PhD Questions of the Month: November 2020

Welcome to the fourth installment of our blog series, PhD Questions of the Month, where the Grad Student/Postdoc Team at Career Services answers the top 3 questions that we have been asked in our individual PhD career advising appointments. This month, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about LinkedIn. In case you didn’t know, Career Services is happy to review your LinkedIn profile, give you specific feedback, and share advice and tips on how to use it effectively to achieve your networking goals and for your job search. Make an appointment to meet with a Career Advisor on Handshake!

Here are the top 3 questions we have been asked by PhD students and postdocs this month:

I’m on LinkedIn but I don’t really use it often. Do I really need to update it and be an active user?

Yes! For anyone exploring careers beyond the academy, it’s very important to be on LinkedIn and to use it for a number of reasons. First, LinkedIn is the biggest online professional network. When you are applying for jobs or looking to connect with someone for an informational interview, employers and professionals will almost certainly look you up online to see who you are. Having a LinkedIn profile allows you to control your own narrative. Second, LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for helping you network. Their alumni finder tool is a great way find Penn alums to conduct informational interviews with. In addition to the Penn network, the more first-degree connections you have (people that you know and are connected with on LinkedIn), the more second-degree connections you’ll have (people that you don’t know but have at least a person in common that you do know). When you’re looking to speak with people beyond your existing network, having your first-degree connections facilitate introductions to second- or third-degree connections will make it a lot easier for you to expand your network and connect with people in roles or at companies you are interested in. Third, LinkedIn is used by recruiters for many industries. In fact, many Penn PhDs have gotten jobs due to recruiters reaching out to them on LinkedIn! Just make sure to fill out your profile as much as you can, including your skills, experiences, and your story. This leads us to our second question….

Writing the “summary” on LinkedIn is really hard! What should I write?

The “summary,” or the “about” section as it appears to viewers, is a space for you to tell your story about why you are interested in a particular path or how/why you’d like to apply your skills to make an impact in the world. Unlike the resume and cover letter, which are focused on your fit for a particular role and organization, your LinkedIn summary will have multiple audiences. If you have one industry that you’re targeting in your career exploration or job search, you can focus on your skills, experiences, and motivation for that career path. If you are still exploring options or have identified a few different industries for your job search, it’s best to focus on your skillsets and the broad impact that you’d like to have. As you write your summary, remember to explain what drives you: why are you excited to do the work you do (or want to do)? What kind of difference would you like to make? What kind of work would be meaningful to you? The most effective LinkedIn summaries not only give a good sense of what your skills are, and what you’d like to achieve and why, but also give readers a sense of your personality, so feel free to use first person pronouns and share a personal story that’s unique to your career interests.

What’s the proper etiquette for connecting with someone on LinkedIn? If it’s someone I’m interested in speaking with, when should I request to connect with them on LinkedIn?

We generally recommend that you have at least one or two interactions with someone before reaching out to connect with them on LinkedIn. Examples of interactions include email exchanges and informational interviews. The reason we advise waiting until you’ve interacted with someone is because you want the other person to get to know you first so they can feel comfortable accepting your connection. If you imagine yourself being the recipient of a LinkedIn request from someone you don’t know, how would you feel? You might not want to accept the connection because you don’t know if that person is professional or trustworthy. Once you’ve had a chance to make a good impression on someone through a conversation, whether by email, phone, or on video, it will make it easier for them to accept your request. Always include a personalized message when you reach out instead of using LinkedIn’s default message. A personalized message goes a long way toward building a relationship with someone you’ve just met, especially when you don’t get to interact with them regularly.

If you have more questions about using LinkedIn, or if you’d like to chat with us about your career plans or job search, feel free to make an appointment with us. We look forward to working with you!

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs Helen Pho