Uncle Advice for My Favorite New College Students

LinkedIn for College Students
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Congratulations nephews and nieces. You’re already a couple months into college.

I’ve noticed on Facebook that some other uncles and aunts have sent you cookies. Sadly, in a dorm, cookies don’t last—unless you eat too many. Don’t.

I can do better than cookies. Are you up for a little advice from your favorite uncle? (Yes, I know that’s an assumption, but let’s just go with it.)

My advice will help you get what you will one day need—a job. And when you get one, you can buy, or make, your own cookies.

To get one, you already know the basics: Build skills that are in demand, participate in activities to show you are well-rounded, stay clear of major trouble, yada yada yada.

Here are two actions I bet you don’t know:

  • Make friends.
  • Use LinkedIn.

Read on so I can explain.

Make friends

You may have already heard, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

While this could mean unqualified people get jobs because they have the right connections, it’s the exception, not the rule. Think about it. Who wants to be on the hook for hiring someone who doesn’t have the skills to succeed?

Instead, employers have many qualified candidates. With all the talent, employers need a way to make a selection, and that’s where your friends can help.

Here’s how it works. Suppose you want a job at Company X. You start talking to people you know. The more friends you have, the more likely you will know that guy in macroeconomics who just happens to have an aunt who works at Company X. And if this econ friend decides to help you (Because you are a nice person), he might do a little checking and find out that his aunt is friends with the hiring manager. See where this is going?

College NetworkingWith the competitive job market you will graduate into, your connections can give you an edge. Us oldsters call it networking. You can think of it as making friends.

Look around your classes. There are lots of people you can get to know. You already have a class together. It shouldn’t be hard to find something to talk about.

Over the next four years, you’ll probably eat a couple thousand times. You don’t always have to eat with the same three people from your dorm. Go solo 1-2 meals a week. Ask to join someone who is sitting alone and make a new friend.

I don’t make these suggestions because I was good at them myself. I mostly ate with the guys who lived next to me on 2nd Mary. And in grad school, I shared 13 classes with 30-40 people each. There were so many people I wish now I would have gotten to know. Looking back, I recognize my lack of effort to reach out to others as a gigantic mistake.

One day, you’ll all be looking for jobs. The more people you know who can provide tips, references, and referrals the better. They can help you and you can help them.

Take the initiative. Look for new people to meet. Reach out. Be nice to everyone. Find ways to help, and one day some of that help may come back to you.

LinkedIn

My second piece of advice is something you will almost certainly one day do anyway. My suggestions is that you do it now. Sign up for a LinkedIn account and build your profile.

LinkedIn is a social network like Facebook. While Facebook is mostly about entertainment and socializing, LinkedIn is about professional connections. Here are four ways it can help you right now.

1. Track connections

It will help you keep track of the people you meet. Once they are in your network, they’ll keep their information updated. That way when you go your separate ways, you still have an easy way to find each other should you want to offer or ask for help. If there’s someone you want to meet, LinkedIn can also help you figure out if you know anyone in common who could make an introduction for you. It’s that six degrees of separation thing at work.

2. Summer jobs and internships

People who provide summer jobs and internships probably already use LinkedIn. You can use the site to check them out, which could better prepare you for an interview. Also, they’ll likely google you and will be impressed when they see you already have a professional LinkedIn presence.

3. Build your portfolio

Use LinkedIn as a repository for your college accomplishments. At some point, employers (or grad schools) will want to know about your coursework, activities, and honors. You may as well collect the information as it happens. This will save you time in the future.

4. Practice self marketing

You can learn how to use this tool when it doesn’t matter so much if you make a mistake. Use the next four years to practice marketing yourself. Just don’t be obnoxious about it.

Start now

If your new college friends don’t have LinkedIn accounts, be the person who initiates the process.

Here’s a terrific post about how to use LinkedIn. Read it and follow the instructions. It’s simple.

And when you get it all figured out, send me a connection invite. I want to be your first connection and will be honored to help out in your professional endeavors.

See, I told you this advice would be better than a box of cookies. Now get back to creating a terrific college experience.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce owns LaForce Teamwork Services, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. He's on a mission to create better results through teamwork. He wrote Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings.