This post provides seven basic recommendations that can help LinkedIn (LI) rookies upgrade their profiles from anemic to respectable. These tasks can be tackled in as little as an hour (and no more than a half-day session) and will produce a solid basic presence that also lays a foundation for future development.
Judging from the anemic LinkedIn (LI) profiles I view on a daily basis, I hope that many professionals have resolved to enhance them in 2012. I know people are busy, but if how they represent themselves as professionals is important to them (and it should be), they need to make the time. Anyone who can manage to carve out time to go to a hair stylist should also be able to carve out time to ensure their basic cyber presence is well styled too.
For many people, expressed concerns about lack of time are often code for “I’m overwhelmed.” If they haven’t spent much time on LI, the task of updating their LI profile seems daunting, and they have no idea where to begin. LI 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 LI profiles are presentable. If you’re a LI 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.
Future posts in this series will focus on intermediate and advanced issues (click here for part II). 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.
- Courtney Shelton Hunt
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. This post by Matt Kerr identifies some of the unique considerations you should address. If you know of other specific guidance, please provide a comment and/or link to the resource. Thanks!
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 in the first quarter. Then you can tackle the intermediate tasks in the second quarter and the advanced tasks in the third quarter. By the fourth quarter you should have a fully functioning profile!
Note: 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)
#1: 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 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 LI 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 LI 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 LI users know how to access profiles using people’s LI member numbers. It’s a very simple workaround.
If you’ve kept your 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.
#2: Add a Respectable Profile Picture
As in most social networks, there’s a normative expectation that people have a 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 on LI can get away with more daring 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
- Be careful about using things that are too cutesy or may involve questionable humor
#3: Include a Headline
To me, the LI 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
#4: 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 LI profile is the same as what you’d include on a resume. So if your resume is current, you should be able to just cut and paste titles and text from that document to the data entry boxes on LI. 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.
#5: 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.
#6: Don’t Include Personal Information
I don’t know why LI 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.
#7: 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 LI 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 LI as well by adding a statement under your Contact Settings that shares your contact information. Here’s the statement on my profile:
I can be reached directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via phone at 312.225.3365.
To make it easier to manage inappropriate requests, clearly specify the kinds of opportunities you’re open to hearing about.
To access additional posts on LI, check out this Spotlight on LinkedIn email blast from last fall.
If you’re currently on the job market (or hiring), you may also be interested in my post Recruiting in the Digital Era: Updated Guidance for Employers, Recruiters, and Candidates, which provides additional guidance and resources about managing one’s professional presence in cyberspace.