Hello, and welcome to this session on supporting your postdocs with LinkedIn. I’m Dr Eamon Dubaissi, a research staff developer with Prosper.
By the end of the video, you should have a good understanding of why your postdocs should engage with LinkedIn for their career development. You’ll be given a basic overview of the different sections that make up a LinkedIn profile, which may come in useful when speaking to your postdocs about LinkedIn. You’ll be given some suggestions about how you can support your postdocs with LinkedIn, including questions you could ask in career conversations. Finally, I will outline some potential benefits to you and your research group of your postdocs engaging with LinkedIn.
So why should you be encouraging your postdocs to engage with LinkedIn for their career development and when considering their options for future careers? Well, let’s start with what it is. LinkedIn is a professional networking and career development platform with approximately 700 million users worldwide. So it is really vast.
Secondly, it enables people to expand and diversify their networks. As a postdoc on a fixed-term contract, one of the biggest stressors is the uncertainty of what to do next and what career might suit them should their contract not be extended, or if they wish to move beyond academia. In addition, the postdocs network may often be limited to people within academia, so it can be difficult to explore wider options.
LinkedIn provides a means by which postdocs can expand and diversify their networks, research organisations of interest to them, and even identify and apply for jobs. But why should people network at all? If we take academia as an example, studies have shown that networking is critical to career trajectory, with those in academic positions relying on their networks to build their careers.
This also applies to other industries. The majority of jobs tend to be found through networks; also the jobs tend to have a better fit to the applicant with better longer-term prospects. However, lots of postdocs have expressed being uncomfortable with networking, even though they are aware of its value. LinkedIn represents a way for them to develop themselves in this area.
LinkedIn has many different functions which they can engage with. This includes connecting with and messaging other professionals in their network; joining professional groups for targeted networking opportunities; giving and receiving recommendations to and from those that they have worked with; receiving notifications from the contacts when they have posted something or have had a change in circumstances, for example, if they’ve got a new position; researching organisations and people within those organisations; finding and applying for jobs; creating their own company page and recruiting to their own organisation; completing online courses with LinkedIn; learning and sharing ideas and professional content, for example, blogs and videos which demonstrates their thought leadership.
To use LinkedIn effectively and take advantage of all of these functions, they first need to be visible to others by creating their own profile. To be able to have a conversation with your postdocs about LinkedIn, it may be worth understanding the various sections that make up a profile, and even what the purpose of a profile is in the first place. So I shall take you through that now.
From the perspective of a postdoc, the basic premise of a LinkedIn profile is that it should position them for their next career move. When it becomes clear what their target career is, the LinkedIn profile should reflect this. They can use LinkedIn to expand and leverage their network, conducting informational interviews to find out more about different career paths. This can then inform the further development of their profile in an iterative process.
So let’s take a quick look at what elements make up a LinkedIn profile. I’ve made a mock-up of a possible profile just to illustrate the main sections. At the top, we have space for your photo, and also an additional background photo. Then, below this, we have the name and professional headline. Finally, we have the About section, which is a space to elaborate on who they are, what they offer and what they want. These are the core components of the profile, together with the experience and education sections, which are important, for example, if you’re going for certain types of jobs that require specific educational attainment or experience.
These sections take less thought to complete. Then we have the skill section, which we’ll talk about in more detail later. Finally, there are a number of recommended additional sections that can enhance a profile further. So let’s start with the photos. The simple message is that a profile photo should be professional and suit the industry that they are targeting, but it doesn’t need to necessarily be taken by a professional photographer.
In terms of dress, again, it depends on the types of positions that someone is targeting. For example, a corporate role may require smart dress. It’s a pretty simple one, again, but smiling is important. This is the first impression that people get, so it should be welcoming. In terms of the background photo, which is optional, some people like to include an image of them at a speaking engagement; an image that shows them in their work environment, if that’s relevant to their next career; or perhaps a first slide of some featured content or something they have created. Again, they should try and tailor it to what they would like to portray about themselves to others.
For example, if they would like a job involving relationship building and public speaking, an image showing them doing that could be powerful. They should think about the audience they wish to attract. So moving on to the professional headline, this accompanies the name and photo when somebody searches for them. So it should be given plenty of thought. Again, this is the opportunity to make an instant impression about who you are when people quickly scan over your profile. It is a snapshot of someone as a professional, but it can also be used to show up parts of their personality.
The About section is the place to tell their story and demonstrate their self-efficacy. It is the opportunity to expand on who they are, what they do and what they want, demonstrating their self-belief. This is a place to demonstrate their skills and how they have put these into practice. They can also even put a line or two in about what they are looking for in their next career move.
You can help your postdoc brainstorm content for their About section by getting them to think about what the best possible future self looks like. So imagining themselves in the future and what it looks like for them, what they’re doing, what they like to do, also what technical and transferable skills and also personal attributes and characteristics they possess and like to use. And, finally, imagining themselves in the shoes of a hiring manager, and what they would be looking for in a potential employee, because these kind of words and phrases may be useful for the About section. For help with the About section, you could refer your postdocs to the website of Sabrina Woods, a LinkedIn trainer and career coach.
To enhance their profiles further, your postdoc could fill in other core sections, including positions held, which ultimately has a section called Experience, and their education. But there is also a specific skills section, where particular skills can be emphasised and reordered to reflect those that they wish to highlight. For example, if they’re going for a particular job that requires a specific set of skills, perhaps these should be highlighted further up in the list.
Profiles can be further enhanced with the recommended sections. Here I’ve highlighted the recommendations because these can really enhance a profile by giving some insight into what the person is like, from the perspective of those that they work with or are connected to in another way. So by simply clicking on the add recommendations, you’re able to request from your own connections somebody to give you a recommendation.
Finally, in the additional sections, a number of other areas can be populated. Here, I’ve highlighted publications and causes. In addition, by following different organisations and groups, this populates another section called interests, which can also give an insight into who they are and what they stand for. So how can you, as a PI, support your postdoc with LinkedIn? Here are some suggestions.
First of all, there is no expectation from postdocs for you to be an expert in LinkedIn. So it’s just small things really, giving them some support and having conversations with them about LinkedIn. For example, you could talk about LinkedIn and career conversations, asking questions such as ‘Are you using LinkedIn, or have you updated your LinkedIn profile recently, or have you thought about using LinkedIn to expand your professional network and for career exploration?’
You can also offer to read their profiles. Are they articulating the skills that you know they possess? This feedback can give them invaluable insight into themselves. If you are on LinkedIn yourself, you could give your postdoc a recommendation. This is a great way to show your support and give them a confidence boost. Also, if you’re on LinkedIn, you could share and suggest people for them to connect with.
For example, you may have former postdocs and PhD students that are on LinkedIn. You could connect them, especially if they’re doing different jobs beyond academia that might help your current postdocs build up their network. Finally, be prepared to follow-up, asking ‘How’s it going with LinkedIn?’ Who have they connected with? Have they used any of the connections to conducting informational interviews to find out more? It is also possible that your postdocs engaging with LinkedIn might have benefits for yourself and your research.
First of all, and possibly most importantly, if your postdoc is aware of what they can do to explore opportunities through LinkedIn, it is likely that they will be more confident, less stressed and more in control, which is ultimately better for productivity when they’re conducting their research. You can also enhance your own reputation for supporting your postdocs with their career development.
In addition, an outward-looking postdoc can potentially lead to external collaborations for yourself. Your postdoc can also act as an ambassador for your research group, both now and in the future. If you encourage your postdocs to have up-to-date LinkedIn profiles, it’s also an opportunity for more people to see the research that is being done within your group. You can also consider joining LinkedIn yourself, in order to keep in contact with former postdocs, building a community of different generations that you have supervised.
Finally, you could also grow your own network through the networks of your postdocs. So thank you for taking the time to listen to this video. I hope you’ve been able to take something from it, and that you can use it with your own postdocs.
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