To some people it may seem rather ridiculous to share this kind of guidance in 2014, but judging from the anemic LinkedIn profiles I view on a daily basis, it's clear that it's advice people still need. I know everyone is busy, but if how they represent themselves as professionals is important to them (and it should be), they need to make the time to get this particular digital house in order. Anyone who can manage to carve out time to go to the gym or get their hair cut/styled should be able to carve out time to ensure their basic cyber presence is well groomed too.
Particularly if you are a senior professional, a business owner, a faculty member, or an organizational leader, and you see yourself as a mentor to and role model for younger professionals, your digital presence should reflect current realities. If you wouldn't wear ginormous, 80s vintage glasses or carry Gordon Gekko's pre-prison cell phone (you wouldn't, would you?), why is it okay to have a LinkedIn profile that says, "Oh, I didn't realize it was the second decade of the 21st century"?!?!
For many people, expressed concerns about lack of time are often code for “I’m overwhelmed.” If they haven’t spent much time on LinkedIn, the task of updating their LinkedIn profile seems daunting, and they have no idea where to begin. LinkedIn makes each individual step pretty easy, and they provide lots of online help, but the volume of choices can make the overall effort hard to manage. Taking a “crawl-walk-run” approach and breaking the project down into three parts should help.
This is the “crawl” post, which focuses on a handful of basic things people should do to make sure their LinkedIn profile is presentable. If you’re a LinkedIn rookie with a less-than-impressive profile, this post is for you. If you’re not a rookie, it might still be worth double checking to make sure you haven’t inadvertently made a rookie mistake.
Following the recommendations below will ensure you have created a respectable basic presence on LI, in addition to laying a solid foundation you can build on later. Depending on your starting point, you should be able to enhance your LI profile in as little as an hour – or at most, one half-day session.
Set a goal to get the basic tasks done this quarter. Then you can tackle the intermediate tasks in the next quarter and the advanced tasks in the quarter after that. Before the next year is up, you should have a fully functioning profile! Two suggestions before you get started:
- Check to see if your employer has created guidelines for you to follow. Since they’re paying your salary and you’re representing their brand, they have a say in how you represent them and your role. See this post for more details.
- Go into your LinkedIn privacy settings and turn off your activity broadcasts so that your connections aren't notified each time you update your profile. Once you feel it's ready for viewing, you can add a status update letting people know you've enhanced it.
Let Your Profile Be Public
Given the purpose of LinkedIn, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want their profile to be private or anonymous, but many people are still hesitant to let their presence be known. Here are three good reasons why you should opt for a public profile:
- If you own your own business, have an externally-facing role and/or are a senior professional, people you may interact with will look for your profile to learn more about you. As more and more people come to rely on LinkedIn as a resource, it will increasingly strike people as odd if they can’t find you. That’s not a good reflection on either your professional brand or your organization.
- With an anonymous profile, you are referred to in LinkedIn as “private private,” which can look really silly. It’s especially funny when someone with a private profile gets recommended by someone else. I’ve lost count of the number of notifications from my first-level connections that will say something like: Jane Doe has recommended private private: “I worked with Bob Smith at XYZ… (so much for anonymity!).
- If people want to find your profile, they can. I can’t reveal the trick, but resourceful LinkedIn users know how to access profiles using people’s LinkedIn member numbers. It’s a very simple workaround.
If you’ve kept your LinkedIn profile private because you don’t think it’s ready for public viewing yet, follow the rest of the recommendations below to get it ready.
Add a Respectable Profile Picture
As in most social networks, there’s a normative expectation that people have a LinkedIn profile picture. If you don’t, people will either assume that you don’t know what you’re doing or that you have something to hide. Why let them go there? Including a profile picture avoids the speculation and lets you control the initial impression people get when they view your profile.
Depending on their jobs, industries, and reputations, some people can get away with more daring LinkedIn profile pictures. For most of us, however, a conservative approach is best. Here are some tips that will work for most people:
- Use an image that reflects your professional identity not your personal identity
- If you use a photo of yourself:
- Make sure it’s current and decent quality
- Only include yourself in the photo
- Focus on your face, not your body (i.e., it should be a headshot)
- If you don’t want to use a photo of yourself:
- Find an image that reflects your values, capabilities or essence in some way
- Make sure you have the right to use the image
- Be careful about using things that are too cutesy or may involve questionable humor
Include a Headline
To me, the LinkedIn headline is better in concept than in reality. Personally, I’ve always struggled with what to include, and I’ve never been completely satisfied with what I’ve come up with. But since it’s something of a “necessary evil,” you have to try to make the best of it. Here are a few suggestions based on my own experience and my review of hundreds (if not thousands) of profiles:
- Short descriptors separated by bars are probably easier than trying to craft a sentence
- Focus on what you offer, not what you want (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a job)
- Avoid bland descriptions like “experienced accountant”
- Highlight your unique professional capabilities and/or character using key words that will catch people’s attention
- If you’re currently employed, it’s perfectly acceptable to include your current job title - but make sure it's clearly understood by a wide range of people
Provide a Robust Description for Your Current Job (at least)
Even if you don’t have time to fully flesh out your profile, you should at least provide a robust description of your current position. This is especially true for folks in externally-facing roles like recruiting, human resources, public relations, marketing, sales, and business development. You should also at least list all your previous employers/positions – certainly the most recent/relevant ones.
Generally speaking, the description you provide in your LinkedIn profile is the same as what you’d include on a resume. So if your resume is current, you should be able to just copy and paste titles and text from that document to the data entry boxes on LinkedIn. If your resume isn’t current, this is a great opportunity to update it! They should basically be in synch…
Here are some additional tips:
- Be sure to link the job to your employer’s Company Page. If they don’t have one, suggest they set one up – pronto!
- Limit your description of the organization to 1-2 sentences. If people want to learn more, they can go to the Company Page.
- Also limit your description of the job and your responsibilities as much as possible, focusing instead on unique contributions, value added, and accomplishments.
- Remember that you’re writing for both search engines and human beings. That means your descriptions should be key word rich, but they also need to be attractive and readable by people.
- When in doubt, leave it out. The profile should entice people to want to learn more rather than try to tell your whole life story. The less relevant a job is to your current professional activities, the less you should say about it.
If you have any kind of professional certifications, be sure to list them in the Certifications section. Similarly, if they’re relevant to your current professional activities, you can also list Honors and Awards. Both sections can be completed in mere minutes.
Include Your Education
As with some of your older work experiences, you can take a “name/rank/serial” number approach to providing information about your academic background. You should definitely list all the schools you attended and/or got degrees from, but you don’t need to provide more detail than your degree program and the years attended. Yes, I would include the years. If you don’t, people will naturally conclude that you’re trying to hide the fact that it was a long time ago, so not listing them doesn’t protect you from discrimination. Besides, if someone is going to discriminate against you based on your age, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.
Don’t Include Personal Information
I don’t know why LinkedIn provides these fields, but I would recommend against including personal information such as your address, marital status, and date of birth. This information is generally not relevant to your professional identity or interactions.
Enable People to Get in Touch with You
Related to the fear of having a public profile, many professionals seem to be afraid that if they don’t restrict access to themselves they will be inundated with and overwhelmed by a variety of requests. In my experience, the fear is greater than the reality. I recommend lowering the drawbridge and letting people contact you through every available LinkedIn channel. And if you’re in a job like business development or recruiting, you own your own business or are on the job market, make it easy for people to get in touch with you outside of LinkedIn as well by adding a statement under your Contact Settings that shares your contact information. To make it easier to manage inappropriate requests, clearly specify the kinds of opportunities you’re open to hearing about.
The follow-up posts in this series will focus on intermediate and advanced issues. If there’s a specific topic you’d like to see addressed, please add a comment or question. I also invite folks to share their “recommendations for rookies,” in case I may have overlooked something.
And I should end with a caveat: This series provides general guidance that may not reflect best practices in specific instances. If you’re currently on the job market, for example, you will want to set up your profile to maximize the likelihood it will be found – and found attractive – by recruiters. There are also nuances for folks in business development and those who own their own businesses that aren't addressed in this series.