By Stephanie Olsen
There are more than 610 million users on LinkedIn with some 20 million job listings to be had. That’s a lot of opportunity—and a lot of competition.
The number one-way companies hire: referrals.
The community you form on LinkedIn can speak to that. It shows recruiters and hiring managers your skills endorsed by others as well as recommendations you’ve received from coworkers.
Networking and referrals are crucial to being successful on LinkedIn, whether you’re joining to find a job or a client. There are best practices to follow to make the most of your LinkedIn experience, starting with optimizing your profile.
Give your profile a goal
Why are you on LinkedIn? Usually it’s to get a job or drum up more business, but of course it depends on the individual.
An entrepreneur may be networking, hoping to find strategic partnerships and financing. A C-suite executive might be open to interesting career change possibilities. A business owner may be promoting brand awareness or looking for employees.
Your reason won’t drastically change how your profile looks or your behaviors on the platform, but it will inform them. Keywords, hashtags, groups, and connections need to be appropriate to the industry you’re interested in or are an expert in, and whether you’re a solutions provider or job candidate.
How to build out each component of a LinkedIn profile
There are several sections that make up your LinkedIn page, and each is important. Let’s take a look at them.
There are two schools of thought regarding your profile photo.
The first is never to use a selfie for a professional headshot. Photographer Scott R. Kline says there’s more to creating a trustworthy image than you think. Should you smile or remain neutral? How’s the lighting? Any retouching needed? Is the photo cropped properly? Can it be seen easily on a phone? What about the background? And what are you wearing?
LinkedIn’s Anwesha Jalan takes a different approach, saying you can use the platform’s editing tool to create a great profile photo. While she agrees that the background should be simple and use natural light, and that you should dress like you already have the job you’re interested in, a professional shot is not absolutely necessary.
Jalan says even a picture that isn’t perfect will get you up to 21 times more profile views, 36 times more messages and nine times more connection requests than no photo at all.
Remember that your profile photo appears next to any article or message you write on LinkedIn. And the look you create directly affects your credibility factor, something that’s difficult to establish online. Small things matter too, so update your image so that you’re recognizable. If you don’t wear glasses anymore, for instance, use a new picture without them.
The cover photo
The cover image can add visual information about who you are and what you do. If you’re a keynote speaker, for example, put a picture of you at an event. It’s evidence of the leadership and industry expertise the rest of your profile highlights. You could also have an image with well-known colleagues in your business. This puts shows that you’re a well-connected and relevant member of your industry.
Of course, the background doesn’t have to be a picture at all to have great impact. Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo who now sits on the Board of Directors at Amazon, has a quote by the Greek philosopher Epictetus: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
How you use your 130 characters depends on what you want from your LinkedIn presence. If you’re actively looking for a job (or open to considering interesting offers), edit the headline from its current job title default to a description using keywords so recruiters can find you, suggests LinkedIn executive resume and profile writer Lisa Rangel.
Look at this example of two taglines by recruiters for an idea of how you can make your own stronger.
Here's one LinkedIn tagline example:
Search Consultant / Account Manager at Adecco
Cultivating Relationships & Building Top Talent Across Financial Advising Teams in Washington, DC, and Fairfax, VA
Use the tagline to get the attention of the people you’re interested in working for or with by telling them what you do, treating it much in the same way as a sales pitch. Show your audience what you can do for them.
Consider putting your current job title in the headline too. According to LinkedIn, adding your current position can get you up to eight times more profile views.
Your own personal about page is where you can really shine. It’s where you tell your career story, making sure to optimize it with search terms. Here people can get a glimpse of your personality and you can inspire them to action. Plus, the summary is the number-one thing recruiters look at while viewing profiles, according to LinkedIn.
LinkedIn coach Andy Foote has four examples of summaries he calls “stunningly good.” They’re effective because they are authentic and engaging, each “a short version of why you do what you do, in your own words.”
And to optimize that summary, Jon Shields at Jobscan gives these tips:
Lead with a compelling statement: The “about” section is truncated to three lines; in order to see the rest, the reader has to click. Make them want to click.
Use your current job title: Recruiters search those specifically, plus you’ll rank higher in search results. According to LinkedIn, over two million people search by current position every week.
Include top skills from the job you’re most interested in: This strategy may get you targeted offers and further improves your overall search results.
Include two instances of measurable results that you’ve brought to your company: Examples might be how much time you saved by bringing a project in before deadline, and the percentage by which you increased sales.
Look at search appearances on your dashboard. You’ll see the keywords searchers used to find your profile. If you’re not getting the results you want, it means your profile keywords aren’t optimized for recruiter searches. Review job descriptions that interest you and take note of recurring hard skills and keywords. If they’re applicable to you, add these words to your summary and profile.
Experience, education, licenses, and certifications
Your work experience should demonstrate what you did in previous roles—don’t focus on the employers. List a minimum of three jobs. In order to move your career forward, recruiters look for a progression in jobs, skills, and responsibilities relevant to what you want to be doing or are doing today.
Remember to update your profile tagline and about section when you update the work experience section of your LinkedIn profile.
Recruiters also look for intrinsic motivation in candidates, says Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm. That way, they’ll know if the person is likely to perform well in the job. Give that information upfront in your work history with lots of examples of when you took the initiative or did more than required in order to get a project or job done. The patterns that emerge from these examples reveal to recruiters the type of work a candidate finds intrinsically motivating, Adler explains.
And even if your college days are long behind you, LinkedIn says that adding your education can get you up to 17 more messages from recruiters. Of course, this advantage can be especially important for recent grads new to the professional workforce.
Volunteer experience / skills & endorsements / recommendations
As mentioned above, endorsements and recommendations are very strong testimonials that show potential employers and recruiters what you can do by validating your skills, ability, and work ethic. And remember to add new skills as you acquire them; you can have up to 50 in your profile.
Be generous in giving recommendations when asked. Anyone you’ve worked with in the past, in any capacity, can benefit from an honest recommendation. And it’s reciprocal: Ask for recommendations from past colleagues, bosses, and contractors. You can even offer to write a draft which they can edit quickly, making the task less onerous for them.
Don’t forget the impact of your volunteer positions. These point to skills that may not be evident from a career standpoint, but are valuable nonetheless. Volunteering also points to good time management abilities, empathy, and a work-life balance.
LinkedIn activity: articles, posts, and media
The more engaged you are on LinkedIn, the more valuable the network can become to you. Note that being engaged is not the same thing as being active, says career trainer Bob McIntosh. Writing an article, in and of itself, is not engagement —unless it provides unique content that would benefit your audience.
“My primary audience is job seekers and career coaches, so I write articles focusing on the job search and using LinkedIn in the job search. I know I've been successful when people react to what I've written,” he explains.
Posting articles and writing comments also establishes you as an expert in your field, giving you demonstrable credibility.
Remember to use the share box when posting a document or presentation. Describe what it is and use relevant hashtags so people can find it. Add videos and photos to the media section. Video messages can be anything from quick updates to sharing a business idea. When you post a photo, tag people and companies involved, and don’t forget to react to when a connection comments or reacts with a like, clap, or other emoji.
Bonus LinkedIn profile tips
Here are a few additional tips to making your LinkedIn profile even better:
Work soft skills into your profile, especially if you’re a developer or coder, advises LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. Tech employers are looking for applicants who can write and who have good communication and people skills so can work successfully in teams.
- Personalize your LinkedIn URL, which can be done in your profile settings. Use the name you are known by in your industry (which may be different from your legal name), and you can include your expertise or brand. You’ve got some leeway: Your custom URL can contain up to 100 letters or numbers. See Scott Martin’s URL: it includes the name of his company. You can also create a LinkedIn badge to add to your email signature, online resume, or website.
Recruiters, hiring managers, and job coaches say to keep job titles and descriptions simple and stay away from buzzwords, writes journalist Amy George. Words like “growth hacker” and “thought leader” are seen as boastful and vague, and can be off-putting. If you can’t imagine referring to yourself as a “visionary” or as “authentic” in an interview, then don’t put it in on your profile.
Write your profile in the first person. Unless you are royalty.
Using LinkedIn to network and find opportunities
LinkedIn is more than a stellar professional profile, says Sandra Long, author of LinkedIn for Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide. In her TEDx Talk, Long looks at the importance of the networking aspects of the platform. The community you belong to requires attention, just like any in the real world.
Long says one of the main reasons to be on LinkedIn is to build real professional relationships. It’s takes a two-pronged approach, focusing on first level connections to start (people you’ve accepted invitations to connect from or they’ve accepted an invitation from you). If you’re responding to invitations but not sending them out, your network is unlikely to be strategic or valuable. Invite people that you know or want to meet to connect.
“Secondly, be the best friend that you can be: do it first and pay it forward,” Long says. This means you comment on posts, offer congratulations, share interesting articles and relevant job posts, tag a company that’s doing employer branding really well and make introductions.
Networking is valuable: a LinkedIn survey shows that “70 percent of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection,” and 35 percent of users report that casual conversations on LinkedIn messaging led to new business and job opportunities.
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