The ABC’s of Writing a Competitive LinkedIn Profile

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By Gordon Walter

A LinkedIn profile can be beautifully written, with perfect grammar/punctuation/prose and be ignored entirely by hiring professionals.  Following are primary considerations for job seekers when writing a LinkedIn profile that is more likely to attract the right kind of attention and get results.

Achievement Emphasis.  Employers are naturally searching for the best.  The great thing about LinkedIn is sometimes the job comes to you.  With this in mind, you must think of your profile as a marketing tool to promote your performance successes in the summary and experience sections.  Even if in your modesty all you can think of is that you had excellent attendance, then highlight it.  You know that it will be music to some employer’s for whom attendance is a keyword.

Appearance.  There are two significant ways in which a LinkedIn summary will be viewed: desktop or mobile.  Depending on which platform, only so many characters will appear on the profile summary:

  • Desktop: the first 220 characters are immediately visible, with the rest requiring a user click on “View More.”
  • Mobile: the first 92 characters are immediately visible.

Because viewers will need to take an extra step to see this other content, each of those first 220 and 92 characters are critical: 58 percent of LinkedIn’s users are viewing it via mobile (LinkedIn 2016 Q1 quarterly results), so maximizing the impact of those first 92 characters is especially important.

These two broad categories are technically further divisible by platform: on the desktop, what web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Edge/IE, or Safari) is used; on mobile, which OS (Android, iOS or Windows) applies.  Sometimes, website information is not displayed uniformly on each platform, OS, or screen size. However, differences are likely to be minor and, in the vast majority of cases, hard to notice.

Authentic. Don’t be afraid to communicate something authentic and personal, while remaining positive: this can make a substantial difference.

Blog Leverage.  If you have a WordPress-type blog, it is good to feed it into your profile (unless, of course, the content is not in alignment with LinkedIn.  To enable this setting, select “More” in the main navigation bar, then select “Applications.” From there, choose the WordPress application and enter the link to your feed.  The blog will then appear in your profile and will update each time a new post is added.

Buzzwords.  What do the words responsible, creative, effective, analytical, strategic, patient, expert, organizational, driven, and innovative have in common? They are on LinkedIn’s list of the most overused buzzwords on their site.  If you look closely, these words are not likely to be keywords and therefore can be readily replaced.  The text will read and sound more alive with the use of such words minimized.

Connections – Play The Numbers.  Maintaining 50 or fewer connections on LinkedIn tells recruiters one of three things: A. You do not know many people; B. You avoid connecting with others, or C. Technology and social media are not your “thing.”  None of these have a good connotation.  It is not at all necessary to have many hundreds of connections to have an effective network.  LinkedIn recommends approximately 200-250 people is a connections “sweet spot.”

Current Job – Even When There Is None.  Since many recruiters search exclusively using the “Current Title” box to search for candidates; you should create a job listing in the current section that includes the job title(s) you’re targeting, e.g., “Full-Time Student/Financial Analyst in Training.  This should be followed by a phrase such as “In Transition” or “Seeking New Position” in the Company Name box.

Discretion.  People are often fearful of doing anything on LinkedIn because their employer may find out.  Settings can be adjusted, so your boss doesn’t see it.  The privacy settings are easy to find:  sign in, and click “settings” in the drop-down menu, where your name appears in the upper right-hand corner, and make the appropriate selection.

Endorsements.  Endorsements can be a great way to highlight skills, as long as your profile isn’t top-heavy with too many.  Keeping your skills updated.  As new skills are developed, or new responsibilities are added, drop the somewhat outdated skills and add the ones you want to be known for.  Visitors to your page, will then only see the most relevant skills.

Enthusiasm – Is Contagious.  People who are energized are more exciting and can come across as having much to contribute.  Ensure profile shows interest.  Join and participate in groups related to your profession.  Use “Status” line to announce what you are doing professionally.  Share articles, news, and relevant updates.  Connect with recognized industry leaders.  It all works to attract good attention and to build your “Brand.”

Findable.  Do not neglect to add your contact information (e.g., email address (or blog, or Twitter handle, etc.), to the contact information section of your resume.

First Person.  First-person should not be used on a resume, but it is OK to use it on LinkedIn.  As previously stated, never use third-person.

Fit.  When hiring for permanent positions, hiring managers and other decision-makers have a strong preference for prospective employees who are a good fit; those who can comfortably fit into the organization’s culture.  Some places are of a more laid-back character and prefer people to work collaboratively.  Other places are comfortable with confrontation when views differ.  Others still will prioritize individual initiative to a greater or lesser extent.

As you know, every recruiter and many hiring managers have questions they ask to gauge how strong culture fit a candidate may be, with those less strong a fit being weeded out by those questions.  But as importantly: recruiters are fed up with all of the “detail-oriented,” “motivated” professionals.  Those catchphrases appear far too many times in far too many cases where these terms do not apply.

Groups.  LinkedIn Groups are an excellent source of education as well as job search activity. Joining a group relevant to your profession/industry shows that you are engaged in your career.  Also, you will forge connections to people and some relevant discussions to keep you informed and up-to-date.

Headline.  The headline doesn’t have to be job title and company.  Be innovative by using headline space to briefly showcase your specialty or value-added.  The more specific you can be about what sets you apart from the competition, the better.

Job Description.  Look at job descriptions of targeted positions, and insert them into a word cloud tool like “Wordle.”  See which words stand out.  They are likely what recruiters are searching for.  Make sure those words and phrases are sprinkled throughout summary and experience.

Keywords – Which Ones?  Identifying the right keywords to use in your LinkedIn profile summary can seem a bit overwhelming, but there are resources available to help find them:

  • Organization Charts. If there is a more senior, well-respected professional in your field, look at that person’s LinkedIn profile (Use LinkedIn Search function to locate).  Copy/paste his or her summary into your favorite word cloud site (Wordle.net is a popular one) and see what keywords are most prominent.  Do the same with the summary you are currently using, and compare the results.  Repeat this process with others, and a pattern should emerge.
  • Job Advertisements. Job advertisements are also content that is job-oriented and keyword-based and hence is also a great resource.  Once you identify the targeted job title for your search, look at job advertisements for the job title and its variations.  I copy/paste this text into a Word document.  Those words/phrases that are repeated are the keywords.
  • It goes without saying, but keywords of behavior, skills, and attributes that do not apply to someone’s experience cannot be used.  Also, a great profile not only has the right keywords but is also appealing to a human reader. Take the time to pull the keywords and the narrative together, so your profile is engaging and easy to read.

This list of keywords should then be the framework upon which the resume and profile are written.  Any skills, accomplishments, etc. that do not align with this keyword list should be considered of secondary importance and therefore not included.

Keywords – Work In LinkedIn.  When writing a resume, the intended audience is another person, but when it comes to a LinkedIn profile, the writing is more for search engines.  Recruiters and others search LinkedIn to find talent matching their needs, so the right keywords turning up in these search results is necessary.  There is an entire science to this discipline: search engine optimization.

Although the specifics of search engine optimization (SEO) are very technical, the concept is a simple one: keywords and their variations.  Anyone who has used a search engine understands how important the search terms can be.  And for the same reason, these keywords are highly relevant in a job search.

Multimedia.  LinkedIn permits adding photos, videos, and slideshows to your profile summary.  Instead of just talking about your work, you can show examples. As long as information shared is not proprietary to the employer, is OK to use.  If something might be legally protected, you can create a sample presentation on a relevant topic that shows your communication and presentation abilities.  Such material can make the profile way more interesting to read and prompt an employer to want to know more.

Numbers.  Highlight past results in summary, and when possible, include numbers and case studies that prove success.  Do not underestimate the power of a few key statistics to impress a reader.

Overdoing.  As LinkedIn offers a growing list of cool features and functionality, it is tempting to take “some of each.”  As with many other things in life, the Law of Diminishing Returns can apply to LinkedIn.  Invite others to assess your profile and give feedback.  If it appears to be a bit too much, then less can be more.  Remember, if, in a job search mode, you want your future employer to see the behaviors, skills, and abilities you have to offer in relationship to how they will help them.  You do not want that central message “lost in the lights.”

People – Known To You.  There is some inherent risk in accepting requests to connect with people you do not know.  Social risks aside, if enough people reject your request and say they do not know you, it is possible that LinkedIn will shut down your account.

Personalize.  Even though the profile is LIKE a resume, in other ways is not a resume.  Confusing?  Yes, a little.  The profile should be written as if in a conversation, so is perfectly reasonable to insert something of whom you are, your personality.  Things like values and passions are permissible to mention, though always when in alignment with the keyword list for targeted positions, industry, etc.  Therefore it is OK to mention the part of you that exists outside the workplace.  However, I tend to steer clear of listing activities that could be offensive to some people/organizations.  Your call whether to include something and if in doubt, go for it.

Photo.  Choose a clear, friendly, and professional image.  Look at what people in your targeted company, industry sector or business level are wearing.  Some professionals recommend showing yourself in an “action” photo in an appropriate work setting.  A good photo can convey passion, energy, charisma, empathy, and other soft skills that are hard to describe in writing.

Recommendations.  Do not shrink from asking people for a recommendation on LinkedIn.   And, it is OK to specify what you’d like them to focus on in their statement.  Getting generic recommendations are not as helpful as something more specific, that happens to align with a keyword(s) and if possible can include a metric (i.e., dollars, percent, numerical values, etc.).

Resume – Like A.  Someone’s resume isn’t merely a list of job duties, but is a place to highlight the behaviors, skills, and accomplishments the candidate has that the company needs.  The same considerations should go for the LinkedIn profile.  For example, the experience section must contain bullet points that accurately showcases the who, what, when, why and how of your career.

Summary.  The summary should be 3–5 short paragraphs long, preferably with a bulleted section in the middle.  It should cover work passions, key skills, unique qualifications, and a list of the various industries worked within over the years.

Unwanted Recommendations.  If you get a recommendation that is not well written or is unsolicited, you can hide the recommendation instead.  Select “Profile,” then “Edit Profile,” then “Manage” (when at the relevant position).  Uncheck the box next to the recommendation that you want to hide, and click “Save Changes.”

Update Status.  Status can be updated as often as you wish. Update it professionally and strategically (articles recently read or written, etc.), and as often as weekly.  The entire group of connections will see the updates, both in news feeds and in the weekly LinkedIn network updates emails.

URL.  It’s much easier to publicize your profile with a customized URL (ideally linkedin.com/name), rather than the clunky combination of numbers that LinkedIn automatically assigns when you sign up. To get one:  On “Edit Profile” screen, at the bottom of gray window showing your basic information, you’ll see “Public Profile URL.  Click “Edit” next to the URL, and specify what you’d like your address to be. When  finished, click “Set Custom URL.”

Volunteerism, Languages, Special Accomplishments.  Were you a member of the U.S. Olympic team, or play professional sports?  Do you possess relevant certification?  Volunteer for an organization?  Speak another language?  If so, including such information on the left when editing your profile is a great way to showcase those unique skills and experiences that make you stand out from other candidates.

Welcoming.  Showcase the positive attributes about you, with your target reader in mind.  Help them get to know you at a high level.  Think about first impressions.  Craft it in the first-person.  Do not come across as pretentious. Keep your brand message in mind and realize that LinkedIn is a platform designed for interaction.

Work Experiences – Ditto.  (See Multimedia.)  The same principle applies to each work experience item.  Add links to company websites, projects worked on, articles drafted, or anything else that provides a better, more comprehensive view of your work

Writer – Be A.  LinkedIn now permits users to write and publish their work on the platform. Share perspectives about news in your profession, or tell a story that showcases writing and communication skill.

LinkedIn is only a tool.  Like most tools, it needs to be used, be controlled, and be recognized as an investment to be most effective.  This list may seem daunting at first, so be methodical and establish a goal of addressing a set number of items per day, and per week until completed.  Seek help from YouTube tutorials, from LinkedIn, and from friends.  Will this effort make any difference concerning your job search?  You may be surprised at the outcomes.

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