A Complete Guide to Building the Best LinkedIn Profile for Students

Dana Guterman
Updated: July 4, 2023

After reading this article, you’ll:

  • Learn the importance of a well-structured and detailed LinkedIn profile, and understand how to optimally fill each section to showcase your skills, accomplishments, and professional trajectory.
  • Be able to apply practical tips and strategies to stand out on LinkedIn, such as using personalized headlines, crafting a compelling summary, getting recommendations, and making your profile easily searchable with a personalized URL.
  • Understand the importance of building connections and showcasing your work through a portfolio, enhancing your visibility and appeal to potential employers, recruiters, and professional contacts.

In today’s age we’re spending an awful lot of time online. We were already living in the so-called Information Age, and now, businesses across the world have gone 100% virtual. That makes honing your online presence more important than ever when you apply to internships and jobs.

Most college students today are already social media masters. Chances are your Instagram stories get dozens of views, your Tweets are always Retweeted, and your Facebook posts spark plenty of healthy debate. But there’s one platform that typically isn’t in the daily rotation: LinkedIn. And unlike other platforms, which mostly serve to distract you from your actual work, LinkedIn is crucial to your career success. With internships and jobs becoming more competitive than ever, you want to craft the perfect LinkedIn profile for potential employers and recruiters. Here’s what you can find in this guide:

  1. Why Link Up with LinkedIn?
    The benefits of creating a strong presence on LinkedIn
  2. Creating a Perfect Profile on LinkedIn
    How to build your own profile, step by step
  3. Going the Extra Mile
    Tips and tricks to ensure you stand out from the collegiate crowd

Why Link Up with LinkedIn?

Time and time again, when it comes to building your career and landing your dream role, people tell you to network. Grab a virtual lunch with old classmates, email some family friends, and give your old babysitter a call—you never know who will have that all-important connection! In today’s increasingly digital world, networking is done via LinkedIn—and you can do it from the comfort of wherever you’re quarantining. Every single person on LinkedIn is a professional—and that means they’re all potential connections for you, as you conduct an internship or job search.

Searching for an internship or job is a big deal. It’s time-consuming, and it’s confusing, and it’s competitive (especially now!)—but it’s also incredibly rewarding. The sooner you start building a professional presence online, the better. By setting up a LinkedIn profile you can start connecting with other people, researching fields and companies that interest you, and establishing yourself as a credible professional, with concrete experience and skills.

The more people you connect with, the more likely you’ll know someone connected to your dream role when it pops up (and the more likely someone with connections will reach out to you). If you suddenly find yourself looking for a new role this summer, don’t just ask your neighbor if she needs an assistant and cross your fingers. With a strong LinkedIn presence, you’ll be able to reach out to tens or hundreds of people who work at organizations or in industries that are directly related to your career goals. Furthermore, 95 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to source candidates, so a great opportunity could just fall in your lap—if you play your profile cards right.

LinkedIn is also a great way to proactively shape your online identity. While stalking your ex on the internet is a tale as old as time, recruiters and hiring managers also take to Google to learn a little more about potential hires. You can save them a lot of time and effort by building a LinkedIn profile; it will provide proof of what your resume only tells them, building your credibility as a candidate. Plus, as we’ll discuss in more detail later, you can include a lot of information not on your resume—like direct recommendations from others and work samples.

While employers are using LinkedIn to learn all about you, the flip side of this coin is that LinkedIn is an excellent resource when it comes to researching potential companies (and their employees). Websites can be out of date, but LinkedIn pages usually aren’t. Companies also post press releases, articles written by employees, or breaking news—all of which make for great conversation once you get to the interview stage. Speaking of interviews, you can also use LinkedIn to look up people who may be interviewing you, allowing you to identify common interests or experiences.

Are you convinced yet? Good. Let’s dive into the profile-making details.

Creating a Perfect Profile on LinkedIn

Now, it’s time to walk through creating your own LinkedIn profile, step by step and section by section.

LinkedIn welcome screen

A couple of things to keep in mind as you follow LinkedIn’s student-centric prompts to sign up: First, have a headshot and your resume at the ready, and be sure to join using a professional email address that you check frequently. When LinkedIn asks if you’re a student, current students will want to select, “Yes.” If you’re a current student and you’re working, don’t worry: You’ll be able to update your account once the basics are all set up.

And once LinkedIn asks, “What are you most interested in?” rest assured that you’ll be able to edit all of this and tailor your profile later on. To start, select “Finding a job”—it’s a good jumping-off point.

One more tip for recent grads: If you’re not currently employed, act like you are (and ensure you show up in searches) with this simple trick: Create an entry that replicates LinkedIn’s job format, but describes what you currently do in lieu of having a regular 9–5. For example, a recent grad might write, “Python Developer/Class of 2019”—or something like that. For company name, write whatever you aspire to do.

Once you’ve signed up, all of your information will be under your profile, aka “Me” in the navigation bar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage. You can add new sections by clicking the “Add profile section” button.

1. Photo:

Once you’ve uploaded a photo, you’ll be an official member of LinkedIn. Now, you should be on your LinkedIn homepage.

LinkedIn will prompt you to add a photo when you set up your account. This is the first thing anyone sees. While a professional photo is optimal, there’s no need to overthink this. Just have a family member take a high-res headshot in which you’re wearing a clean shirt and a welcoming smile. You can even ask a friend to take a snapshot over video chat. And when this is all over, you can head to your college’s Career Center; they often offer free photo services.

LinkedIn profile overview

2.  Headline:

Click on “Me” in the upper right-hand corner of your homepage, and then select “View Profile.”

LinkedIn navigation bar

Once you click into your profile, LinkedIn will offer a Wizard that will walk you through suggested steps, depending on what’s still missing from your profile. Alternately, you can select that pencil icon to the right of “Add profile section” to follow our guide.

LinkedIn add profile section screenshot

First, it’s time to craft yourself a killer headline. Your headline is the first thing people read on your profile, so you want to make an impact. Don’t just say, “Student” or “Recent graduate.” That doesn’t encapsulate who you are and what you do. Sure, you can have your current title and company (or major and school)—and that is indeed LinkedIn’s default. But you can also say what you hope to be, highlight your greatest accomplishments (memberships, certifications, and areas of expertise all work), and promote your latest project. You want to catch people’s attention in as few words as possible. This is also a good place to advertise what you’re looking for next. If you’re seeking an internship, say so; it will ensure that your profile pops up when recruiters search for interns. For example:

Carla Carson
Digital Marketing Specialist
│ Podcast: Here We Go Again │ ABC University ’22 │ Seeking Social Media Internship
Tom Thomas
Aerospace Engineer Specializing in Propulsion (Actual Rocket Scientist)

3. Contact Info:

Next to your location, click “Contact info” to ensure everyone knows where to reach you. If you put your phone number, you might want to adjust your privacy settings accordingly. This is also where you can put your personal website or online portfolio. A small step that can really help your profile strength!

4. Summary:

Under “Add profile section,” click “About,” and then the “+” sign to put your best self forward.

LinkedIn summary screenshot

You want to take your headline and add all the little details that make you tick—and that make people want to get to know you. Your LinkedIn summary is similar to a resume summary or objective, but with ample space and the opportunity to write whatever the heck you want, in your own words. We suggest writing in the first-person, rather than the third, because it’s more personal. You’re writing 2–5 paragraphs in which you grab the viewer’s attention and make them want to connect with you. As a student, you want to balance your needs and the employer’s needs—so focus on what you’re looking for in your next position as well as how you can add value for a company.

A great LinkedIn summary highlights your area of expertise, your relevant soft and hard skills (including your measurable impact), your desired industry/professional opportunities, and your unique qualifications and personality. Essentially, you’re telling your professional story, from past to present to future. With less experience, it can help to lead with a compelling anecdote or your personal mission. If you’re in a more technical field, focus more on industry keywords and your hard skills.

When I was four years old, I told my teacher that I wanted to be a panda when I grew up. After all, they were my favorite animal, so why wouldn’t I want to be one?

I quickly realized that I couldn’t be a panda—but I could build a career helping animals all across the world. I thought about being a veterinarian or a conservationist, but as I spoke with experts and learned more about the field, I realized something: I wanted to be the spark behind the flame of those experts. I wanted to take my passion for helping wildlife, and I wanted to pursue a career in nonprofit development work.

Last summer, as an intern with the African Rhino Community, I organized the annual gala from start to finish. The event sold out and yielded record-breaking revenue; despite inflation, I cut the event budget by 6% over the previous year so that more funds could go to our cause. During the school year, I work as a volunteer dog walker and as volunteer coordinator at the local animal shelter (they’re not pandas, but they’re still great!). In my first year in this part-time job, I increased volunteer applications by 26%.

I organize flawless events, from development and planning to staffing and evaluation. I develop and implement social media campaigns that increase website traffic and convert donors. I bring my passion for animals to every interaction, connecting with minor and major donors on a personal level to raise funds and awareness.

I’ll be graduating in May 2021, and I’ll bring all of this to my work with your environmental or animals nonprofit.

5. Experience:

The next few sections are all under “Add profile section: Background.”

LinkedIn add profile background screenshot

This first one is also the most important because it’s where you detail your work experience (internships, externships, co-ops, and part-time roles absolutely count), along with what you did and accomplished at each position. You can import your resume to kick things off, and then manually tweak each role for keyword optimization and content. And just as with your resume, always start with your current role and work your way back.

If you need it, we have some resume inspiration for current students and recent graduates. A strong resume is the backbone of a strong LinkedIn profile, so you can also peruse other resume examples to ensure your Experience section is spot-on.

Senior Sales Associate
July 2018–Present
• 1 yr 4 mos
Kansas City, MO

  • Promoted to Senior Sales Associate in record-breaking eight months; entrusted to train new hires in point of sale operations, exchanges, and inventory management.
  • Assist manager with maintaining payroll records to assure accurate and timely accounting of employee hours.

Cultivate strong customer relationships through cheerful, efficient service in fast-paced retail environment with 3,500+ customers per week.

6. Education:

For students, listing your education is a given. This is where anything for which you earned a degree goes. Include your high school, too, as it’s a great way to make connections. For current students, include your expected date of graduation, and don’t forget to add summer programs and study abroad experiences.

7. Licenses & Certifications:

If you’ve received any certificates or licenses, put them here. You can even enter your license number, letting any would-be employers know that you’re telling the whole truth.

8. Volunteer Experience:

Even if you didn’t get paid for the work, you still did it, and employers recognize that. List all volunteer gigs, and in your bullet points, highlight your measurable impact and transferrable skills—just as you would for work experience.

Volunteer Tutor
December 2017–May 2018
• Toledo, OH
Tutored eight students both individually and in small groups in English as a Second Language (ESL); more than half achieved an “A” in English, and all students passed.

9. Skills & Endorsements

Under “Add profile section,” click “Skills,” and then the “+” sign to highlight those hard skills that employers really want.

LinkedIn adding skills screenshot

10. Accomplishments:

Under “Add profile section,” click “Accomplishments,” and then go through each applicable category individually.

LinkedIn adding accomplishments screenshots

For current students or recent graduates, the “Honors & Awards” section is crucial, as those accolades are tangible evidence of your awesomeness. You can also add your coursework, focusing on those classes that are most relevant to your chosen industry and best show off your skill set.

For many students, the “Publications” section is a great way to highlight your published work and link to it, so that recruiters can easily view (and vet) it. “Languages” allows you to show off your multilingual skills—but don’t list a language unless you’re comfortable actually using it. “Organizations” is where you’ll put your extracurricular activities, from sports to clubs, when you’re a current student; later in your career, you can add professional memberships. Just as with your volunteer and work experience, be sure to describe what you did and accomplished for each one. Finally, “Projects” is another useful category: Did you lead a successful project in one of your classes? Are you currently writing your first novel? Mention it here.

Going the Extra Mile

If you’ve filled out all the sections above, you’re in good shape. Be sure to double-check your work to ensure everything is accurate, your grammar is golden, and there’s nary a typo in sight. For current students, your Career Services Center will be happy to help out.

At this point, you’ll also want to go to “Settings and Privacy” to check on what everyone can see. In particular, make sure that recruiters know you’re open by going to “Job Seeking Preferences,” and then changing everything to “Yes.”

LinkedIn settings and privacy screenshot

LinkedIn job seeking preferences screenshot

If you want to be a LinkedIn superstar, we have a few more tips, tricks, and extras.

  • Get recommendations: Recommendations are a key aspect of your profile. While employers will still ask for references before hiring you, recommendations are a quick way to check on whether you’re a credible candidate.LinkedIn makes it very easy to request recommendations. You can just scroll down to “Recommendations” on your profile and click, “Ask for a recommendation.” When you ask, be detailed and be grateful—and be ready to return the favor if asked. Let your connection know if you’d appreciate their highlighting any specific skills.
    Request a recommendation on LinkedIn screenshot
  • Make a personalized URL: Appear super polished and make it way easier for people to find you by personalizing your URL so that it’s not a string of numbers and letters. In your profile, select “Edit Public Profile & URL,” at the top of the right-hand side bar. Click the pencil icon next to the current URL, then type your personalized URL into the text box. That’s it!
    LinkedIn personalized URL screenshot
  • Make connections: The faster you build your LinkedIn network, the faster you’ll find new opportunities. Start connecting with everyone you know. In addition to friends, classmates, and colleagues, connect with professors, family friends, old neighbors, and friends of friends. You can make things easier by changing LinkedIn’s standard, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” to a personalized message. Try mentioning where you know the person, something you have in common, or even a fun fact.Additionally, it’s totally fine to connect with people you don’t know really know, as long as you have a good reason. If you’re a student, alumni are an excellent resource. Just let them know that you’re currently attending their school, were impressed with their career path, and would love some advice. Instant connection!
  • Add a portfolio: LinkedIn offers multiple ways to add work samples to your profile. As we previously discussed, you can add a link to your personal website or portfolio under “Contact Info.” Alternately, you can add media and links to individual sections of your profile, including your Summary and Experience sections. Simply click the pencil icon, and then select “Upload” under “Media.” LinkedIn will allow you to enter titles and descriptions for each piece, creating a personal gallery of your work for all your connections to see.

That’s All, Folks!

Now, you’re a LinkedIn pro. Just as with your other social media sites, you’ll want to keep your profile updated and check up on things regularly. From here, you can join groups, share updates, and get connected to professionals all across the globe.