How to give your LinkedIn profile a competitive edge

"Do I really need a LinkedIn profile", you ask?  Definitively, yes!  And you don't just need a profile, you need a good profile that helps you stand out from the rest of your peers in the field.  According to Jobvite, a leading recruiting software company that conducts annual recruiting surveys, LinkedIn is cited as the dominant social media site for professional networking.  87% of recruiters use it to vet candidates during the hiring process.  

Not only does LinkedIn help recruiters find you as a jobseeker, it has amazing capabilities to assist you in connecting with people at the next company where you want to work.  Building a strong professional network on this platform will make finding your next job far easier and more efficient than submitting dozens of applications and waiting for a response.  On LinkedIn, you can start taking your search into your own hands.  So, let's get started. 

Before you start making any changes, sign into your LinkedIn account.  In the top toolbar, under your profile icon, click on the drop down arrow, then click on Settings & Privacy.  Under Settings & Privacy, click on the center Privacy tab, and then look at the 5th option down called Sharing Profile Edits. 

 Ensure that is says "NO" or if it says "YES", click the change button to the right and change it to "NO".  You will want to notify your network once you've made your profile look pretty, but not until you're almost done.  They don't want to see every little edit and you may end up making edits in stages.  Before you finish your very last edit, change this setting back to YES so that when you make your final edit, your network will be notified of your updates.  Now, let's start upgrading your profile step by step!

Step #1. Break out those pearly whites

LinkedIn's own research indicates that profiles with a picture are 14 times more likely to be viewed than those without a picture.  If you've already posted a picture, does it look like you do now?  If you've ever done online dating, you know that there is nothing more disturbing than meeting someone for the first time and not recognizing him/her because they look nothing like their picture.  It works the same way when it comes to an interview and it definitely harms credibility, so make sure that your picture looks like you now.  A headshot works best from the shoulders up and your face should take up 60% of the picture.  Head to waist will work as well, but be sure to dress nicely.  Make sure no one is in the picture with you.  Avoid things that would distract people from looking at your face like busy backgrounds, patterned clothing, sunglasses, hats, etc.  And ladies (or men for that matter!), no cleavage or bare shoulders.  If you work in a casual environment where you can wear jeans and t-shirts every day, you probably want to take it up a notch for your picture.  Last but not least, show those pearly whites.  A number of studies, including Psychology Today, have found that a smile with teeth makes you seem approachable.  Think about it… how many times has someone smiled at you and it was contagious?  You instantly smiled back at them.  If you're looking for a job, you want to be approached, right?  So, if you haven't exercised those muscles recently, get started.  Practice in the mirror and then bust out a new selfie.  Yes, it would be better if someone took your picture for you or you used the timer, but this doesn't have to be complicated.  Your cell phone makes it all pretty simple.  

Step #2. Spice up your professional headline or "tagline"

When a recruiter conducts a search using LinkedIn's powerful search filters, LinkedIn provides a list of matching profiles based on the key words in the search.  In the list of matching profiles, LinkedIn displays only a snapshot of each profile as shown below. 


The snapshot includes your profile picture, your professional headline or professional tagline (as I like to call it), the first line of your two most recent employers, the first line of your two past employers, and the first line of two educational listings.  Knowing that, just as with your resume, you want to ensure your best material is in those sections so that it will be summarized in that snapshot.  Obviously, there isn't a whole lot that you can do about your job title or company name, but you have complete creative freedom with your professional headline, up to 120 characters of freedom.  This is your professional tagline, so be brazen!  If you don't change it, LinkedIn will default auto-complete it with your current job title and current company.  Boring!

Here are a few examples of unique, clear, or clever headlines that draw  attention so that you get the idea.  

  • Global Leader ► Partner & CTO: Digital ►Cognitive Analytics, AI & Robotics (RPA) Practice Director
  • Creating energized teams, delivering high-quality products.
  • Pursuing Opportunities as an Administrative and Management Professional
  • Professional Surfer. Founder of The Modern Technocracy (MT)
  • Artificial Intelligence Leader : Human 😃 and Science 🔬
  • Go To Person For The Robot Makers and Founders - PhD and Robotics - call me 408.849...

 Step #3. Share your career story in the Profile Summary 

I know, I know.  You don't even like talking about yourself, and now I'm advising you to write your story.  Your summary is what you want companies and your professional network to know about you.  Most of the time, a resume is a little on the stiff side and it lacks personality, but on your LinkedIn profile, you can bring your personality to life!  The summary section of your profile is listed just under your professional headline, and it doesn't show up in that snapshot highlighted above, but if someone liked your headline enough to open your profile, then the summary is the next thing that they'll see.  LinkedIn defaults to only showing the first 2 lines of it, but if readers like what they hear, they'll click the "see more" button and read all about you.  So, think about why you like your work, how you got started, who you like to work with, what you want to do next, and how you'd like to do it.  This is your bio, so start telling your story.  

Regardless of whether someone reads your summary or not, this is also the section that allows you to include lots of key words to ensure you show up in searches.  At the end of your story, list your specialties to make them stand out, include desired fields of work or desired positions, and a list of skills, especially skills that may not be mentioned or listed under the Featured Skills & Endorsements section of your profile.  The more key words related to what you'd like to do, the better.  Think aspirational!  Recruiters conduct searches using key words so that's how they'll find you. 

Step #4. Consistency is key!

Ensure that the companies, positions, and dates on your LinkedIn profile match what you have on your resume.  Just like with your profile picture, if things don't match up, it will hurt your credibility.  LinkedIn also allows lots of space for you to add detail to your job descriptions, possibly more space than what you had available on your resume as you were trying to keep it concise.  You'll be tempted to include more, but keep it consistent.  If there was a job or two where you wished you could have had one more explanation or descriptor that's okay, but don't go overboard.   

Step #5. Ensure Recruiters know you're open to talking

LinkedIn offers a feature that signals to recruiters that you're open to talking with them.  It's called Open Candidate.  You can find it under Settings & Privacy again.  Go to the Privacy tab and click Job Seeking on the left column.  There you will see the heading: Let recruiters know you're open to opportunities.  Click Yes. 

It can be challenging to search for another job on a public professional networking site while you're still employed, but LinkedIn does its best to help you out.  LinkedIn hides this "Open Candidate" signal from recruiters at your own company.  It never hurts to build relationships with recruiters, so it can be helpful to leave this button checked all the time to eliminate suspicion (unless of course you're getting so many calls from recruiters that it becomes bothersome, in which case I doubt you'd be reading this article!) 

Underneath the Yes tab, there is a link to "Update Career Interests".  Click on this link to open the following screen: 

This window allows you to write a note to recruiters regarding what types of roles you're seeking, or to use the categories provided for job title, location, and type of job.  It is best to remain flexible to receive as much contact as possible as opposed to making the parameters so narrow that you don't receive much contact at all.  Better to hear what's out there and explore.  Stay curious! 

Step #6. Update your contact information. 

Many people get concerned that if they add contact information to their profile, they're going to get spammed.  Personally, having worked in the recruitment industry for more than 15 years, I've wanted people to be able to reach me, so I've always listed my contact information.  In all those years, I can count on one hand the amount of spam email or phone calls that I've received.  Your contact information is only visible if someone clicks on the "Show more" arrow under Contact & Personal Info on the right hand column of your profile.  The pencil next to that heading is also what you would click to edit that information.  This is the box that displays.

At a minimum, include an email contact.  Adding a phone number is even better.  If you added links to your resume like a website, portfolio, or github link, include those as well.  Leave the address field blank or list a city and state only, not a full address.  No one should be determining whether or not you're a fit for a position based on your street address.  If updating your contact information is the final change that you are making to your profile, now would be a great time to change the Share Profile changes button to a Yes to alert your network to your updates. Remember to click the Save button when you finish!

Following these six steps will be a great start for increasing your chances of showing up in search results, for attracting recruiter's attention, and for engaging viewers to read more.  

The final notion that's important to understand about LinkedIn is the greater your number of connections, the better your reach and your potential for opportunities.  Some people think that they shouldn't accept a connection invitation unless they know someone, but the whole purpose of this social network is to get to know someone. Hopefully that someone is an employee of a company where you want to work or they can connect you to someone at that company to help you get a foot in the door.  You are only able to directly message your first degree connections on LinkedIn, so start building your network.  Your goal should be to get to 500 connections or more.  LinkedIn lists your connections right under your professional headline, but once you pass 500, they simply list 500+.  Second and third degree connections also allow you to ask for introductions, a topic for another post, but all you need to know for now is keep connecting!  Start with my profile to give yourself a quick win,  I love connecting and never know who I'm going to place in their next job! 

If you have questions about any of these steps or other areas of LinkedIn and would like to learn more, let me know in the comments so that I can make it the target of a future post.  I always want to hear your thoughts and your challenges! 

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