Ryan Lytle

Recent college grads and current students can showcase on-campus achievements on the social network

A competitive job market that continues to show minimal growth has added to the doubts and frustrations some students and recent graduates have about life after college. In an effort to aid young professionals in their job searches, LinkedIn -- the social network of more than 100 million members and recognized for connecting professionals -- has added new sections to its profiles that allow students and graduates with limited professional experience to highlight successes in the classroom. These new sections allow students to post information regarding projects, honors and awards, involvement in organizations, test scores, and courses.

Laurie Boettcher, a social media speaker and trainer, believes the new sections will give students and graduates a leg up in the job search. "I think it's definitely going to make them more competitive," Boettcher says. "Employers spend so much money on training new employees and, if they know you've already had some experience in doing some of this type of work, that's going to be a big deal."

With the revamped profile choices, users have the ability to reorder sections to highlight and prioritize their strongest attributes. According to Eric Stoller, a higher education consultant, students should understand that adding positive information won't necessarily make them stand out from the crowd. "With today's millennial generation, everybody's getting honors and awards," Stoller says. "It seems like you come in 7th place [and] you get a medal. Same thing with test scores, with grade inflation, everyone could have a 4.0 GPA, because who's going to check it?"

Stoller suggests highlighting "tangible items" such as projects or organizational involvement, which better relate to your professional potential. "What have you done [on campus] and how did you go about doing it?" Stoller notes. "Showcase your leadership ability, your ability to work with other people, [and] your decision-making ability."

Although providing information on participation in projects and organizations can be beneficial, students must be aware that the job search does not end there. Abhishek Seth, a rising senior at Boston University and active user of the social platform, fears students may use the sections for the wrong reasons. "I'm a little afraid that it's giving false hope to students because they think they can just post their credentials on their wall and get a job," Seth says. "I think one thing I learned quickly [on LinkedIn] was that people wouldn't just come to me. I had to reach out to others."

Seth also believes the stigma of being a college student could carry over to a user's LinkedIn profile, causing them to lose ground to other more experienced workers. "It pigeonholes them as a student by talking about what organizations or fraternities they're working for," he notes. "Automatically they're thrown into a student category. Big companies don't want students. They want real professionals."

While highlighting your academic achievements can strengthen your profile, employers are still primarily interested in the internship or work experience that students and recent graduates attained during college, notes Lindsey Sparks, a senior PR specialist at American Fidelity Assurance Company, an insurance provider.

"When you have a stack of 70 résumés for a position, and half of them have internship experience, they're immediately going to go above all of the people who don't list that," Sparks says. "So it's really hard for people to stand out if they don't have professional experience to go along with it.

While many students are aware of the importance of displaying professional experience on LinkedIn, some are encouraged by the option to add classroom successes to their profiles. Andi Enns, a rising junior at Park University , says that these new sections will likely motivate students to be more active on campus. "It will remind them that it is really important to get involved and have the type of experiences we may not be able to have in an entry-level job," Enns notes. "These new sections give me the opportunity to show potential employers that I do more than study on campus."

It remains to be seen whether the new LinkedIn sections will improve college students' and recent graduates' chances of landing jobs, but higher education consultant Stoller believes the social network has given them the opportunity to leave college more prepared for the challenge of securing employment. "Everyone talks about higher ed not preparing students for the real world, and I think LinkedIn has offered a chance for students to get more connected to the real world earlier in their academic careers."

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LinkedIn Offers New Options for Students