You can spend lots of time and money agonizing over your LinkedIn profile. At the end of the day, these are the two elements that make the biggest difference to your networking success.
Your LinkedIn profile is your one-stop online professional branding tool and virtual resume. To make it truly effect, you need to tap into the deeper levels of your mission and your motivation.
The two aspects of the LinkedIn profile that most people mess up are the Headline and the About section. By dedicating time and effort to these two elements, you will develop much greater traction in building your network. Most importantly, you will attract contacts and make connections with professionals who are more relevant and appropriate for what you do, and for what you are trying to achieve in your career, now and in the future.
Why Outsource Something So Important?
You can spend a lot of time and money getting your LinkedIn profile right. LinkedIn consultants are at our beck and call, promising us more hits on our profile through better keyword placement and other tricks of the trade.
They’re not wrong, and we all want to get noticed, discovered, and connected on LinkedIn. My only concern is that by outsourcing this very personal and nuanced set of tasks to someone who actually doesn’t really know you, you’re not going to get a truly accurate or helpful profile as a result.
Let’s face it, the reason we hand over this task to a consultant is because we find it awkward to dig deep into our story and background, and are convinced that whatever we say, we’re somehow doing it wrong.
This is the career development version of “learned helplessness.” We’ve trained ourselves to believe that we’re not good at talking about ourselves, or promoting ourselves, and so we seek help from someone who doesn’t really know us, and let them apply their particular formula (“5 keywords, repeated 10 times each” e.g.) to help us succeed.
While working with a LinkedIn profile preparer may make your search result numbers look better, I’m not so sure that this enhances the quality of your interaction on the platform.
I believe that with a little dedication, and a little application, you can turn around this limiting belief and create a much more accessible, personal, authentic, inviting, and engaging profile. The result will be more quality connections. You’ll connect with people on a deeper and more personal level. This will lead to higher quality introductions and ultimately the kind of work you really want to do.
Stop Chasing Open Positions. Start Chasing Relationships.
At the end of the day, your LinkedIn profile is a vehicle for making introductions and growing your network. Don’t look at LinkedIn as a job board. With referrals accounting for up to 85% of all job placements, knowing the right people, and having them refer you and vouch for you, is the best LinkedIn career success strategy.
It’s not all about your skills. While your experience and qualifications are certainly important, at the end of the day you’re going to get hired based on whether or not they want to work with you as a person. This is especially true for older candidates.
Skill requirements are constantly changing as digital disruption up-ends business models and strategies. You’re at an age and a level of experience where you are much more valuable for your insight, perspective, and wisdom.
By all means list your skills and make sure they’re current. You’ll be competing with other candidates who also have the right background and preparation. But you’re going to get the job because of your soft skills, your insight, and your ability to communicate and work seamlessly with others.
This is why you have to communicate these qualities in your LinkedIn profile, and do so persuasively and eloquently.
Your LinkedIn Profile Basics
The platform does a great job of on-boarding you, and you’ll see those little reminders throughout your profile page inviting you to complete a section, or add a section. But a few things are important to note.
- Fill Everything In Of course not everyone will read everything you put on your profile. The point is that having everything filled in, including a smiling, well-lit, close-up headshot, sends a signal. It tells people that you are a serious professional and that you care about connecting with others. It shows recruiters and employers the more interesting and varied aspects of your persona that are not captured by your resume. .
- Go Premium LinkedIn seems to be always changing their pricing, but currently there are two tiers that make sense for the average professional job seeker and network builder. The cheaper tier gives you access to more search and messaging capabilities. The more expensive tier expands on those features. Start at the lower tier if you’re not sure. But if you’re not paying for LinkedIn, you’re not getting the benefits of the platform. Do some research on which plan makes more sense for you.
Make Your Profile About Your “Who” Not About Your “What.”
This is the crucial idea that differentiates this approach from most other prescriptions you’ll see for your LinkedIn profile.
Increasingly, recruiters and employers are looking for ways they can differentiate between the numbing sameness of candidates whose resumes cross their screens. The more they get to know who you are, not just what you’ve done, the more likely they will be to consider you more seriously for an open position.
Flatter team-based hierarchies in today’s economy thrive on a mix of complementary hard and soft skill sets. So it is vital for recruiters and employers to find the right balance when hiring into those multi-dimensional working environments.
Authenticity and Transparency Are What Differentiate You
To stand out and get taken more seriously, think of yourself as a “generalized specialist,” or “specialized generalist.” You want to represent yourself as knowing the primary domain or skill set that defines the work that you do and the job you can do. But you must also know the skills and mindsets of the people, teams, and departments up and down the hierarchy and ecology of your industry.
Show that you are aware of the challenges facing your business, and that you have a point of view about how to address those challenges. Describe how your unique blend of training, skills, abilities, talents, interests, values, and connections has made a positive and productive difference in your career.
The Headline: Your Value, Not Your Job Title
It all starts right here. If your headline is too generic, you risk losing your reader right here. They’ll be on to the next profile.
You have 120 characters to use in your headline and I recommend using as many as possible. Convey your specific role, as well as the subsets or additional skills or expertise you offer. Also try to add some personal touches that can add dimension and inspire more curiosity and interest for the reader.
Don’t use your current job title. For search results, this will mean that you wind up appearing in results that will tend to peg you or type you at your current level.
Instead, describe the role or specialty that you perform. For example, instead of listing yourself as “VP, Digital Marketing,” list yourself as a “Digital Marketing Specialist.” Better yet, expand on that core identity to cover more ground, e.g. “Seasoned Digital Marketing, Social Media, and Brand Strategy Executive.”
Your headline is not an elevator pitch. Avoid hyperbole like: “Get Big Marketing Returns From Small Budgets,” “I Can Help You Deliver x Result When Nothing Else Has Worked,” or “Deliver x% ROI With My Proven Track Record.” Remember that your headline is the way you will be searched and discovered. No one will be searching for the language in your elevator pitch, especially if it’s so salesy.
You can use the pipe key (|) as a separator to turn the headline into sections. Many people build their headline out of two or three little sections like this, with each one describing a different role or ability.
Always Be Working
Never put “unemployed,” “seeking new position,” or similar admissions that you’re looking for a job in your headline. This isn’t going to help you get noticed or discovered in searches. Recruiters don’t pay special attention to people who are in between jobs. It will distract the reader from what you actually do, and diminish your perceived value.
You want to convey the fact that you are always working in your chosen field, and even if you are between jobs, you are describing yourself as a consultant doing what you do on your own account. If this feels uncomfortable or insincere to you, consider that it sends a positive, can-do message. You’re not taking any adversity or transition lying down. You are dedicated to what you do, and nothing is going to stop you from doing it.
The About Section: Break From Convention
Many people make the mistake of treating their About section as a rehash of their resume. They copy and paste the formal, third-person biographical summary or purpose statement from the top, and then bullet-point their positions.
Avoid the typical buzzword-filled corporate-speak writing style, e.g. “Strategic, experienced, marketing (substitute “sales,” “operations,” “finance” etc.) executive with x years of proven experience managing large teams in top-tier, competitive corporate environments.”
This kind of language actually pushes recruiters, employers, potential allies away. You’re coming across as just another faceless corporate drone.
Most importantly, it wastes the opportunity that this section affords. All of your positions, experiences, and achievements belong in the Experience section. That’s where you can go into detail about what you did in each position, including your responsibilities and the ROI you achieved.
The Three Story Elements of an Effective About Section
Compose your About section as a brief, three-paragraph story that encapsulates your career as a personal journey. Again, the purpose is to capture who you are, not just what you’ve done.
The beginning paragraph should convey the underlying reason you do what you do. It could be some form of “origin story” that relates an inciting incident from your youth that set you on this path. It could be a lesson you learned from a mistake or adverse conditions. It could be a realization or epiphany that you gleaned from a pivotal encounter with a customer.
Sharing this small but significant piece of your background instantly engages and sparks the curiosity and interest of your reader. Personal revelation is always disarming and intriguing.
Next, share a couple of examples of how that initial inspiration or motivation has played out over the course of your career. Illustrate the qualities of fulfillment, impact, or transformation that your work has produced. What did these examples (no more than two or three) mean to you and to the others involved? Talk about success in terms of goals met or mission accomplished, and most importantly the effect that your work has had on others. Don’t think of it exclusively in terms of revenue.
For the final “act” of your About section story, you want to talk aspirationally. Write about where you’re going and what you want to do going forward. This expression of hope and positive intention will connect with your reader on a deeper level and hopefully inspire them to reach out to you.
Style and Tone Are Important
In today’s more transparent and authentic business world, everything in your LinkedIn profile should be written in the first person. Also, try not to start paragraphs with “I.” While this section is, of course, about you, the trick is to write about yourself as someone who is engaged in providing value to others. Make it breezy and conversational. Write as if you are sending a letter to an old friend and giving them an update.
Remember that your pitch is never about you. It’s not about how good you are or how much you’ve done. It’s about the results that other people have achieved through working with you, using your product, etc. The reader should be moved by your sense of mission, and your focus on what matters for your clients, employers, or end-users.
The “Post-its Process”
All this may sound like a great way to lay out your LinkedIn profile, but how do you do it?
For both the Headline and the About section, I suggest you use sticky notes or index cards to capture the ideas that will go into each of these elements, and play around with them until you have what works for you.
For your Headline, write down each of your skills, talents, interests, proficiencies, and some descriptors. Play anagrams with the notes or cards and see what combination works. For reference and inspiration, browse around LinkedIn to find other Headlines that leverage this idea.
Similarly, for the About section, use the notes or the cards to capture some ideas for each of the three paragraphs I’ve suggested in this framework. Take some time to work this out. Don’t feel like this has to be “one-and-done.”
Spend a few days just thinking about this and collecting ideas on the notes or cards. Stick or tape them to a whiteboard or the wall and just stare at them. After a while, you’ll get clearer on what words, phrases, and ideas you’re going to want to use. Then, start to play around with a draft and see how that goes. Keep taking breaks and coming back to it with fresh eyes. Keep revising your work over the course of a few days or a week.
When it’s looking ready (or close to it), transfer it onto your LinkedIn profile and see how it looks on the screen. Keep making tweaks. Ask some close friends or colleagues to have a look and give you their feedback. They may have some valuable perspective that could clarify and strengthen your profile.
A Word on Keywords
Your post-its process will generate a number of potential keywords. Narrow those down to the ones you feel are most descriptive of what you do, and how you want to be found on the platform. Then make sure you use them frequently, but not annoyingly, in these sections and in the rest ofyour profile, especially your Experience section. Make sure to actually search LinkedIn using your keywords and see who comes up. That will help you know whether you’re tapping into the right networks and communities.
Note that your keywords don’t have to be single words. Look for “long-tail keywords” that include a number of words. For example, “your LinkedIn profile” is the primary long-tail keyword I’m using for this article (There – I used it again!).
What You Can Expect
Once you’ve made these changes, your LinkedIn profile will now more likely attract the kind of people you’re looking for.
Recruiters and hiring managers will instantly understand who you are. If you’ve applied for a job, they won’t have to guess whether you’re right for it or not. Hopefully, if they think you’re in the ballpark, they’ll contact you back.
Like-minded professionals will more easily accept your connection requests. Building a network should be like discovering your tribe. With these revisions, you will have a much easier time finding those people and easily connecting to them.
Your Headline and About section are the heart of your LinkedIn profile. You should feel proud of what they say about you and how they define you. They are now the core of your overall marketing message. You’ll use them across all of your correspondence as a consistent and dynamic representation of your professional brand.
Hands down the best thing I’ve read about how to build a LinkedIn profile that breaks through the clutter and gets you noticed. Great work, John!
Thanks so much, Jeff! Appreciate the shout-out! It’s getting more and more important to nail the value that employers, investors, partners, and colleagues are looking for. We all have to step up our game, especially now!
Awesome article, John… thanks for the helpful ideas – I have some work to do in this regard!
Thank you for this down to earth article. I am particularly interested in how you can express the impact, the results of your work without using figures or better still money results. I always find it hard, working in the client’s support and personal development fields. Any example is welcomed.
Thanks, Cristina! First, you can talk about multiples (doubled, 2X) without citing actual figures. You can also describe the change qualitatively in terms of the results, e.g.: ‘not only exceeded our target revenue projections, but set up protocols/best practices that improved efficiency, increased engagement, and helped everyone feel like they were a part of the decision-making process.’
That may sound a little unwieldy, but you can convey these things conversationally, not just in crisp up/down good/better language. I think the About section is a unique place in the profile to get more intimate with the reader and take them into your confidence. Frame it as how you supported other people (including your employer or client or customer). That conveys responsibility, maturity, and understanding of what’s important. It says that you know why you do what you do, and whom you serve.
You can also talk about your work in terms of the lessons you learned, and how a particular lesson impacted your subsequent work. That kind of vulnerability is valuable. It shows self-awareness, resilience, and a focus on growth. It can be a value-add to a success story, e.g. ‘while turning the department around to profitability was great, and I’m proud of that achievement, what was most important about that experience was the ability to build lasting professional relationships with the team, all of whom I’m in regular contact with today, 15 years later.’ That sort of thing.
Let me know if that was helpful!
John, any suggestions for adding “executive life coaching” services to “insurance advisor/broker” that i have been doing for 30 years?
Yes, Michael – Interestingly, I think both of your areas of focus are completely compatible and inter-related. I would do a little polling amongst trusted friends/advisors as to the right way you describe the “executive life coaching.” The term “life coaching” may throw people off even though you are dealing with effective and practical solutions to decision-making, prioritization, relationship management, and other such questions. So in terms of making your coaching a “value-add” to your insurance business, look for ways to offer it as a way of expanding your main service. Picking a label out of the air, if you called it something like “life strategies consulting,” you could position it as a set of practices your clients can use to more effectively assess and manage their insurance needs, and how they can use self-care, mindfulness, wellness, communications tools etc. to get the maximum benefit out of their insurance packages.
Let me know if that makes sense!