The Recent Grad’s Guide to LinkedIn, Part 1: The 5 Core Sections

Author: Brett Pucino, Career Advice

First off, congratulations! You’ve made it through four grueling years of undergrad and finally have that piece of paper you were told would be your golden ticket to a job upon graduation.

The bad news is that just having a college degree no longer guarantees you a job. The post-recession job market is hyper-competitive.

The good news is that your college degree is still valuable—if you know how to use it. That’s where LinkedIn comes in.

Career Branding: Why You Need to be on Linkedin as a New Graduate
I know what you might be thinking. LinkedIn is the social network for old people, right? It’s just a bunch of professionals the age of our parents, right? Why would we want to spend our time on such a social network?

Valid questions; but, they come from a faulty perception of LinkedIn. You can’t judge LinkedIn relative to the other social networks you use. It’s the only social network that’s strictly 100% professional (although some people haven’t gotten that memo). Of course, using LinkedIn isn’t as appealing as snapping your friends or browsing Instagram, but there’s still value in having an all-star LinkedIn profile as part of your social media portfolio. Just ask the 87 million millennials on LinkedIn.

That’s 38% of LinkedIn users who are millennials. The value of LinkedIn really comes down to two words: Career Branding.

The Value of LinkedIn as a Career Branding Platform
What’s career branding, you ask? Think of career branding as personal branding in professional attire.

When we think of personal branding , we tend to think of entrepreneurs trying to sell a product or service to their target audiences. Career branding operates under the same principles, just in a different context.

With career branding, you are the product and your target audience is potential employers.

In order to succeed in career branding, you have to start thinking of yourself as the CEO of “ME INC”. In this article for, I provide a fun Pinterest exercise to get you in the CEO mindset.

The Five Core Sections of the LinkedIn Profile
Building an all-star LinkedIn profile doesn’t require decades of experience and a massive amount of professional connections. This myth is a common barrier between new graduates and LinkedIn.

The following strategies aren’t revolutionary—they’re just geared toward recent college graduates. Let’s get started.

The Top Box

The top box is the section of the LinkedIn profile that includes:

  • Your Title
  • Your Professional Headline
  • Your Education
  • Your Current Job
  • Your Location
  • Your Profile Photo

Your title is simply where you put your first and last name. Use the same name that you use on your resume and only include abbreviations if they’re relevant to the job you’re seeking.

Your professional headline is a little less straightforward. Think of a headline for a piece of copy. The goal of your tagline is to get people to read your summary.

So how do you do that? The answer is keywords. Although LinkedIn is a social network, it has a secondary function as a search engine for professionals. Like all search engines, Linkedin’s search engine relies on keywords to provide relevant results to user’s queries.

Now you’re wondering what keywords to use, right? I have an exercise for that.

Remember those brainstorming diagrams you were taught in middle school English class? I use a variant of those, called a mind map, to do all of my brainstorming.

Using a mind map is pretty simple. The center node is the topic you’re brainstorming. In this exercise you put yourself as the center circle. Each primary node off of the center node are the things that first come to mind regarding the topic. The next step is to dig deeper into the primary nodes with secondary and tertiary nodes.

  • For this exercise you’ll only have two primary nodes—personal and professional.
  • Your secondary nodes will be hobbies, skills and interests related to either your personal or professional life.
  • Your tertiary nodes will be keywords and phrases related to these hobbies, skills and interests.

I like to use good ol’ pen and paper for my mind maps, but if you’re looking for a mind map software, then I highly suggest Mind Vector. Here’s an example of the beginnings of the exercise that I made using their software.

Mind Map

Once you’ve spent 20 to 30 minutes filling out your mind map, look at the words you have listed. What are the three to five words that best describe you? Or think of it like this: out of all the things you have listed, what are the three to five things you’d like someone else to use to describe you? Let’s look at my headline as an example.

Linkedin Top Box.JPG

See how I have keywords and phrases separated by “ | “ rather than one flowing sentence? That’s because you only have 120 characters to work with.

I suggest this style of headline because it allows you to get more relevant keywords and phrases in there, but you could also go with more of a traditional tagline. Here’s an example:

“Aspiring Talent Acquisition specialist with a passion for recruitment, on-boarding, and employee engagement”

With this type of headline, you want the position you’re seeking to be a primary keyword—it’s how you’ll get found by recruiters.

The rest of the top box is pretty self-explanatory. For the location area, list the area where you’re seeking a job. So, if you live on the outskirts of New York City but want to work in Manhattan, put New York City as your location.

For the profile picture, well, you know what to do. Find a plain background, dress professionally and smile. Now let’s talk about the summary.

The Summary Box
The summary is hands-down the most important section of your LinkedIn profile. The Muse has a list of five LinkedIn summary templates that will give you an idea of a couple of different styles you could go with. They are:

  • The Mission-Based Summary
  • The Personality Summary
  • The Short & Sweet Summary
  • The Blended Summary
  • The Accomplishment-Based Summary

Regardless of what style LinkedIn summary you use, there are core components that are in every successful one, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.

Component 1: An Attention-Grabbing First Sentence
If your professional headline resembles a headline of copy, then the first sentence of your summary is like the lede. The purpose of that first sentence is to suck the reader in and get them to keep reading.

I suggest using the question-based lede. Here’s the formula:

“ Are you looking for a (insert specific job title) with a passion for (keywords relative to job desired)?”

You don’t have to follow it verbatim, but that’s the general idea. The goal of using the question-based lede is to ask a question that you know your target audience will answer with a yes.

Component 2: The Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
Your unique value proposition combines skills, experience, interests and values that separate yourself from your competition.

Convey your UVP by using those keywords from the mind map exercises. Which keywords do you want to be the first words people think of when they think of you in a professional sense?

Component 3:  Strategic Use of Industry or Job-Specific keywords
As mentioned above, the summary is where you should highlight your core keywords. It’s not just enough to write some sentences with these keywords—you have to utilize them strategically.

Create a swipe file of several job descriptions for the position you seek. Study these job descriptions and see which keywords pop up most. These are the keywords recruiters in that particular industry use to search for candidates, so these are the keywords that should be featured in your summary.

Component 4: Key skills and accomplishments
Whether in paragraph or bullet form, every successful LinkedIn summary highlights the user’s key skills and accomplishments.

I use the Professional Profile, which was taught to me by Jay R. Lang, my mentor in the career development space. If you want to find out more about the Professional Profile and the other innovative tools Jay has used to help hundreds of people achieve their career breakthrough, you can check out his book on Amazon: Breakthrough! How to Get Hired in Today’s Tough Job Market.

Component 5: A Call to Action
Next to the lede, the call to action is the most important part of any piece of copy.

End your summary with the actions you want people reading your profile to take next. You want to have your summary section public, so be careful leaving your phone number or personal email. I suggest asking those interested in contacting you to send you a direct message on LinkedIn—and then from there you can exchange personal contact information.

The Experience Boxes
The experience section is the meat of your LinkedIn profile. This is the place where you can list all of the information regarding your previous jobs that you couldn’t fit in your resume.

Your resume is the cliff notes of your professional story—the experience section of your LinkedIn profile is the full version.

Like the summary, you get 2,000 characters per job you list. Since us millennials don’t have as much work experience as those in the middle or back-end of their career, we have to be as detailed as possible with the work experience we do have.

I break my job sections into three subsections: job duties, accomplishments, and skills acquired.

The job duties section is the place to expand upon your resume. Use this section to show skills you’ve listed in action.

The accomplishments section is where you show that you were good at what you did. Include raises, promotions and specific awards. Don’t be afraid to brag about yourself.

The skills acquired section is where you list the specific skills you’ve acquired from each job. This  part will be tough initially, but it will help you think in terms of transferable skills. These are the soft skills that transcend specific job titles.

An example from my work experience is my ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Most of my “traditional” work experience is in retail at the Woodbury Commons. I have tons of experience working in a fast-paced environment. When I first did this exercise for myself I realized that this was actually a skill I could work with in applying to a job in virtually any industry.

Remember the mind map from the first exercise? I want you to make some more for this exercise.

Make a separate mind map for each job you’ve had. In the center circle put the title of the job and the company you worked for. Then, make a primary node for job duties, accomplishments and skills acquired. Spend 15-20 focused minutes brainstorming for each job.

The Education Box
Your education section can be so much more than just listing your degree.

Make yourself stand out by adding membership to any clubs or honors societies. Use the description section to describe some of the skills you acquired—and which courses taught you those skills. You can usually find this information in the course description listed in your college’s course catalog if you get stuck.

 The Skills Box
Most people don’t take full advantage of this section. They list generic skills like “team player “ and “Microsoft Office” and move on to the next section.

Remember how we talked about the importance of keywords and how LinkedIn functions as a search engine? LinkedIn’s algorithm uses each skill listed in the skills section as a keyword that describes the user.

The key to this section is using skills that are most commonly listed in the job descriptions of the position you’re seeking. This practice gives you the best chance of showing up in the search queries of recruiters in that industry.

Now that you have all you need to build these five core sections of your LinkedIn profile, the only thing left to do is to get to work! Part Two of this series will be in our fourth issue, so be sure to subscribe to our email list here  so you don’t miss out! You can also contact me on Twitter (@BPucino) with any LinkedIn questions. I’m more than happy to help!

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