It's a universal truth that job searching is the worst. If you’ve been through the process already, you’ve likely had to sit through stuffy interviews, make smalltalk at career fairs, and maybe even print a batch of snazzy business cards. If you have yet to apply for your first real job, then you have all that -- plus the agony of trying to craft the perfect cover letter -- to look forward to.
At some point, you'll probably create a LinkedIn profile to make the process easier. For the unacquainted, LinkedIn is a business-focused social media site all about networking, and basically lets you build a professional version of yourself online. LinkedIn has 330 million users, but -- even though it’s technically a social network -- millennials aren’t exactly flocking to it the way they are to Vine and Snapchat.
“Young people are not on LinkedIn," Viveca von Rosen, author of “LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour A Day,” told us. "People get Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but LinkedIn is like that one that their fathers and grandfathers are on. It’s not that much fun.”
But, as our grandfathers like to say, work isn't supposed to be fun; that's why it's called "work." So, do you need a profile? We asked hiring experts to break it down and find out if LinkedIn really matters for young job-seekers today.
What (and who) is LinkedIn good for?
LinkedIn's manager of corporate communications, Crystal Braswell, says that recent graduates make up the fastest growing demographic on the site -- there are nearly 40 million with a profile now. The consensus among experts is that younger people are more and more familiar with the site’s name, but they’re not sure why they need to be on it.
“The majority of students are confused about it and don’t see it as a place for them,” UCLA counseling manager Stacy Harriman told us. “Most of them say, ‘I have it because someone told me to set one up.’”
People with certain career focuses may need to use LinkedIn more than others. For example, professionals going into marketing or finance will probably get more out of it than, say, scientists or engineers.
“I think it depends on what they're going into,” von Rosen said. “If they’re going to work at McDonald’s, it’s probably not so useful. Professional athletes or musicians on MTV, they probably don’t need it either. But pretty much everyone else does, especially if they’re going into the corporate or business world.”
Having a profile never hurts. Which brings us to the question...
Are employers looking at your profile?
According to von Rosen, a whopping 98% of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates, and 85% of hiring managers look at applicants’ LinkedIn profiles. Those stats alone prove that having a profile -- and making sure it’s up-to-date -- is crucial.
(Even after you get hired, experts recommend that you regularly maintain your profile if you want a better job. "LinkedIn actually tracks how active your account is," said Jennifer Rhodes, career services specialist at Arizona State University. "Showing that you’re active is important, because when someone is searching for you to recruit you, it’ll get your name at the top of that list.")
Ashley Fejes, a recruiter for Ultimate Staffing Services in Los Angeles -- who recruits administrative and executive assistants -- says that she looks at applicants’ profiles mostly to make sure their resumes are legit.
“The number one thing I’m looking for is whether or not their resume matches up to their LinkedIn profile,” Fejes said. “People aren’t always honest about their resumes, so I compare the two to make sure they match up.”
Fejes says she also likes to see that people have connections, a professional photo and endorsements from former coworkers. And UCLA's Harriman says that recruiters at campus career fairs often emphasize the need for LinkedIn as well.
“For some employers, it’s actually a red flag if an applicant doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile,” Harriman said.
What are LinkedIn's strengths?
Rhodes says she thinks the site’s biggest advantage is that it’s "a one-stop shop for letters of recommendation, examples of your work, and showing clubs and organizations you belong to,” she said.
Even people who aren't sure what they want to do with their lives can put their master creeping skills to good use by checking out people whose jobs they may want to steal one day. “My best piece of advice is to search for someone like you, who has the job that you want, so you can see how they got there,” von Rosen said.
Another advantage is that LinkedIn can teach you just how big your network is. On Facebook, it’s practically nightmarish to befriend your old, creepy relatives or family friends -- who are bound to leave embarrassing comments on all your prof pics -- but on LinkedIn, those people can actually be assets.
“Sometimes you just see people as your uncles or your dad’s friends, and you don’t realize their professional backgrounds," Harriman said. "So LinkedIn is a place for you to check out their backgrounds and reach out to them for job referrals.”
What are LinkedIn's weaknesses?
For one thing, not everyone is on board with LinkedIn Premium, which is a paid version of the site that boasts features like expanded profiles and better search options.
“[LinkedIn] is getting harder to use unless you have a paid account,” von Rosen said. “Otherwise, you really have to have a decent-sized network to see and be seen. It’s a little restrictive.”
Rhodes also points to people's widespread misunderstanding of the site's utility as another weakness. “There’s a misconception that people can find jobs right away from the jobs board," she said. "I think LinkedIn has to do better at getting people to understand its value as a networking site, and not just as a place to find jobs.”
Rhodes adds that young people can -- and do -- find work on there, but it doesn’t happen overnight: “It is happening, but it’s taking longer than students would like."
Does LinkedIn matter?
Finally, the million dollar question: Is this thing even worth it? The consensus among the experts is, yes, it is, particularly for younger people.
“It helps people shift the way they think of themselves...and makes them think about their image online and how they want their future selves to look like,” Harriman said.
Fejes agrees, saying that from a recruiter’s perspective, it’s vital. “I can definitely understand why the younger generation isn’t on it yet, but it’s your first impression to a prospective employer,” she said. “I often notice a correlation between how well their LinkedIn profiles are set up and how well they do in interviews."
Bottom line: You might want to saddle up and get to work building that profile. Because even though LinkedIn is a pain in the butt to get used to (and those "Here’s how many people viewed your profile this week" emails are pesky), you never know when it could save you from the fiery pit of unemployment -- and maybe even land you that awesome job you’ve always dreamed of.
There is, however, one last caveat that Harriman points out: “Yes, LinkedIn matters, but with the disclaimer that it’s only as effective as the user."