LinkedIn 101 for PhD Job Seekers

Written by
Stacy Hartman

Oct 19, 2021

Oct 19, 2021 • by Stacy Hartman

LinkedIn has become a crucial tool for any job search. Unfortunately, there are a lot of terrible LinkedIn profiles out there, and even more mediocre ones that don’t take advantage of everything the site has to offer. Here are some tips for making sure your profile is attractive to employers and recruiters.

Your headline does NOT have to be your current position.

“PhD Student at X University” may be true, but it’s not the most effective headline for you. Ask yourself what the most important aspects of your professional identity are to you. Are you an educator? a writer? a researcher? a linguist? a project or program manager? Emphasize those identities (within the 120-character limit). They will likely be more legible to your reader, who may not understand what a PhD really means. 

Have a good, professional photo.

A selfie is acceptable, but it should not be obvious that it’s a selfie. A photo of you in action is also a nice option, but it should be fairly close-up. A smile with teeth is better than a closed-mouth smile; it makes you look more open. No sunglasses. It’s important that people are able to see your eyes. And definitely no photos with kids, partners, or pets (this is not Facebook).

Always include contact information.

If you’re on LinkedIn, presumably it’s because you want people to be able to contact you. But that’s actually harder than you’d think if you’re not already connected to someone. Most people don’t have LinkedIn Premium, and if you don’t include a way for people to contact you in your profile, you might miss opportunities. Make sure your e-mail address is included somewhere in your summary.

Ditch endorsements for recommendations.

We all have that one person who keeps trying to endorse us for our skills in Microsoft Word. Endorsements are nice ego boosts, but they’re pretty meaningless to most recruiters. But a nice, well-crafted recommendation from a colleague, former supervisor, or even a former student on a particular project or job can be very meaningful. Not everyone has them, so they set your profile apart. Don’t be afraid to solicit these, perhaps in exchange for writing one yourself.

Compose an attention-grabbing summary.

A lot of people leave their summary blank because they don’t know what to do with it, but that’s a mistake. The LinkedIn summary is all about self-narrative—and as literature folks, that’s where we shine. A LinkedIn summary is not just a summation of your résumé but a chance for you to make people feel like you’re an interesting, engaging person with whom they want to work. Here are some tips for a strong LinkedIn summary, but keep in mind there’s a 2,000-character limit:

    • Use first person and a slightly more conversational tone than you would in a cover letter. Have a hook to draw in readers.
    • Provide a narrative that draws together your many experiences—and perhaps clarifies why you, a PhD-holder, are looking for work in what might appear to be an unrelated field.
    • Highlight special achievements and emphasize why they’re important. William Arruda, LinkedIn adviser extraordinaire, recommends asking yourself, “What’s my superpower?” This can be a good hook.
    • At the bottom have a “Specialties” section where you list the search terms you want to show up under. Also list any common misspellings of your name.
    • Be very careful how much time you spend talking about your dissertation. Unless your dissertation is closely related to your job search, don’t let it take up too much space. Your dissertation may not be the most interesting thing about you to prospective employers.

Fill out the parts that might seem irrelevant, like volunteer work and affiliated organizations.

Affiliating yourself with organizations or causes gives prospective employers an idea of your values. And volunteer work, while unpaid, very much counts as work. Coordinating other volunteers may even count as management experience. If it’s substantial enough, you might even move it up to the “Experience” section. 

Use to connect with alumni in fields you’re interested in.

If you go to, you can see everyone on LinkedIn from every university you’ve listed in your profile. It will automatically populate first with people with whom you share connections, and it also allows you to look at people in certain geographic areas, employment sectors, and even at particular organizations. This useful feature is a great way to find people to conduct informational interviews with. You will need to connect with them first in order to message them, but don’t let that stop you. People are more likely to connect with their fellow alumni.

Develop your LinkedIn profile before you really “need” it.

A common response among PhD students when I mention LinkedIn is that they aren’t yet job hunting and don’t need it yet. But it’s important to start developing your LinkedIn profile before you really need it. First, it takes time to develop a good profile. In particular, it takes time to develop an effective summary. Second, LinkedIn is great for passive job hunting. This means that you’re not applying for jobs or otherwise actively seeking employment, but you’re open to opportunities. The right job (part-time or full-time) might come looking for you, believe it or not––but you must first be willing to put yourself out there.

In fact, that may be the number one rule of job hunting (and life in general): For opportunity to come knocking, calling, or messaging, you must first signal that you’re ready for it. A well-crafted LinkedIn profile is one way to do just that.