With over 500 million users, LinkedIn reigns as the premier networking platform for professionals, and if you wish to be taken seriously, you hopefully have a polished profile and a customized LinkedIn URL you can add to your resume. If not, below I’ve listed seven tips to help you get there.
Use A Professional Headshot
Your profile will not be attracting any visitors if there isn’t a face to welcome them. Take this aspect of your profile seriously and choose an image that is professional but also friendly. Do not think you can get away with a selfie or an image clearly cropped out from another photo. Avoid using a passport photo as those are often devoid of personality. As with all items on this list, you may want to spend some time perusing other people’s profiles, especially people in your field of interest, to see what they are doing. Your headshot will probably look different if you are aiming to be an investment banker than if you aspire to be a social media specialist or an environmentalist. Whatever your brand, your image needs to communicate it. To further enhance the visual aspect of your profile and add a sprinkle of personality, consider uploading a personalized background image.
Create A Focused Headline
Limited to 120 characters, the headline allows you to convey a focused message about who you are. Many people choose the easy way out and use their most recent position or the degree they are currently completing as their default headline. If you are searching for a job, however, start thinking of your brand and avoid defining yourself as your job title or degree completed. These do not make you stand out. If your headline is MBA Candidate, it’ll be difficult for recruiters to find your profile in a sea of MBA Candidates.
If you are struggling to come up with an effective headline, consider this exercise: Set a timer for five minutes and jot down nouns, adverbs, adjectives or phrases that you think describe you as a person and as a professional. Next, carefully review what you wrote, identify common themes and work to bring the list down to a six-word brand, which could be one meaningful phrase or a combination of words and phrases.
Draft An Effective Summary
A lot of job seekers choose to ignore this section simply because they don’t want to spend time writing it. That’s all the more reason to draft one as this will make you stand out from the crowd. An effective LinkedIn profile summary gives people an idea of your career journey; your background, motivations and expertise; and a bit about your personality. What would you like other LinkedIn users to know about you? Draft three to five short paragraphs highlighting your skills, values and interests in the form of a story.
Imagine you are speaking to one person and use the 2,000 characters to introduce yourself to that person. You may also want to include a bulleted list highlighting specialties you have. I recommend that you write in the first person as this suggests you are speaking directly to those visiting your profile (which you technically are!). In addition to the written summary, LinkedIn allows you to attach multimedia to your profile and you may want to take advantage and reinforce the message you want to communicate.
List Your Academic Institutions
Listing all colleges and universities you have attended allows you access to a large network of alumni, which makes it easier to reach out and start building relationships. “Having attended the same school gives someone a sense of familiarity with you, even if you didn’t attend at the same time,” points out Paula Brand, a LinkedIn expert and a career consultant with over 15 years of experience. “Others will feel more comfortable connecting with you (and connecting you to others in their network) when they see you went to the same school.” Finding commonalities with those you wish to connect to is essential for effective networking. As you list your academic institution, “the LinkedIn system will be smarter about suggesting others who also attended your school,” adds Brand. You may want to review the recommendations and send customized messages to suggested professionals.
Use Strategic Keywords
In all profile sections -- summary, experience, coursework and skills -- use strategic keywords that relate to your brand and help recruiters find you. What are the top five skills you want to be known for? Jot them down and make sure people can see them on your profile. “If you have done internships related to your target job, be sure to provide details in the description section using appropriate keywords,” says Brand. “Consider adding a title (where appropriate) along with the word "intern" such as Help Desk Team Member/Intern.” Keep in mind that professional experience is not the only way to highlight keywords on your profile.
“While you may not have as much work experience in your field, you can add your job-related class titles (under the section titled 'Courses' and within the institution details under 'Education'),” says Brand. “Adding course titles can help you be found by hiring managers and recruiters, when you lack work experience to put enough critical keywords somewhere on your profile.”
Follow Target Companies and Influencers
Enhance the message your profile transmits by following companies, organizations, causes and influencers that align with your interests, values and passions. Doing so will not only keep you informed of what’s going on in the field and alert you to job openings, but it will also reinforce your brand as someone with a specific focus. For instance, if international development is of interest to you, you may want to follow the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. If investment banking is your target industry, you may want to follow Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. When you start following influencers and organizations, avoid being a passive consumer of content and engage with what is produced by liking, commenting and sharing their work.
Publish Original Content
One of my favorite things about LinkedIn is that it allows you to publish original content, which is a great way to keep your profile active and welcome visits from people you may be interested in connecting with. Many are scared of writing or think they are not good writers, but writing is an essential skill for any professional and happens to be a wonderful tool of engagement with like-minded people. Have a friend or a mentor review your work and keep in mind that you are not writing a research paper. I recommend that you consider starting with one article per month and focus on delivering pieces that are between 500 and 1,000 words. An easy way to create content is write reflections on events you attend or after you read a book from an influencer in your field. Online platforms allow access to free writing courses so you have no excuse not to start enhancing your writing skills and sharing your knowledge with the professional world.