The Recent Graduate’s Guide to Setting Up the Perfect LinkedIn Profile

A recent college graduate in her cap and gown.
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When you have a long work history, it’s easy to fill out your LinkedIn profile, but what if you’re a recent grad who’s just beginning your employment journey?

Don’t worry: You can still set up a useful profile that will grow as you gain work experience.

Here’s how to create a LinkedIn profile that sparkles, no matter how limited your work history might be.

1. Sign Up for a Free LinkedIn Account

A man signs up for Linkdein on his laptop.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Head over to LinkedIn’s website to register for a free account. You’ll need to enter an email address to set up your profile, so now is a good time to make sure yours looks and sounds professional enough to share with potential employers.

There are plenty of free email services to choose from, so save “hippiechick4lyfe” to use with friends and family and snag another email address based on your name.

You’ll need to answer a few basic questions during the registration process.

If you’re a recent grad, it’s fine to list your job title as “student” if you aren’t currently employed. In fact, the drop down menu offers several suggestions, including Ph.D. student, graduate student and student assistant.

You’re also asked to provide the most recent company where you’ve worked. Go ahead and list your college if you don’t have a work history yet.

The system may ask you to choose an industry from a pre-populated list if it doesn’t recognize your college or university. Choose the industry that best describes the field in which you want to work.

2. Set Up Your Profile

Once you complete the registration process, you’ll see your dashboard. It functions a lot like a Facebook feed, displaying news, job recommendations and updates from people in your network.

At the top of the page, click the button that says “Me,” then click “View Profile.” Here’s where you’ll add details to your profile.

Focus on these main things when creating your LinkedIn profile.

Your Photo

There’s no need to spend money on a professional photographer to take your LinkedIn profile picture unless you want to. But on the other hand, this isn’t the place for selfies, no matter how on-point they look.

Put on your best interview shirt and ask a friend to snap a few headshots, then choose your favorite and upload it to your profile.

Your Headline

Your LinkedIn headline is the first thing people see before they click on your profile so make sure it stands out. The field is pre-populated with the job title and company (or school) you provided at registration, but that’s not helpful if you’re a recent grad with very little work experience.

Fortunately, it’s easy to change your headline to something snappier that describes the type of work you’re looking for.

Executive recruiter Pete Leibman says headlines should contain four types of information:

  • What you do
  • Who you help
  • How you improve someone’s life or work
  • Proof of your credibility

Leibman offers this example of a great headline: “Personal Trainer who helps high school athletes get stronger and faster. Certified by the American Council on Exercise.”

Avoid buzzwords like “guru” or “ninja” and don’t be afraid to highlight your achievements. It’s not bragging; it’s letting hiring managers know how awesome you are!

Your Education

You worked hard for your degree, so use the education section to show it off! You can add as many schools as you like, which is great if your graduate and undergraduate schools are different.

Be sure to list any certification, vocational education or specialized training courses you’ve taken.

Your Work Experience

A person makes coffee at a coffee shop.
Vasyl Dolmatov/Getty Images

List your work history, beginning with your most recent job first.

Don’t worry if you’ve only had one or two jobs. Employers understand college is a big commitment that doesn’t always allow students time to gain a lot of work experience.

Your Volunteer Experience

Here’s your chance to highlight groups or organizations to which you’ve donated your time, but you’ll need to add a section to your profile if you want to highlight your volunteer experience.  

“More than three out of every four HR executives take a job applicant’s skilled volunteering experience into account when making a hiring decision, and believe it makes them a more desirable candidate,” according to research firm Deloitte.

Your Skills

Use the Skills section to let potential employers know about any special talents you bring to the workplace.

Popular skills include proficiency in computer programming languages, data analysis, writing and foreign languages.

3. Make Connections With Other Members

A young woman works on setting up a Linkedin profile on her laptop.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Once you’ve perfected your profile, it’s time to connect with other members and grow your network.

If you already know people who use LinkedIn, simply send them an invitation to connect. For a deep dive into who you know on the platform, sync your contacts from Google Calendar, Google Contacts or Outlook to let LinkedIn find people for you.

It’s fine to send invitations to people you don’t know well but make sure to personalize each connection request, even to your best friend.  

“Did you just meet them at an event? Did someone you both know recommend that you should connect with them? Get into the habit of giving everyone a reason why they should accept your connection request,” says LinkedIn expert Melonie Dodaro.

Remember, you’re on LinkedIn to build your professional network, not break the record for most connections. Focus your efforts on quality connections over quantity.

Be sure to bookmark your LinkedIn profile so you can find and share it quickly the next time you apply for a job or go to a career fair.

Happy networking!

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She loves helping readers land their dream job so look her up on Twitter @lisah if you’ve got a tip to share.