by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Heavy LinkedIn User…
Of all the social networks out there, LinkedIn has delivered the best return on my time — as in actual gigs that come with actual money. That doesn’t mean I love the site — the user experience appears designed by inebriated spider monkeys — but I’ve managed to make it work for me.
So I put together this list of suggestions to improve your LinkedIn profile, particularly if you work in marketing or other creative professions. (This advice can apply to other professionals as well.)
I don’t include every tip on how to use LinkedIn — too much for one post. And, ultimately, your profile is the most important element, not only on LinkedIn, but in your entire personal brand portfolio. It’s usually one of the top five results that come up on Google when someone searches for your name, and it’s one that you control (within limits). That’s why LinkedIn isn’t just for job hunters, it’s for anyone concerned about managing their brand. Which should be everyone.
And if you’re looking for a marketing job, then a polished LinkedIn profile is essential. It shows that you know how to use one of the world’s dominant business platforms, which will likely grow after Microsoft applies its touch and resources. In fact, some employers require a LinkedIn profile for you to even apply. And more than 90% of recruiters use LinkedIn, so if you follow these guidelines, your profile could do some of your job hunting for you.
So print this out and use it as a checklist. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments section below. And if you encounter problems, blame the spider monkeys.
- Use a professional photo. That doesn’t mean make it look corporate (suit and tie) — which might actually work against you if you provide creative services. But since you’re in the image business, you can’t have anything that looks amateurish. Hire a professional photographer — at the least, the most artistic person you know — and have them capture you with an appropriate background (absolutely no other people in frame).
- Edit your public profile URL. Your default address includes an unsightly string of numbers and letters. Example: https://www.linkedin.com/in/your-name-123×456. To change it, first go into your Edit Profile mode and hover over the URL beneath your photo until the hidden gear appears (why LinkedIn insists on hiding important buttons in edit mode baffles me). Click on it to make a new screen appear with the editable URL in the upper right. (More bad design by LinkedIn, but I digress.) If your name is common, try different combos to see what’s available, including a word or two describing what you do.
- Make sure people can find you. While you’re updating your public profile URL, make sure your profile is visible. Otherwise, why bother?
- Own your name. In addition to fixing your profile URL, buy your name as a web address — which, of course, you did already to keep it from falling into the hands of a competitor or an ex. Now simply point that URL to your LinkedIn profile. For example, FreddyNager.com goes straight to my LinkedIn profile, and it looks good on my resume and other marketing materials.
- Feed the search engine. LinkedIn’s search tool will likely be replaced by Microsoft’s Bing, but for the time being it’s woefully primitive. It primarily looks for keyword frequency in someone’s profile, and unlike Google, it can’t tell that “PR” and “Public Relations” are synonyms. So your profile needs multiple keywords that you think people will use to find someone in your profession, with variations and some repetition necessary. Just don’t overdo it — you’re writing for humans as well as a program, and keyword stuffing looks tacky.
- Create your title strategically. Some professionals prefer to include short statements, like “I help businesses grow.” That helps position their brand at the expense of optimizing for the search engine (i.e., no one will search for that phrase). The choice is up to you, but try to integrate keywords into that statement. And do not ever write “unemployed” or “looking for work” (well, if you do, there may be a reason for that condition).
- Write an opening summary that highlights your key selling points. LinkedIn profiles are primarily in chronological order, and key facts can get buried. For example, you may have held a prominent position in a Fortune 500 company many years ago, but the companies listed next to your photo are just the two most recent ones. Your summary should also include a bulleted list of skills, areas of expertise, and accomplishments. Do not bother with vague clichés, like “I’m a passionate leader with a winning attitude.” No one searches for those words, the word “passion” is burnt out on LinkedIn, and such cheesy phrases are used by unimaginative people, not creative professionals.
- List only relevant jobs. No, you don’t have to list every job you’ve ever had — that’s an old-school rule for the days when people only had 2 to 3 jobs in their career. So show only the gigs you’re proud of, or that enhance your brand (you may have hated working for the Fortune 500 company, but it does look good on your profile). Don’t include irrelevant jobs or anything you never want to do again, like typing or answering phones, because even if you’re a manager with an MBA, guess who gets called into duty when the office assistant is out sick?
- Describe your companies and your colleges. If you worked for a company or attended a college with a household name, like Apple or UCLA, no need to describe it. But if you worked for someone less well known like, say, Atomic Tango, a description is essential, lest they mistake it for a dance academy. In your description, make the company sound good — even if you hated them, or they were tiny and short-lived. A startup that flamed out after just a few months can give you keywords that make you look good in relation, such as “funded,” “high tech,” “Silicon Beach,” etc. Employers are obsessed with experience, even if their obsession is misguided, so show them what you have. Now if you’re an owner or senior manager, provide a company description that all your employees can use to ensure consistency and accuracy.
Note: when you start typing a company or school name, LinkedIn will auto-suggest some options. If the right one appears, use it, since it will link you to that company/school network. If it doesn’t appear, that means a company page for it doesn’t exist. You can create a company page (and you absolutely should if you own the company) only if your email address has the company address in it (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). That means any employee can create the page, so top management should make sure it gets done right now… especially since your employees may be reading this.
- Describe your accomplishments with facts and numbers. Again, no cheesy clichés, and eliminate the term “responsible for” from your vocabulary, since it only states what you were supposed to do, not what you actually did. State what you, your team, and the entire company accomplished (you’re all in this together, you team player, you), using specific names of people and products, awards, and statistics written in numerical form (“increased sales by 10%” not “ten percent”) since numbers pop in a sea of words. Do that also with your education, listing relevant courses, projects, and accomplishments (all rich in keywords).
Note: whatever happened in high school no longer matters to anyone (which may be a relief to some of you).
- Get recommendations, but ignore skills endorsements. Recommendations ideally verify your claims, and their mere existence help show that you’re not a spammer. (I frequently encounter fake profiles on LinkedIn. None have had recommendations.) As for those skills endorsements, those are just a gamification tool by LinkedIn to keep people interacting with the site. They’re a waste of time for everyone, so move that section as far down on your profile as possible.
- Flaunt your work. If you’re a writer or strategist, post your articles and write some blogposts directly on LinkedIn (don’t worry about traffic — just show how you think and write). Designers and videographers should post samples or mini-portfolios. By all means, link to your outside sites in your Contact Info section. Just make sure to use the “other” label so you can create your own descriptions, not just generic “Company Website” or “Personal Website.”
Note: LinkedIn lets you list your Twitter profile. Only do so if you’re active on Twitter, and your tweets pertain to your profession. (An active, professional Twitter account, by the way, should be mandatory for any marketer under 30.) Otherwise, leave it off.
- Keep personal information private. Show that you understand image management by omitting TMI. Do not include your marital status (unless you’re using LinkedIn to LinkUp) and birthday, and don’t include your personal phone number unless you like calls from strangers at odd hours. By all means, never put your home address anywhere on the Internet, including on downloadable resumes. If you’re concerned about age discrimination — and we all know it’s rife in creative professions — you can choose to leave the graduation years off your education section, and eliminating your first jobs out of college.
- Join groups. LinkedIn’s groups are valuable for networking (a topic for another post), but even if you don’t have time, show that you’re socially savvy by listing a few relevant groups. Alumni associations are easy and obvious additions (and the best groups for networking), but look at local groups and industry verticals.
Microsoft will likely add or delete features to LinkedIn as time goes by — I’m expecting Skype to be integrated somehow, while Twitter may be booted off. And should that happen, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, use your LinkedIn profile to show that you actually know how to do marketing for the toughest client of all: yourself.