I’m on LinkedIn every day. Since filling out my LinkedIn profile and taking it seriously, the platform has returned my time investment in spades. I’ve connected with people in my industry I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’ve made real money from messages I’ve sent to editors and communication managers.
Before I swapped my desk job for a rollercoaster career as a freelance writer, I didn’t give LinkedIn much thought either. I had a bare-bones account set up during a college class assignment. No headshot, no intro, no optimized job descriptions. Joining LinkedIn had felt a bit like putting on a stiff new blazer for a job interview — I did it because it checked another box on the list of “corporate world” prerequisites.
Let’s face it: LinkedIn isn’t gorgeous like Instagram or buzzy like Facebook. It’s an office luncheon, not an after-hours hangout — and that’s exactly why it’s the best place on the internet for leveling up your job or side hustle. There are at least five ways you can move the needle forward on your career by dusting off your LinkedIn account today. Let’s dig in.
1. Build a living, breathing resume.
Resumes are the worst. Fitting your life’s work onto a one-page document that hides in the recesses of a folder on your desktop? It’s a pain because we only reach for it (and realize it’s hopelessly outdated) when we need it now.
While your Instagram profile is all about showcasing your last vacation and prettiest flatlays, your LinkedIn profile is a free, streamlined resume. Best of all, some online job applications now accept your LinkedIn profile in lieu of a document — so set aside an hour to update your profile. Upload a professional headshot (a well-lit, cropped selfie against a neutral background can work in a pinch). Add your job and volunteer roles to the ‘Experience’ section. Then, type out a description of each role just like you would on a resume. LinkedIn gives you the tools to keep your resume fresh and put your best foot forward.
2. Get a free portfolio.
If your job (or dream role!) involves any kind of content creation — from graphic design to writing — you should have a place to display your work. If you already have a website, LinkedIn is one more place to display your best work. If you don’t have a website, you should use your LinkedIn account as a free portfolio to showcase all projects for hiring managers and recruiters. (Not sure if you should set up a personal website or not? Take this quiz to find out!).
There are two ways to use your LinkedIn profile as a free portfolio. The first is to attach your shiniest, brightest work to the ‘About’ section at the top of your page. The second (and my favorite) is to upload related projects into each of your ‘Experience’ tabs. With the latter method, you can filter different project types according to your role. For instance, you can attach graphic design work to your side-hustle experience, while the killer ad copy you whipped up at your day job can stay attached to your work role.
3. Cultivate your network.
I never knew how many people I was one step removed from until I started spending time on LinkedIn. Did you know your former coworker is now the digital editor at your dream publication? Or that your favorite college professor knows the hiring manager at the place where you just sent your resume? That your old study buddy from science class just started a new company and is hoping to hire someone in your line of work?
LinkedIn is a window into all the ways you’re connected to people in dozens of roles at dozens of companies. While Facebook sometimes shows us “friends of friends,” LinkedIn lets us survey our second- or third-degree connections. Don’t be shy about sending connection requests to people in your current work or dream industry. LinkedIn exists to help us network — that’s the point. It’s always acceptable to send a connection request to someone if you’re interested in learning more about their work, collaborating on something down the road, or following a similar career path.
4. Message people directly.
LinkedIn Messaging works much like Facebook Messenger or your email inbox. 99 percent of the time, you need to be connected to someone (LinkedIn-speak for “friends”) to send them a message. But there’s one key exception: the connection request.
When you send a new contact an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, a prompt will pop up that says, “You can customize this invitation.” Do it! A personal note increases your chances of someone accepting your connection. It’s also your sole opportunity to send a direct message to a total stranger (unless you know their email address). Since this note is limited to 300 characters, I keep my introduction brief. Here’s a note I sent yesterday to an editor I’d like to write for someday:
My name is Leandra Beabout, and I am an Indiana-based freelance travel and lifestyle writer. I’ve also worked with fellow writer [mutual friend] at [well-known publication].
I’m writing to see if you’d like to connect here? Thanks!
5. Cut through the noise.
Every day, we are bombarded by messages and images on our phones and laptops. We have notifications pinging for group conversations on Facebook. Our eyes are glazed over from #comparisonitis from the artful grids on Instagram. We’re swiping right and left, scrolling up and down… and let’s be honest, we’re even doing it at work.
LinkedIn has given me the power to turn my phone breaks into something productive. And you can bet that though the CEO in the corner office sometimes indulges in mindless entertainment, she’s also scrolling through the LinkedIn newsfeed. You’re not likely to get in front of a decision maker’s eyeballs by sharing a meme on Facebook, but the work project you just uploaded to LinkedIn? It might catch a recruiter’s eye when she shows up there to hunt for new talent.
So much of my career success has been showing up in the right place at the right time. LinkedIn is a great place to do that. It has been invaluable to me — and I don’t even use it to its fullest potential. If you haven’t signed in for a while, do it today. Polish your profile, send some connection invitations, and maybe I’ll see you there!