LinkedIn for PhDs: 5 Reasons Why You Need It Now

Show of hands: how many people routinely delete LinkedIn email invitations?

Yup! Guilty.

A few years ago, John Oliver did a bit (way back when he guest-hosted The Daily Show) on LinkedIn’s excessive email spamming habits:

“What do you do, LinkedIn? You seem to have monetized irritating people!”

Point is, if you’ve spent most of your working life in academia, LinkedIn probably hasn’t figured too prominently into your professional development.

But, love it or loathe it, LinkedIn has made its mark on the hiring landscape. As of January 2020, 30 million companies list job openings on LinkedIn. The site currently boasts over 660 million users.

If you’re planning on launching on a non-academic career, LinkedIn for PhDs is more important than ever.

Today we’ll discuss 5 ways PhDs and PhD students can leverage LinkedIn to launch a nonacademic career.

We’ll first go over how to establish a professional identity and online presence. Then we’ll explore how LinkedIn can help you network and build vital professional contacts that will serve you well during your job search. (Need additional help? Work with Beyond the Professoriate’s resume and LinkedIn for PhD coach). 

1. Establish Your Professional Identity

Building a LinkedIn account is a fantastic exercise in reframing your academic achievements for a broad audience.

For example, did you recently finish your dissertation? First, congrats! Second, add this line to your LinkedIn profile:

“Managed a multi-year research project that analyzed and synthesized extensive primary and secondary materials and resulted in a X-page published dissertation.”

A LinkedIn profile has sections for publications, awards, grants, and volunteer service, among other things. Add your achievements and rephrase them in ways that a wide variety of employers.

Write an easy-to-read “About Me” statement that explains your skills and experience in general terms with minimal academic jargon.

This isn’t just good self-marketing; it’s good brainstorming. Make a LinkedIn account and you may even discover what your next career trajectory will be.

2. Manage Your Online Presence

Have you ever googled yourself? If not, open a tab and do it! We’ll wait.

Find anything interesting? Anything unsavory? Regardless, you need to know what pops up when someone googles your name.

If you have experience on the academic job market, you already know this. You may have made an Academia account and carefully tailored your profile on your department’s “People” page.

In the same way, a strong, well-developed LinkedIn profile is the keystone of your professional online presence.

We’re not saying that LinkedIn is some kind of magical jobs-magnet. No matter how strong your profile is, the likelihood of it being fished out of an ocean of names on LinkedIn is slim.

The advantage of LinkedIn for PhDs is that it fosters a sense of trust between you and potential employers.

Say you apply for a position and the hiring manager takes an interest in you. They’ll very likely google your name at some point.

They’re not looking for ‘dirt’ or anything like that. They simply want to get a better sense of who you are as a professional.

Hence, your LinkedIn profile must make a strong first impression. It must show that, even if your background is chiefly academic, you’re well qualified for non-academic positions.

The more employers can learn about you, the more they’ll trust you and want to hire you.

Like it or not, you must have an online professional presence. LinkedIn will help you manage it effectively.

3. Maintain Your Contacts and Network

As with online presence, your contacts list must be consistently maintained and updated. LinkedIn is a great platform to do that.

Did you meet someone at a job fair? At an academic conference? Have you been in contact with a staffing agent? Do you have friends or colleagues from academia who moved on to successful non-academic jobs? If so, connect with them on LinkedIn. Ask them for advice.

Many people post job openings on LinkedIn. This is especially true of staffing agents and managers.

Additionally, LinkedIn is a great way to discover how other PhDs made their way in the non-academic world. Connect with friends and colleagues and ask them how they did it. They may even give you a referral if a good opportunity comes up.

4. Network!

Yes, we know. Networking can be rough, especially if you (like many academics) skew towards the quiet and introverted side of things.

However, that’s all the more reason to start networking on LinkedIn.

If you have a specific job or company in mind, search for employees on LinkedIn and send them a friendly message. Ask them if they’d be open to a quick (20-minute) phone call about their job and its requirements.

You will be was surprised by how many people say yes.

Important side note here: LinkedIn connections work differently from Facebook friend requests. On Facebook, you can send a request to anyone unless they’ve altered their privacy settings to disallow this.

But on LinkedIn, you need some kind of previous association with someone to connect with them. Typically, all it takes is an email exchange or a mutual connection with that person. However, unlike Facebook, you can’t contact complete strangers out of the blue.

Start building your LinkedIn network now. If you do, entire planes of employment opportunity will be revealed to you. Or, at the very least, you’ll expand your networking opportunities and learn a lot about potential job options.

5. Monitor the LinkedIn Jobs Board

There are tons of online employment marketplaces these days: Glassdoor, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, etc. And every. single. one of them requires you to make an account and sign up for weekly job newsletters.

Tracking all these accounts gets old fast. That’s why we recommend focusing on the LinkedIn jobs board.

You can search and apply for jobs directly on LinkedIn. Set job alerts (but be specific, otherwise you’ll be inundated with job suggestions irrelevant to your skills).

If you have a strong, well-developed profile, employers will see it when you apply through LinkedIn.

Of course, not all jobs are posted on LinkedIn. But if you’re not routinely monitoring the jobs listings, you may miss some valuable opportunities.

Conclusion

Leveraging LinkedIn is all about playing the long game with your professional development.

Build a strong profile and start cultivating your web of contacts now, and it’ll pay off as you embark upon your non-academic or post-academic career path.

For more on LinkedIn for PhDs in and beyond the academy, check out this webinar.

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