We live in a digital age, with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter dominating web traffic. And with the growth of LinkedIn -- "the world's largest professional network," as its slogan proclaims -- many of us as college students are not only interacting online with friends but also networking with colleagues, classmates and employers as we pursue our career goals.
Since creating a LinkedIn page last year, I've found it a valuable tool in reaching out professionally to those I've worked with in the past. It's a modern and innovative concept, combining the realm of social media with the job market: post your experience, education information and skills just as you would on a résumé or curriculum vitae, but also include a profile photo and request "connections" -- the near equivalent of Facebook friends -- in a professional setting.
A California-based company that launched in 2003, LinkedIn announced this month that the site has attracted more than 200 million users, but only 43 percent of college students use the site. Still, the company has worked to appeal to college students specifically, adding options for users to list campus organizations they've joined and honors and awards they've received, along with relevant coursework and test scores.
But how important is it to have a LinkedIn page?
After seeing some of my own classmates and peers launch their own online profiles last year, I decided to create a page of my own. The question of whether having a LinkedIn page is necessary at all -- and whether it really can aid in the job search -- has since come up in conversation with friends.
Job experts told me in interviews that having LinkedIn profile in an age of technology is absolutely crucial for college students. Allison Cheston, an adjunct instructor at New York University and a career connector for executives and young adults, says LinkedIn permits users to do what they can't do on their resume: "showcase your personality and everything else you do in your life." Whether you're pursuing journalism or investment banking, Cheston says, as a student, you should maintain a LinkedIn presence.
"What I recommend is that you look at more senior people in that field and look at cues at how to best share your information," Cheston says.
Many top search firms and recruiters also depend on LinkedIn to gather information on prospective employees. In fact, in a 2012 Jobvite social recruiting survey, 93 percent of respondents -- comprised of more than 1,000 human resources and recruitment professionals -- said LinkedIn is a primary recruiting network, and 89 percent have hired from the site.
"I go to LinkedIn as a first step whenever I begin recruiting for a new position," Stacy Zapar, who is currently the most connected woman on LinkedIn and is also a recruiter and social media trainer who has blogged extensively on the best ways to use LinkedIn, told me in an interview.
How students can use LinkedIn to their full advantage
Miriam Salpeter, the author of Social Networking for Career Success and the owner and founder of coaching and consulting firm Keppie Careers, advises students to create complete profiles and include "keywords" that describe their skills and experiences. This way, recruiters and hiring managers can find you when they plug your name into a search engine.
And, Salpeter explains, asking for recommendations from professors and supervisors as well as skill endorsements from colleagues can only make your profile stronger. Take advantage of the categories geared toward students specifically, Salpeter adds, and engage in active groups.
Cheston says to make sure you have a professional-looking profile photo and an "upbeat summary." Don't simply say that you're looking for a job. Use the opportunity to state your interests and experience, and make it clear what you're looking for.
And finally, connect, connect, connect -- to everyone they know, from friends and coworkers to clients, professors and recruiters. You never know who your friend or professor might know, and a connection could help you land a job someday. "Ask them who they know, which companies might be hiring, any recommendations for breaking into their desired career," Zapar says.
After applying for a job, students should reach out to hiring managers on LinkedIn to reiterate their interest in the position, Zapar says, adding that this way, you can "stand out from the pack."
Mistakes to avoid
Be careful, though. Experts say students should worry about spelling and grammatical errors on their LinkedIn pages just as they would worry about posting provocative photos to their Facebook pages. The Jobvite survey indicated that 54 percent of respondents reacted negatively to such errors.
Additionally, don't forget the "social" element of social media. Many student profiles look alike, Zapar says, because a lot of students don't have much experience yet. Building that network and seeking recommendations are two key ways to cast a wide net and reemphasize your strengths.