There’s a lot that goes into a LinkedIn profile, and what belongs in yours will depend on what you’re trying to use it for. But the one thing that is undeniable about LinkedIn profiles is that they require a lot of writing, and like a resume, they have to tell a story! Here are some general guidelines for figuring out what goes into the key sections of your LinkedIn profile:
1. Pinpoint your story. The way you craft your LinkedIn profile is entirely dependent on what you want to use it for, so it’s important to set a target for yourself before you start writing. Who are you hoping might look at your profile, and what do you want them to take away from it after they visit? Many people use LinkedIn as a job search tool (and it might be the best job search tool there is). If this is the case for you, you’ll want to think of your LinkedIn profile as a supplement to your resume – give context for the things that are on there, include additional information that wouldn’t fit, and share personal anecdotes about your proudest accomplishments or main areas of interest. However, if you're using LinkedIn as a sales tool that will bring in new business, you'll want to highlight the main selling points of your business and call out previous success stories. You can even explore becoming a LinkedIn creator, where your profile is more about creating content as a thought leader than for networking. But maybe you're simply using LinkedIn to maintain your network -- LinkedIn is good for that too. Whatever your desired story is, make sure your profile consistently tracks back to it at every touchpoint.
2. Give a good first impression. On a LinkedIn profile, the first impression you give is typically your photo. A picture's worth a thousand words, so don't discount this element as a part of your story! Make sure you select a photo where you look professional, yet approachable. We recommend choosing a photo where you are smiling, dressed professionally (this can differ depending on what your profession is), and your face is clearly visible (i.e. a headshot – doesn’t need to be professionally photographed). People make snap judgments based on your photo, so if you’ve got raised eyebrows and a sarcastic expression going on, some people might think you're quirky, but others might find it off-putting. The goal is to come across as friendly and pleasant – someone people will want to work with! It's not as necessary to have a cover photo, but if you do, make sure it aligns with your story. If you're using LinkedIn to promote your brand, showcasing your logo makes sense. If you're searching for a job, you might be better off without a cover photo, unless there's a pleasant, unobtrusive image that tells employers something about your candidacy.
3. Craft an accurate headline. Choose a headline that aligns with the story you are trying to tell. Often, that will be your title and company name – there’s a good chance that it might be the thing that describes you best professionally. But if you are trying to make a career transition or your title doesn’t really capture the type of work you do, you could pick something more generic (i.e. scripted TV development executive) or something that showcases your goals (events manager seeking transition to entertainment). If you're using LinkedIn to represent your company or grow your personal brand, you can use your headline to indicate a little bit about your differentiators. Keep in mind that your headline will likely change as your navigate different times in your career. Once you get that new role, you have to remember to update your headline from Job Seeker!
4. Write conversationally. One of the greatest things about LinkedIn is that it’s designed to showcase your voice. This is something that doesn’t come across in a resume, since that document is all about using specific keywords to show responsibilities and achievements in a limited amount of space. Think of LinkedIn as a place for someone to get to know more about the real you. If you’re funny, be funny; if that’s not your style, go for what is, but try to sound as if you are speaking to another human in regular conversation. We see a lot of LinkedIn profiles that are copy-pasted from resumes, that don’t give a whole lot of information about the person’s main interests and goals, and/or read like cheesy advertising copy. When writing your summary or entries in the experience section, think about how you'd spell out your job to a friend. Just try to sound like a normal person and you’ll be on the right track.
5. Get personal. As we said, people visiting your profile are trying to get to know more about you, so use the platform to give them what they want! LinkedIn is a great place to get across what motivates you, the career choices you’ve made that have led you to where you are, what your greatest work passions are, and what your goals are. Much of this information can go in the summary, but it can also go in the entries under your various work and volunteer experiences. Feel free to share anecdotes about your favorite projects or some of the more exciting moments on the job – especially the ones that come across in your resume. For example, if you once managed a team of helicopter and drone operators to capture an aerial stunt over the Grand Canyon in the middle of the night and spent 5 months working on it, that’s going to be hard to capture in a resume bullet point (you’d be limited to something like “managed complex production logistics”), but LinkedIn gives you the space to put this kind of information out there – it backs up the claims on your resume and will pique a potential contact’s interest. LinkedIn is also ideal for showing your passion for whatever kind of service your company is offering. Potential clients like to know that they are hiring a vendor whose heart is in the work, so if you can get across what motivates you, it will be a nice boost to your profile.
Just like a resume, writing a good LinkedIn profile really all ties back to your personal story; it’s just a different form of storytelling! And it’s also a continually evolving personal branding tool. Do your best to keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and authentic, and it will serve you well in whatever you are using it for!
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan