the realities of the post-Covid academic job market, but for those who may need to hear it: if you are a jobseeker, or think you might be a jobseeker in the future, you need LinkedIn. If you are not yourself a jobseeker, but you support jobseekers, you also need LinkedIn. This is especially true in our new all-virtual world.

The truth, however, is that many people don’t use LinkedIn effectively. They have a profile and they have connections – but that is just the tip of the LinkedIn iceberg. LinkedIn offers jobseekers the opportunity to self-narrate, to connect and to explore in ways that particularly benefit people making the jump from academia to the world beyond.

Academics are often unusual jobseekers. We have skills that many others don’t, but our work experience often doesn’t line up with what hiring managers expect to see. The headline and the summary sections of a LinkedIn profile offer you the chance to take control of your professional self-narrative.

For example, you may currently be a PhD student. Immediately strike the word “student” from your headline; it makes you sound younger and less experienced than you are. Instead, consider which aspects of your professional identity you wish to foreground. Are you a writer? A researcher? A teacher or facilitator? Is there a particular area of expertise you want to emphasise? Put that front and centre in your headline.

Similarly, the summary is a place for you to tell a story about who you are professionally and to bridge the divide a hiring manager might see between who you are currently and the person you want to become. I often think about this in terms of “superpowers”, since those aspects of our identities are likely to be important no matter what job someone is in. Consider what your own superpower might be and how you can tell a story about it.

And don’t forget to keep tweaking. A LinkedIn profile, like all our professional identities, is a work in progress.

With your profile off to a good start, it becomes time to think about connecting and exploring the site’s opportunities – and there are many. Anyone who is signed up for LinkedIn frequently receives notifications of new connections, and the site can be a great way to keep track of what your colleagues past, present and future are currently up to, especially as people move around. Professional email addresses change, but a LinkedIn profile generally doesn’t.

Let’s consider the following scenario: you’re a postdoc who has decided not to enter the academic job market again. You’re currently exploring possibilities in the city you’d like to live in, and you stumble across a foundation that supports work you find valuable. You visit the foundation’s page on LinkedIn and follow it so you will see their updates in your newsfeed. Then you click over to the “people” tab and see that someone you know from your undergraduate institution is connected to someone who works there.

At that point, it’s easy to reach out to your friend and ask if they know that person well enough to make an introduction. The answer might be no, but that’s OK; there’s no harm in asking. People like to help others when they can (and maybe you’ll have the chance to catch up with an old friend).

Another way to explore possible career paths is reading job ads, and LinkedIn has become a repository for advertising positions across all sectors. Start with a keyword search and peruse the job ads that come up. Then, refine the search and set up some email notifications to push jobs directly to your inbox. Save the jobs that you find interesting and see if you have any connections with people in those organisations. If you do, reach out and see if you can connect with them – either for the purpose of applying or just for an informational interview.

LinkedIn makes the web of “weak” connections we’re all a part of more visible to us. This is also why people who support jobseekers (such as faculty members) should be on LinkedIn – your network is undoubtedly bigger than you realise, and it can be of enormous benefit to your students.

It can feel awkward to reach out to people you don’t know well, but remember that everyone on LinkedIn, no matter how glossy their headshot, got their start somewhere. Craft a profile that reflects who you are and who you want to be; be honest in your intentions when you approach people and appreciative of people’s time; and finally, once you’ve landed a great job, pay it forward.

Stacy Hartman is the director of the PublicsLab at the Graduate Centre, City University of New York. Previously, she was the project manager of Connected Academics at the Modern Language Association. She holds a PhD in German studies from Stanford University.

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