Writing an Effective LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is, for many professionals, the essential professional networking tool of the moment.
There is no question that potential employers and new contacts are likely to look at your LinkedIn profile before they meet you.
LinkedIn is also a really good way of keeping up to date with colleagues who you wouldn’t describe as friends exactly, but who you would like to stay in touch with professionally.
So what does it take to write a really good LinkedIn profile? It’s surprisingly easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.
LinkedIn is a professional networking tool. It’s not Facebook.
You don’t have to update your status every five minutes (in fact, a rule of thumb is that if you update your profile everyone assumes that you’re job-hunting). But you do have to present yourself in a professional way, and that means providing a complete profile without spelling and grammatical mistakes.
There are two schools of thought about using a photograph on your LinkedIn profile.
If LinkedIn is primarily a recruitment tool, then nobody would include photographs. After all, nobody in the UK or US includes a photograph with their CV as it’s too easy to discriminate unconsciously on the basis of a picture.
However, well over half of LinkedIn profiles have a photograph. This suggests that it’s not primarily a recruitment tool, but a way of reaching out to people whom you already know or to their network. And, for that purpose, a photograph is invaluable. Not sure you remember this person? A quick look at the photograph and you’re sure.
If you decide to use a photograph, then use a head-and-shoulders shot of you looking professional and smiling. Don’t use an avatar or logo as that screams ‘I’m not confident enough to include a photo’.
Bottom line: a photograph helps people to remember you. Include a recent professional-looking one.
This should be your personal ‘elevator pitch’: how you describe yourself in 120 characters or less. Your headline should not necessarily be your job title, especially if you’re looking for a different job.
Bottom line: The headline is the first thing people see, so make sure that they get the right first impression.
The summary section is your chance to show yourself off. After the headline, the summary is the one part of your profile that everyone will read and it needs to say who you are, and what you can do. You’ve got 2,000 characters, so there’s plenty of space to be creative.
Keep your summary cliché and jargon-free. Start with how you’d describe yourself to a chance-met acquaintance at a party. If you’d say ‘I’m an architect’, then your LinkedIn profile shouldn’t say ‘A construction industry new-build consultant with a passion for clean lines and modern design’.
Focus on what you’ve achieved, and present your personal ‘unique selling point’ in simple, easy-to-understand language: ‘I’m an architect, whose belief is that buildings are meant to be lived in and used. I try to create beautiful buildings which are also practical and examples of my work include x and y, which earned me a commendation in industry award z.’
Make sure that you include keywords that people are searching for on Google so that, when someone searches for candidates for your ideal job, they are more likely to find you.
Bottom line: Everyone reads your summary so make sure you include all the information you want them to see, including keywords, but without clichés.
Like your CV, your LinkedIn profile needs to include all your relevant employment. However, you don’t need to include every last detail. Use keywords in both title and description so that potential employers will find you easily.
You don’t need to include all the holiday or Saturday jobs that you’ve ever had, but you do need to have no huge gaps in your career history.
There are practical implications: when you want to connect with people, LinkedIn will ask you how you know them. If you’re former colleagues, you’ll need to be able to say where, from a drop-down list of all the places you’ve ever worked. Miss one out, and you’ve wiped out a chunk of your network.
Bottom line: Include all the places you’ve worked, even if you only have a summary of your jobs.
Skills and Endorsements
The key here is whether you are using LinkedIn as a recruitment or networking tool.
If you’re trying to find a job, think about your ideal job and what skills it requires. If you have them, then include them in your profile. Try to use commonly-used terms in case anyone is searching for them, but be as specific as possible.
Don’t worry too much about endorsements. Once you start to connect with people, they will be invited to endorse you, and can choose which skills to mention. LinkedIn will automatically sort your skills by number of endorsements, although you can choose to manage your endorsements and get some sort of control over that. You can also ask your contacts to endorse you for particular skills if you want to move them up the list.
Bottom line: Think of skills as search keywords for potential recruiters.
Complete all of your education profile.
Once you’ve been working for a few years, it’s not absolutely essential to include a description of your degree and how it’s relevant to what you do, but do include at least the subject and the type of degree.
Bottom line: Education matters most when you're starting out; experience is more important once you have some.
As a general rule, don’t include hobbies.
Hobbies and pastimes can either look desperate or boring. Let your friends on Facebook know that you love your family but not your LinkedIn network!
But do include any professional interests, such as particular areas of expertise or where you’ve done a course, or voluntary work.
Bottom line: Keep it professional.
There are several ways to build your network on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn will automatically invite your contacts to connect with you, if you allow that. However, you may have quite a lot of friends among your contacts with whom you do not wish to connect professionally. It’s therefore probably better to tell LinkedIn not to connect with your contacts, but to do it manually instead.
Use the search function and, once you’ve made a few connections, LinkedIn will suggest other people that you may know, based on shared connections.
When connecting, always send a personal message and not just the standard ‘I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn’. Your friends won’t mind, but former colleagues will probably appreciate a more personal approach, even if all you add is ‘It’s been a long time since we met at [wherever]. I saw your profile, and thought it would be good to connect’.
WARNING! ABSOLUTE RULE!
Never connect with anyone you don’t know on LinkedIn. This is your professional network and you stand or fall by your contacts.
You may be asked to endorse or recommend people by others in your network and, if you don’t know them, you can’t.
Bottom line: Connect with former and current colleagues, classmates, and friends with whom you’re happy to be associated professionally. Don’t connect with people you don’t know.
Recommendations are interesting. Some employers swear that they’re essential, but plenty of people don’t have any.
If you’re seriously job-hunting, it’s probably a good idea to ask people who have worked with you and expressed confidence in your work if they would mind giving you a recommendation. However, the best recommendations are always going to be spontaneous.
Bottom line: Try to get one or two recommendations if you’re job-hunting, to show that others rate you too.
If you want people to contact you, you have to give them the chance!
If you’re bothered about spam or privacy, then control your privacy settings and make sure that you can only be contacted via LinkedIn.
Bottom line: People can’t contact you if you don’t include this information.
The Next Step
Your LinkedIn profile is just the first step in marketing yourself. You now need to use it: get out there and ask your contacts for introductions, and join groups with people you want to get to know.
Although it’s an essential tool in any job search, it’s unlikely that a great LinkedIn profile alone will net you a job.