Why Aren't College Students Using LinkedIn To Find Jobs?

The jobless numbers in the U.S. remain an ongoing concern throughout the country. For college students and recent graduates, often dubbed "millennials," the numbers are even worse. More than half of recent graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. Despite these figures, according to a recent survey, nearly half of current college students have never used LinkedIn - typically thought of as the social network for job seekers.

This seems like a wasted opportunity - for both students and LinkedIn. 

I spoke to Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, about the recent survey his firm conducted with AfterCollege. Despite the fact that most students are extremely social-media savvy, often heavy users of Facebook and Twitter, for example, students are  avoiding LinkedIn.

I believe that the LinkedIn numbers are low because students aren't thinking about networking until after they graduate and don't feel like they have enough contacts to add to their profiles since many don't have real work experience yet. 

The students who focus on networking starting freshman year are at a great advantage because everyone knows that relationships lead to jobs. 

Students Need Guidance

Students are certainly experienced with social media, just not with LinkedIn. While a surprisingly low 46% of student have never used LinkedIn, 90% of the students surveyed "frequently or occasionally" use Facebook. Even for those students who are using LinkedIn, however, it's still not a priority in their job search. When searching for a job, current students focus their efforts, in order, on:

  1. Employer's Web site (70%)
  2. Contact within the company (65%)
  3. School career fair (61%)
  4. Online job listings site (58%)
  5. Social networking - including LinkedIn (26%)

Colleges can do more to help. Most students, the survey claims, believe their college is failing to offer adequate networking opportunities. For example, 46% of the students wanted their school to offer more instruction on "how to get jobs." Approximately 50% of students either "haven't used their career services department or had a bad experience" with the department.  

Schawbel says he hears this theme often when speaking on campuses. 

Students need more than resume reviews these days. They need a stronger rolodex and a better idea of how to go about their job search. (Colleges) should bring in speakers, hold more career fairs - not just one each season - and help make connections between students and alumni. Alumni like to recruit from their alma matter. 

The University Perspective

I asked my former university, the University of Michigan, how it helps current students leverage professional social networking. I spoke with Lynne Sebille-White, senior assistant director of the university's Career Center. She told me that "we encourage students to use LinkedIn to identify professionals and alumni working in their fields of interest. We also routinely recommend students check out our alumni group on LinkedIn."

She added, however, that many students are intimidated by LinkedIn - worried that their "partial profile" may not provide an effective representation of the student's abilities and prior experiences. "Current students usually have little experience [with professional] networking so we need to coach them through that process. Those who come by this skill more naturally use social media extensively to find and make professional connections which prove quite helpful in the search process."  

Nonetheless, Sebille-White was effusive about the power of social media in general for current college students. "Social media allows you to showcase your skills, experience and unique talents in a very public manner... Social media provides amazing access to others in a way that was not previously available. You can find almost anyone and if you're smart, you can make a positive impression by how you manage your online presence." 

Of course, it matters more in some positions more than others. "In fields like PR, corporate communications, and journalism, you need to have a presence on social media and leave a positive impression," she said. "You can't get hired in these fields if you aren't showcasing your interest and savvy in using social media and showcasing your writing style." The bottom line, she concluded, is that "every job seeker needs to think about their personal brand. Social media now allows folks to be seen as experts in ways that were not previously possible. " 

A Student Perspective

That's one side of the story. To hear the other side, I also contacted a current Michigan student - not referred to me by the university - who landed a paid internship following her sophomore year.

Now a junior, Rachel Bradley-Haas has just accepted a paid summer position with a different company in her field (industrial engineering). Turns out, she actively uses LinkedIn.

Bradley-Haas initially created a LinkedIn profile because companies she was interested in listed jobs through the site - and these typically required she respond with her LinkedIn profile. She noted, however, that Twitter did not prove helpful in connecting her with potential employers. Facebook proved useful after the search. For those companies she did connect with - even if she was not offered a job or if she turned their offer down - she typically "liked" the company on Facebook.

Survey Notes: Millennial Branding bills itself as a "Gen Y research and consulting firm." AfterCollege is "the largest online career network for college students and recent graduates." The two firms emailed "thousands" of registered students across the U.S. and 600 responded. The companies told me that "just over half" of those who responded are currently attending schools with more than 10,000 students, and that 66% of all respondents are females. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. Picture of Dan Schawbel taken from his site. Image of Lynne Sebille-White courtesy of the University of Michigan.