How to Use LinkedIn to Advance Your Financial Aid Career

October 29, 2014 heatherdunn

There are 300 million users on LinkedIn – for comparison sake, that’s only slightly less than the population of the United States. LinkedIn is easily the most popular social media for professionals. The member base spans 200 countries, with a third of the users living in the U.S. With 100 million of your fellow Americans displaying their professional pedigree on LinkedIn, it’s time to ask yourself why you’re not. [Tweet “100 million American professionals are on LinkedIn. Why aren’t you?”]

Certain industries have a lesser presence on LinkedIn, but you may be surprised by who is represented. For example, a search of “deep sea fishing” reveals members, groups and even open job postings of the named industry. Postsecondary education administration employs roughly 162,000 people – hardly as niche as the deep sea fishing industry.

Having a professional presence online is becoming increasingly important in the financial aid industry. Don’t believe us? Below are some of the myriad benefits.

Benefits of an Online Professional Presence

You are searchable. Potential employers turn to LinkedIn to search for candidates.

You have a network. When you have industry-specific questions, requests for advice or support or an open position in your department, a big network is a priceless resource. See our list of LinkedIn’s higher ed financial aid groups below to grow your network.

You are real. This may sound silly, but an internet presence is becoming a proof of existence, and as a result, a source of trust. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to make up or steal an identity nowadays, and those in your industry will often search you out online before meeting you.

You are experienced or an expert. Perhaps you are speaking at a conference or have set up a meeting with a counterpart at another school. They may search for you on LinkedIn to determine your experience or knowledge prior to meeting. Though it’s not fair to judge from an online profile, that’s exactly what happens. Certain assumptions will be made when you don’t turn up in a search.

You are tech-savvy. You may have begun your career when the entire financial aid process was conducted without computers. If so, we first must acknowledge the countless students you’ve served in your career – thank you. However, you’ll notice that it’s not just your students who use computers for nearly everything; college administrators incorporate more tech (behind the scenes and in the classroom) every year. Having an updated online professional profile illustrates your technical abilities, which will actually set you ahead of others in the financial aid industry.

10 Tips for Being Legendary on LinkedIn

1. Complete your profile.

This may seem like a no-brainer, yet I continue to see profiles that only list the job title and employer with no summary. This is as helpful as an obscure menu item with no description (ah yes, I’ll have the Constellation Burger…it sounds delicious?). Especially if you are on the job hunt or considering it, take the time to write a summary that reflects you and job descriptions with keywords that relate to your industry. This gives potential employers an understanding of your skills and insight into whether you’re a fit for their department culture. Speaking of keywords…

2. Include the right keywords.

LinkedIn’s internal search engines rely on keywords in searches. Determine the keywords that potential employers would use to fill the position you want. recommends putting your most important keywords strategically throughout your profile by placing them in your:

  • Professional Headline
  • Title Fields (of jobs)
  • Specialties
  • Interests
  • Recommendations (when you request recommendations from co-workers, it’s fine to ask that they reference you with certain keywords)
  • Education

3. Smile for the camera.

Your picture and headline are all people will see before they connect with you. These are your two selling points…make sure they are crisp, clear and professional. Even if you can’t afford professional headshots, choose the closest thing. This article gives useful advice for taking your own headshots with nothing more than a smartphone.

4. Connect with everyone.

Connect with old and new colleagues, bosses, classmates, clients, fellow committee members and anyone else you’ve associated with for a job, project, charity or board. Also add people in your industry who you don’t yet know but would like to, such as the most quoted man in Financial Aid, Mark Kantrowitz. Connecting on LinkedIn isn’t about looking popular, it’s a way to expand your job opportunities. Malcolm Gladwell references sociologist Mark Granovetter’s well-known study about connectors, stating his “research showed it was your acquaintances, not your close friends, who introduce you to new ideas and opportunities.”

Take one financial aid counselor I spoke with recently. She took a couple years off with a new baby and is looking to re-enter the financial aid industry. She has about 150 connections on LinkedIn. If each of those people only had 20 connections, her network amasses to 3,000 professionals. Imagine if she added another 10 similar people – that’s 200 more potential connections who could:

  • Introduce her to their connections in the industry
  • Share a job opportunity with her
  • Endorse her skills or recommend her
  • Offer advice in her job search
  • Post an article or financial aid tool that that earns her recognition when she lands a job

5. Celebrate others.

I have found a “give to get” approach effective on LinkedIn. Every single person I have recommended has recommended me back. And when I have a couple extra minutes, I’ll go LinkedIn and endorse people for skills I know they possess. The next time I sign in, I always have more endorsements for my own skills. Plus, in my experience, writing a genuine recommendation for an old or current coworker lends a positive, random-act-of-kindness-glow to a stressful day.

6. Join groups.

 In my opinion, this is the second greatest benefit of LinkedIn (#1 is finding your dream job opportunities). Below is a list of the top higher ed Financial Aid related groups on LinkedIn. Join these groups to:

  • Network with fellow industry professionals
  • Ask questions
  • Get feedback
  • Find out what resources your fellows are using
  • See the newest studies and research
  • Be among the first to see new job postings

Top Financial Aid Groups

7. Weigh in.

Joining the right groups isn’t enough. These groups are full of thousands of invisible members who don’t contribute. Become a memorable name in your industry by posting relevant, credible articles, liking others’ posts and commenting when you can offer a knowledgeable opinion or when you have a question. When your resume passes someone’s desk and they recognize your name from a LinkedIn group you’re both in, you are immediately more “real” and interesting than other candidates.

8. Snoop around.

Laura Shin, LinkedIn expert and author suggests snooping. She says if you’re considering a school’s job posting, you can use LinkedIn to find former employees of the school who can give insight into the department culture. You may also find one of your connections is able to introduce you to the hiring manager. Also in reverse, if your boss is hiring, you may be able to peruse your LinkedIn connections to help make some recommendations. Never underestimate the value of making your boss’s life easier; he or she will recognize that your connections make you a more valuable asset to the department and school.

9. Publish.

If you’re into name dropping, then here is why Forbes says you should publish. Otherwise, allow me to elaborate on why publishing on LinkedIn is the extra credit of being a LinkedIn Legend. By now, you may have seen posts by your colleagues or by Financial Aid organizations you follow in your LinkedIn feed. For businesses and organizations, LinkedIn is a content marketing platform just like their company blog. For individuals, it’s an opportunity to become an expert in the field.

Every day, you have unique experiences with students. Likely, you learn something new about financial aid on a weekly basis or more frequently. By sharing your solutions to these learning experiences in an article on LinkedIn, you become a resource for others in your field (without featuring specific student information, of course). Now imagine one of those people who used the solution you generously shared hears your name come up as an applicant for a job within their department. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had such a positive story to share about your creative problem-solving skills? #extracredit

10. Start today.

Even if you started reading this article thinking, “But I’m not looking to leave my current job,” I hope have learned that being valuable on LinkedIn increases your value in your current workplace, as well as your industry as a whole. LinkedIn isn’t the only course to a successful career in Financial Aid – in fact, many of you led legendary careers before LinkedIn – but it is unquestionably an asset to the modern financial aid professional. Oh, and it’s free. So why not take time today to implement one of the suggestions above?

LinkedIn For You

What positive impact has LinkedIn had on your career? How do you use the professional platform?


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