You're on LinkedIn — but so are more than 400 million other professionals. How can you stand out from the crowd? Here are my top 10 tips for doing LinkedIn right.
- Avoid embarrassment; fine-tune your Settings.
If you're going to engage in any amount of serious profile retooling on LinkedIn, there's one important step you'll want to take right out of the gate. Visit your LinkedIn settings and privacy section (located under the “Me” menu on the top toolbar), click on “Privacy” and turn off “Sharing profile edits,” so all your friends on the system aren't sent an announcement every time you make a tweak to your materials. Your contacts will thank you for it.
And when you’re finished making changes, you can turn this setting back on, although many LinkedIn users (including myself) keep this setting permanently turned off just to avoid annoying people.
- Don't just settle on a good profile photo.
Have a great one. Nothing pops off a LinkedIn search results page better than a friendly, crisp, high-quality mug shot. So don't sell your personal brand short by using that fuzzy picture from your cell phone or that distant shot of your silhouette on a ski slope.
Invest in getting a truly professional headshot taken for yourself — or, if funds are tight, have a friend of yours do the honors. We all know at least one serious amateur bragging about the latest camera kit they picked up at Costco, right? And above all, make sure you're smiling in your photo. Your job: Look approachable. Time after time, I notice this as a key common denominator separating good profile shots from bad ones.
- Think hard about your headline.
Right below your name on your profile, you'll find a critical section of screen real estate known as your headline. The information you put here will go a long way in shaping peoples' first impressions about you on LinkedIn. In this strip of space, you can type up to 120 characters describing your professional focus. But here's the catch: You need to edit what may be there already.
By default, your headline mimics your current or most recent job title, as well as employer name, which usually isn't the best way to go about things. Your corporate-designated job title usually doesn't convey your overall career focus as clearly, succinctly and powerfully as something you'd come up with yourself, such as "Marketing Manager — Architectural & Engineering Industry Focus" or "Junior Business Analyst w/Cutting-Edge Training in SharePoint Administration."
- Personalize your public profile URL.
These days, tons of folks share their LinkedIn profile address (URL) with other people as a key element of their professional contact information, in addition to other time-tested data such as phone number and email address. In fact, many people even add their LinkedIn URL to their resume, business cards and email signature blocks now as a matter of course.
If you’ve never done this, however, you may not realize you can customize and shorten your profile link before you send it out. You're not permanently doomed to using the lengthy, randomly generated address that was assigned to your account when you joined. To create your own customized URL, go to the “View profile” screen and click on the “Edit your public profile” link on the right side of the page. Once there, go to the “Edit public profile URL” section and you can give your address a tweak — provided you’re able to come up with an address another user on the system hasn’t snagged already.
- Soup up your Summary.
What's that you say? You uploaded your work experience into your profile but never took the time to add a summary to your intro information? Oops! You're missing out on a terrific opportunity to tell your story and help your profile rise to the top of employer, recruiter and customer searches.
Ideally, your summary should be around three to five short paragraphs long — preferably with a bulleted section in the middle. It should walk the reader through your work passions, key skills, unique qualifications and a list of the various industries you've had exposure to over the years. I also recommend inserting your email address somewhere near the end of your summary, unless you're facing confidentiality issues, since this will help interested parties contact you more easily on the system.
- Let recruiters know you’re looking.
One of the long-standing questions about LinkedIn is how you can signal to recruiters that you’re open to a new assignment — especially when you’re currently working and don’t want your colleagues (or boss) to find out you’re exploring new opportunities.
If this is your situation, make sure you check out the “Let recruiters know you’re open” setting hiding in the Jobs, Update Career Interests menu. Turning this setting on will alert visiting recruiters that you’re willing to consider potential openings, while camouflaging your intentions from recruiters who work at your current company. Make sure you read the fine print next to the setting, however, to be fully aware of its limitations!
- Deck out your work history.
When it comes to being found on LinkedIn, keywords are king. The more appropriate language you have describing your professional capabilities, the better. So if you're worried about adding too much meat into your Experience section, get over it.
Flesh out each of your past jobs with a thorough description of your responsibilities, including a healthy breakdown of the day-to-day tasks you performed and perhaps a short bulleted list of your key accomplishments and contributions. Remember, a visitor to your profile can always scroll through things quickly if they only want to hit the highlights. But if you don't come up in the first place, you're sunk!
- Include a current job entry, even when unemployed.
Okay, here's a BIG tip for all of you out there on the hunt for a new job. If you've only listed the past positions you've held in the Experience section and have nothing current shown, you'll probably get missed in most searches. Why? Because most recruiting professionals exclusively use the current title box to search for candidates; otherwise they'd have to sort through thousands of candidates who held a certain role (for example, graphic designer) as far back as 20 or 30 years ago.
The simple workaround, if you're unemployed, is to create a dummy job listing in the current section that includes the job title(s) you're targeting — for example, “Full-Time Student/Financial Analyst in Training” — followed by a phrase like "In Transition" or "Seeking New Opportunity" in the Company Name box.
- Trumpet your expertise.
If you scroll down near the bottom of your profile, you'll find a “Featured Skills & Endorsements” section that allows you to build a list of up to 50 skills, strengths and competencies you possess as a professional. You can type in whatever keywords come to mind, or, even easier, just start typing any common term like sales or accounting and then pick from the series of more specialized competencies that will appear on the screen.
Adding skills here will help readers fully understand what you bring to the table, and your connections on the system will be able to start endorsing you as being good as these various activities. And, if you think you couldn’t possibly have more than a dozen or two terms to include, think again. Even an entry-level foodservice worker could add a long list of various skills and strengths that includes time management, cash register usage, food safety, scheduling, teamwork, customer service and more.
- Ask people to talk you up.
I know, you're modest. And you were raised not to brag about yourself. But at least let others toot your horn for you on LinkedIn by using the "Request a recommendation" feature, found under the "... More" icon on member profile pages. This feature lets you invite your contacts to submit some positive thoughts about you for your profile visitors to see.
Recommendations are the modern equivalent of letters of reference from the old days and simply involve having your connections on the site write up and submit nice remarks about you that then get featured, permanently, at the bottom of your profile. This step is important since, for better or worse, what Yelp has become to restaurants, LinkedIn is rapidly becoming to people in a professional sense. So set yourself apart a bit and get some people to vouch for you!