When I had the opportunity to have an internship in Washington D.C. this past summer, all I heard about was the importance of networking. For years, that meant attending events, passing out business cards, and scheduling coffee dates. Recently, however, online career networking on LinkedIn has taken off and serves as a vital resource to both young and older professionals.
LinkedIn has a number of useful resources to make connections and build networks. You begin by setting up your profile and resume. There you can include education, work experience, and any special skills—much like a paper resume. You can also choose to import a resume document, add social networking usernames, and basic contact information to include in your profile as well.
From there, it is all about growing your network. LinkedIn gives you the option to transfer contacts from Facebook and Twitter, or you can manually search for people from your school, in your region, or in your desired field. You can manage privacy settings to your particular comfort level—anything from completely open to very private. It is entirely up to you.
I personally love the “levels” of networking that LinkedIn allows you to maintain. You can see how many degrees away from you someone is (i.e. two degrees for a “friend of a friend”) and find any mutual connections. I have taken advantage of that to email a close friend who happens to know someone with whom I would like to connect and ask for an introduction.
The interface for LinkedIn poses a few challenges to the beginning user. For instance, the different messaging methods can become confusing until you really get the hang of them, and the layout options leave something to be desired.
That being said, LinkedIn was not created to look pretty. It was designed to be a valuable networking tool for professionals to use to get jobs, and it is the most widely used and successful website that serves that function.