If you are a professional, technical or executive worker in job search mode (active or passive), the role and importance of your LinkedIn profile and your resume have largely “flipped” in the last few years (at least for many employers/recruiters). Your LinkedIn profile now often does what your resume used to: it determines whether you get found for a job, and whether you get considered.
Therefore, your LinkedIn has two purposes: 1) to get you found, and 2) to tell your story, so that employers will want to hire you. I know that sounds obvious, but the rest of this article will explain why most LinkedIn profiles fail at both, and what to do about it. Let’s start with telling your story.
While your entire LinkedIn profile tells your story, the single most important part is your Summary, since it explains how all the rest ties together. At least, that’s what it should do. But many LinkedIn users omit the Summary, or they miss the target. For example, they copy and paste their company’s “about us” text. They only share a few sentences. Or they only summarize just their current or most recent work experience.
Before I suggest what you should do instead, always remember that there is a critically important question behind the following advice. It’s the same question behind the standard interview question “Can you tell me about yourself?”
In both cases, the real question is “why should we hire you?” Your LinkedIn Profile Summary should provide a powerful answer to that question, potentially drawing on anything: your entire career, education, hobbies, values, the things you volunteer for, etc. Anything that helps build a strong case for why you are the right hire is fair game. Also, I’m a big fan of telling your story by writing in the first person, using personal pronouns and plain language. Here’s a great article with additional ideas on telling your story.
By the way, if there is anything about your career history that requires some explaining or “spin doctoring,” your Summary can also be very helpful. This might include a recent job gap. Or, take a look at my profile, and skip the Summary. See the challenge? I have a pretty diverse job history. I wouldn’t want a recruiter to have to try to piece it together and make sense of it. My summary ties my crazy work history together into what I hope appears to be a compelling advantage, not a liability!
The next part of the equation is making sure you get found… if you don’t get found, it doesn’t really matter how good your profile is.
It’s important to set the stage for the following advice. Being findable is an exercise in SEO, or “search engine optimization.” Insofar as recruiters and employers are using LinkedIn’s search functionality to find you, you want to be sure that not only are you findable, you come up very well in the search results. The key to this is including the words that they use to find you. And this is critical: they probably aren’t using the words you think they are, when they search for you. Rather, you probably aren’t including the words they are using.
Since I urged you to use your powerful Summary section to tell your story, and answer the critical question “why should we hire you,” it may fail to include the words that will get you found. So it’s vital that you leverage your work history (the descriptions of current and prior jobs) to accomplish this.
Before I share what words I’m talking about, it’s worth noting that most common practices around reporting your career history are a fail when it comes to making you findable, including:
- Not listing your entire career history.
- Only providing a description for your current or most recent jobs.
- Not bothering to include any descriptions, or using vague/minimalist descriptions.
- Descriptions that consist of content taken from that employers “about us” page on their website.
Here’s why these approaches miss the mark. One thing that recruiters learn immediately when they begin looking for candidates is that obvious, commonplace search terms are useless. I’ll use HR as an example, since it gives me great traction to describe both the problem and the solution — the right words. If I’m looking for an HR person, two of the most common and useless search terms I can use are “Human” and “Resources.” Why? Because anybody may have these terms on their profiles.
(Consider a second example, IT people. Useless search terms include: information, systems, technology, computer, hardware, software, etc. Again, anyone may have those words in their profiles.)
So what words does a good recruiter search for instead, if, for example she is looking for an HR professional? Simple: the technical terms that only HR people are likely to use. Such as: FMLA, FSLA, OFCCP, Taleo, “labor relations,” “employment law,” ATS, etc. These are the types of words and the level of detail that you want to include, and the ideal place is under the descriptions for each job in your job history.
More ideas: include the names of software you used (avoid the obvious or general, like MS Explorer or Office or “Adobe.” Instead: SpSS, AutoCAD, Salesforce, Peoplesoft, Photoshop, etc.) If your profession relies on unique hardware, like extruders or differential gauges or psychogalvanometers, mention those. Include special accreditations or certifications, like PMP or SPHR or CIR. Get technical, get specific. Most important, be as complete and descriptive as possible.
There are plenty of other tips I could share about your profile, including the obvious “include a good headshot photograph.” But in this article, I just wanted to address the things you need to need to know to ensure that LinkedIn makes you findable, and best tells your story. Good luck!