You're on LinkedIn — but so are more than 400 million other professionals. How can you stand out from the crowd? We asked LinkedIn expert and career coach Matt Youngquist for his advice. Here are his 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 a very important step you'll want to take right out of the gate. Visit your LinkedIn Privacy & Settings menu and turn off the sharing profile edits setting, found among other privacy settings listed there. This way you’ll spare the folks in your network from receiving announcements regarding each and every tweak you make. They'll thank you for it.
When you're finished, you can turn this setting back on, although a lot of LinkedIn users (especially those searching for work confidentially) keep many of their privacy settings in maximum stealth mode at all times.
- 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 a truly professional headshot. Or, if funds are tight, have a friend do the honors. We all know at least one serious amateur photographer, 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.
- Think hard about your headline.
Right under your name, you'll find a very important section of screen real estate known as your headline. What you put here will go a long way in shaping people’s first impressions about you on LinkedIn. In this area, you can include 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 or work assignment, which usually isn't the best way to go about things. Your corporate-designated job title probably doesn't convey your 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.
In addition to their phone number and email address, all the cool kids today are passing out their LinkedIn profile address, or URL, as a key piece of contact information on their resumes, business cards and in their email signature blocks.
If you've never done this, however, you may not realize that you can customize and shorten this link before you send it out. You're not permanently doomed to using the jumbled, long, randomly assigned address that LinkedIn bequeathed to you by default when you first joined the system. So browse around your Edit Profile page until you see the public profile URL section. Then go in there, find the customize option and give your URL a tweak.
- Soup up your Summary.
What's that you say? You uploaded your work experience into your profile but never took the time to fill out the Summary box? 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 3–5 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 particularly worried about privacy and confidentiality issues, since this will help interested parties contact you more easily on the system.
- Spice things up with multimedia.
Looking to add a little extra personality and pizzazz to your profile? Or showcase some online accolades, portfolio pieces or tangible work product?
Consider using the Add Media option you’ll find under each of your job entries (as well as the Summary section) to upload multimedia content like videos, websites, blog articles and Acrobat files to your portfolio. Of course, you’ll want to make sure anything you feature is truly high-quality stuff that casts your capabilities in a positive light — and that none of what you post is sensitive in nature or will get you in trouble with a past or present employer.
- Deck out your work history.
When it comes to being found on LinkedIn, keywords are king. The more appropriate language that describes 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 show up in their search 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 but show nothing current, 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 more 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 — “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 Skills section that allows you to build a list of all the skills, strengths and competencies you possess as a professional. You can type in whatever comes to mind, or, even easier, you can pick a series of appropriate choices from the built-in menu.
Make sure you include at least 15 to 20 entries in here, though, since this section plays a key role in the LinkedIn search algorithm. And every professional has at least that many skills under their belt, when you stop and think about it. An entry-level food service worker, for example, could cite skills in time management, cash register usage, food safety, scheduling, teamwork and customer service. And the list goes on.
- Ask people to talk you up.
I know, 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. Encourage your connections to submit recommendations to your profile or endorse you for specific skills.
Once you create specific entries in the Skills area, your connections are presented with opportunities to endorse you for those skills; however, you need to be proactive when it comes to getting recommendations. Try asking friends and acquaintances to submit short, personalized testimonials of your wonderfulness. This step is important because, 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.