When it’s time to look for a new job, LinkedIn can be your best friend. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t give the professional social network a second glance until that time comes. That leaves their profile out-of-date, uninteresting and unhelpful in getting them noticed by potential employers.
Here’s my 10-step process to really give your LinkedIn profile the boost it needs, allowing you to stand out and leverage the power of LinkedIn.
1. Put your best FACE forward.
This should be a no-brainer. Not including a photo screams that you haven’t put any effort into your profile. If you’re not going to take care of this step, you might as well throw in the towel. Your profile is at least 50% less likely to be viewed without a photo.
LinkedIn is a social network for professional people, showcasing their professional careers and making professional connections. That candid snapshot from the tiki bar on your Caribbean vacation six years ago won’t cut it.
You could have a friend or family member snap a nice pic for you in your best shirt. But if you’re serious about elevating your career, take the time and spend the few dollars to get a professional headshot photo. A professional will capture your best angle, touch up the image as required, perfect the lighting, provide a professional backdrop and coach you to tilt your chin just right. They’ll likely take a couple dozen photos, or more, and will select from them the one that really serves your best. All this, and it will likely cost you less than $200.
Pro Tip: You can add more visual with the use of a cover photo. Choose an image that represents what you do. If you’re a landscaper, maybe a photo of a beautiful
garden you designed. If you’re a writer, maybe an image of papers, pens or books. For an accountant, try a visual that includes spreadsheets and numbers. Remember, it’s a professional network. Choose an image that creates the impression you want to make with people who could give you your dream job.
2. Compose a catchy headline.
The headline appears just below your name in your profile. If you want to make a solid first impression, get this one right. Your headline should be more than just a job title. I’m going to repeat that because it’s important. Your headline should be more than just a job title.
When drafting your headline, think like a newspaper reporter. If you are the story, what is the headline that will grab a reader’s attention and draw them in? Just like a newspaper has limited room on the page, you only get 120 characters for your headline in your LinkedIn profile, so make it count.
Why am I so opposed to just using your job title—even if it is a catchy one? Everybody has a job title, and I bet hundreds of people have on just like yours, or at least one that means the same thing as yours. If you want to stand out, you need to answer the question, “Why should I care?” You’re a plumber in New Brunswick. Great. You and 739 other New Brunswickers. Oh but you’re special? Wonderful. Tell me how! Let that be the focus of your headline.
Let’s say you’re a plumber who focuses on residential work. You’ve been on the job since 1993 and you’re really good at re-working plumbing for renovation projects. You suddenly find yourself unemployed and looking for work. Which of these headlines is more likely to catch the attention of the hiring manager at a local plumbing contracting company?
Anna Fairley – Experienced Plumber
Stewart Henley – Unclogging Toilets and Solving Complex Residential Plumbing Challenges for 25 years.
Stewart’s profile is lighthearted just because the words “unclogging toilets” paint a picture that’s less than glamourous. His headline is specific. We still know he’s a plumber, which is important, and we know what he specializes in. We also know he’s experienced and he’s not afraid of dirty work, without him braggadociosly including words like “expert” or “hard-working”. (Spellcheck is telling me braggadociosly can’t become an adverb simply by adding ‘ly’. I refuse to accept that.)
3. Customize the URL
This one perhaps doesn’t deserve to be so high up on the list, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. Take a look at how these two profile URLs end in a bunch of random letters and numbers:
Those numbers are assigned randomly by LinkedIn, to save the slick URLs for the people who care about their careers. (My interpretation.) You could leave them there, but that presents two issues for me:
- It tells me you lack attention to detail, or you rushed creating your profile, or you don’t understand internet basics, or any combination of these poor messages, and others. (Sorry, Brad and Paolo.)
- It’s really hard to share, let alone remember. You’re not going to put that on your business card and you shouldn’t put it on your resumé, even if it is a clickable link.
Instead, you should aim to have a URL that’s clean and tidy, like these fine New Brunswick mayors:
If you’re not sure how to create a custom URL for your LinkedIn profile, just follow this helpful how-to.
4. Spend time on your summary.
LinkedIn is a powerful tool because it allows you to do things a resumé doesn’t. Unrestricted by page space, you can do a little bit of storytelling that you likely can’t get away with on your resumé. So, how do you tell stories and entice readers without going overboard?
When writing your summary, consider the answer to his question:
If a potential employer could read only the summary and nothing more, would they want to contact you?
Draft and re-draft your summary until the answer to that question is an unequivocal “Yes!”
You get to control the narrative, but you have to seize that opportunity.
Here are some other tips for your summary:
- Keep it to a reasonable length. You can use up to 2,000 characters, but if you’re going to do that you’d better be telling an awesome, engaging story. Generally 3-5 short paragraphs is good. Don’t list everything you’ve ever done. Focus on highlighting some great accomplishments.
- Be conversational. Write like you speak. Not sure what that looks like? Start at the top of this blog post and read it again.
- Cut out the jargon and buzzwords. Go over each draft and look at each word asking whether it adds value and whether there’s a more concise or more precise way of saying what you’re saying. When a buzzword is used by everyone, it no longer helps anyone. Here’s a list of words you should NOT use in your LinkedIn profile.
- Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs. This is not an epic novel or a masters thesis. Brevity is your friend. Clarity is your lover.
- Go ahead and include some keywords to improve your LinkedIn and Google search optimization. If you can’t work them naturally into the text of your summary, just include a list of “specialties” or “focus areas” at the end of your summary.
You can rush your summary if you don’t really care about elevating your career. But if you do, then take the time to proofread, wordsmith, re-write and perfect.
5. Expand on your work experience
As you list the jobs you’ve had, what companies you worked for, how long you were there, and your responsibilities, remember again that your LinkedIn profile is not the same thing as your resumé.
While you don’t want to inundate hiring managers with crazy amounts of text, you do have room in your LinkedIn profile to tell more of a story than you can probably get away with on your resumé.
Make the most of this opportunity by focusing on accomplishments, using action words. Instead of just saying what your job responsibilities were, tell the story of what you accomplished while in each role. Create a mental visual of you doing great things—great things that a potential employer would like to see you do for them.
Again, tell a story but keep it brief. Kill the buzzwords. Short words, sentences and paragraphs.
6. Watch your chronology.
Make sure the dates in your LinkedIn profile are accurate, and that they match your resumé. Slight variations between the two can put up red flags for recruiters. And if they call a reference who’s timeline contradicts yours, consider your fate sealed.
7. Include contact information.
Now is not the time to wear a foil hat and worry about conspiracies to steal your identity. Of course you don’t want to share private information, but if you don’t give people the means to contact you easily, they won’t even try. Including an e-mail address and phone number in your profile gives employers more ways to reach out to you, which is exactly what you want them to do.
If you’re really concerned about sharing your e-mail address and phone number, consider setting up temporary ones just for your job search. Services like Grasshopper allow you to create a local phone number that forwards calls to your existing number. You could create a Gmail account just for your job search and forward messages to your regular e-mail address, or if you use Microsoft Live/Outlook/Hotmail, you can create an “alias” address, which you can just get rid of later.
8. Ask for recommendations.
I’ve met a lot of people who hesitate to do this on LinkedIn. They’re hesitant until they try it and get their first recommendation. Then they jump to leave recommendations for others and to ask for them.
If you’ve worked alongside someone for a couple of years, built a solid professional relationship and have developed mutual respect for each other, why wouldn’t that person want to give you a recommendation?
If you provided excellent customer service to a client and they saw the benefits of the work you did, why wouldn’t they want to return the favour and help you in your professional career?
LinkedIn recommendations aren’t full-page referral letters. They’re short snippets, usually just a paragraph, that help other LinkedIn users know that you’re reliable, helpful, knowledgeable, enthusiastic… or whatever other nice words people might use to describe you.
Give recommendations too, because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t adopt a model of always recommending people who recommend you, or always asking for recommendations from people you recommend. A recruiter can figure out that’s what’s going on, and it waters down everyone’s recommendations. Instead, give recommendations for people for whom you can speak about their expertise, work ethic or dependability. And ask for recommendations from the people most qualified to talk about the things you do best—and the things most likely to get you the job you want.
9. Consider other LinkedIn sections.
Some sections will serve you well, others won’t add much to your profile.
- If you work in a creative industry and have portfolio work that adds value to your profile, take the time to upload it and present it well.
- If your work is project based, use the Projects section to share details about some of your most significant contributions to the places you’ve worked and the people and companies you’ve worked for and with.
- If being up-to-date on certifications is essential to your line of work, use the Certifications section to show potential employers that you’re qualified to do the work they need done.
Assess each of the sections, determine which ones are relevant to your industry and your career objectives, and use them appropriately.
10. Go ahead and get personal.
Including things like volunteer work and personal interests helps to humanize your profile. It helps hiring managers get a feel for who you are as a person, not just the job you do. LinkedIn is a network for professionals, but it’s still a social network. Nobody wants to get social with the project manager without a personal life or the graphic artist who can’t see beyond her computer monitor.
Pro Tip: The section for adding interests was removed from LinkedIn a few years ago, but you can still consider tastefully adding them to your summary.
Always keep in mind your career objectives and ensure everything you add to your profile reflects the image you want to present, but don’t be afraid to show a little bit of personality and creativity.
Final Thoughts on Your LinkedIn Profile
I’ve mentioned a couple of times here that a LinkedIn profile is not a resumé. It’s a dynamic tool. It’s a social network. It’s a place to engage and to be engaged.
The more effort you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. That being said, don’t become overwhelmed. If you’re new to LinkedIn, work your way slowly through this process. Don’t get too hung up on perfect. Instead, focus on making sure your information is accurate and that it paints a positive picture of your career. And if you need help, reach out!