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On the first day of every semester I give my college-level web development students a primer on creating an effective LinkedIn profile.
Why? Because several years ago the college began hosting a seminar geared toward helping students improve their LinkedIn profiles. And the person running the seminar at the time instructed students to make their LinkedIn profiles be a copy of their résumés.
I was appalled.
LinkedIn, I tell my students, represents a popular tool for people in the business world to connect with other people in the business world. By not having a well-crafted LinkedIn profile, they could be missing out on opportunities.
But more to the point, LinkedIn isn’t a résumé. It’s a social profile.
While it’s important to recognize that LinkedIn isn’t a social profile in the same way that Facebook and Twitter are, it’s still a social platform. Your voice – the things you say and the way you say them – should be less like a résumé and more like a professional elevator pitch.
If you were introduced to a new professional contact, you would never speak to them about yourself in the third person or in bullet points. You would talk naturally and conversationally.
LinkedIn should be treated similarly to Facebook and Twitter except with more weight applied to business professionalism.
With that said, a LinkedIn profile can be a very complex thing. A person could spend days refining it and still not have a complete profile.
I don’t want to talk about the perfect profile today. I want to talk about the essentials. The things you need to do to look professional when someone visits your page.
Before We Get Started
None of my recommendations have any value if you write your content using bad grammar and poor spelling. For LinkedIn to have any value you have to write like a grown up. You don’t have to be Shakespeare, but you have to string words together in a way that makes you look competent.
Parallel to this, understand that the worst writers don’t recognize themselves as such. Don’t assume that because you think you write well that you actually do. You should have friends or colleagues proof your material to ensure that you don’t publish something that will embarrass you.
If you don’t have time or the skill to write well, hire someone. It’s not expensive and it’s worth not looking like a dope to people who may be important to your future.
Recommendation #1 : Don’t Use Your Title
If I told you that I was an “account executive” and then asked you what I did, what would you say?
Whatever your guess might be, you certainly wouldn’t know what industry I am in or what I really do on a day-to-day basis. People almost always make the mistake of filling in the “Headline” section of LinkedIn as if it was a “Title.” It’s not.
Titles can be added on a job-by-job basis in the “Experience” section of your profile. Your headline is the place where you say what you do instead of what it says on your business card. For example, if your official title is “Broker” a better headline might be “Commercial real estate broker at Acme Real Estate.” You could even go with “Commercial real estate broker with over 25 years of experience.”
Now that’s a headline!
Notice that in the last example, your headline remains true even if you leave Acme Real Estate and move to another company, but do the same thing.
Headlines also play a role in LinkedIn search. You should make sure to include relevant keywords that might result in you being found by someone looking to buy services or hire you. While “broker” is a good keyword, “real estate broker” or “commercial real estate broker” are much better.
Recommendation #2 : Use A Decent Picture
“Decent” is a hard word to quantify, but here’s what I think makes a good profile picture: a neat portrait that is professional and representative of your industry.
Lots of folks say that you need to have a professional portrait taken for LinkedIn. Often with a business suit. And, for gentlemen, a tie. That’s nonsense. If you are a banker, then certainly a suit and tie is reasonable, but if you are an artist or a landscaper does the same rule apply? No.
You also don’t need to spend the money on a professional photographer. Nowadays camera technology is available that can produce great results without a professional or a studio. Your studio can be your office and your equipment can be your mobile phone.
Make sure you are well-lit. Make sure you look professional according to the standards of your industry and then have someone else take a picture of you. Don’t take a selfie. And don’t find an old picture. Especially not one of you where you are in a group and you simply crop everyone else out.
Also, remember what I said before. LinkedIn represent your profile on a social platform. No one wants to see your corporate logo or a picture of your kids on LinkedIn.
Recommendation #3 : Write An Awesome Summary
When you engage someone in real life about business, you usually tell them about your business and what you do. But you also probably include a bit about yourself personally as well as how you can help them.
Your summary should answer several questions clearly.
- Who are you and what you do? Do this so that anyone can understand your role. Try not to use insider industry jargon that might turn off potential customers who don’t know your internal lingo.
- How have you helped past customers and how can you help new ones? Tell your potential customer that you understand their pain points and that you can help relieve them.
- Who are you personally? Don’t write a novel, but say a little about yourself. Humanize yourself for the reader. Make them like you because people almost alway chose to work with people they like.
- How can you be contacted? Don’t depend on the reader to find your contact information on the other sections of LinkedIn. Tell them in the summary so they don’t have to go anywhere else.
You have a limit of 2,000 characters so chose the words you use wisely.
Recommendation #4 : Ask For Recommendations
You will almost never get recommendations without asking. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just that your connections are going about running their own businesses. But if you have done a terrific job for someone and feel they will give you a good recommendation, ask them politely to do so.
When they write your recommendation, you will be able to review it and ask for modifications and then accept or decline it. Recommendations look good on LinkedIn profiles especially if they are specific and targeted to the areas you are interested in promoting or finding new business in.
Recommendation #5 : Use LinkedIn As A Guide
LinkedIn guides its users towards a complete profile. On the sidebar, LinkedIn will give you an idea of where your profile is weak and what areas should be fleshed out more. Some may be more relevant to your pursuits that others, but be aware of the guidance that LinkedIn provides.
Also, look up your competitors and use their profiles as a guide for yours. If they have a good profile, they probably were following some guidelines and you can use them as a template to make yours an even better profile.
LinkedIn Isn’t Rocket Science
At the end of the day LinkedIn isn’t rocket science. Anyone with a bit of time and a brain can produce a decent profile. A few months ago a buddy of mine asked me for some thoughts on his profile. I gave him some notes and he proceeded to write a profile that was so poorly written and riddled with typos that he was the center of many jokes at a gathering of friends. He took it well and we made a bunch of corrections together, but don’t assume that it’s only your friends reading your LinkedIn profile.
The person reading your profile right this moment might be the next person to hire you or pass on you.