Since LinkedIn is the number one professional networking site, it’s surprising, sometimes shocking really, how many profiles, even of successful, established professionals, are not optimized for professional networking.
Speaking of successful professionals … as I discussed with the talented and always-seeking-to-be-optimized Natasaha Filipov, on her This Blonde Means Business podcast, most LinkedIn users upload their resumes and they will usually make an effort to get some Skills and Recommendations, but the top sections of your profile are incredibly important and yet often not optimized. In fact, in April 2021, the average LinkedIn user has a profile that is 50% unoptimized, according to these LinkedIn experts.
I also discussed with Natasha that many college students can do a much better job with their LinkedIn profiles. So I’m here to help! If you’re a soon-to-be or new college graduate looking for a job, it’s essential to use LinkedIn to consciously and intentionally communicate who you are professionally to recruiters, potential employers and new connections.
(You can also listen on Spotify!)
In this post, I will break down what it takes to fully optimize your LinkedIn profile, starting with the Introduction section. In Part 2, I will focus on the very important About/Summary section which can be especially difficult for college grads and young professionals to write. But for now, we’re all about the top of your LinkedIn profile, and there is a lot to cover!
How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Introduction Section/Card
The topmost section of your LinkedIn profile is called your ”Introduction Section” or “Introduction Card,” as it functions like a kind of digital business card. This is prime LinkedIn profile real estate. This is what people see first and you should highlight what you want people to know about you professionally right away and at a glance. Your Introduction (or Intro for short) section consists of your name, headshot, background photo, headline/title, location and contact. This is the most visual part of your profile too, so again, it’s impact is super important when making a first impression.
Here is what you need to do to optimize this top section of your LinkedIn profile:
1. Record a Video Cover Story
It was bound to happen — video is now a feature of the mobile version of LInkedIn, including the option to record a story for your newsfeed and/or record an introduction to your profile. (Hopefully, we won’t be getting “Shop Now” buttons too!) The Intro video populates as an orange circle on top of your headshot. I have no experience with using it yet since it was only rolled out at the start of the year; however, I do know how to script an elevator pitch which is essentially the same thing. So stay tuned, and I will post more info when I have more info. I would say that unlike the headshot, for right now, this is still optional.
In the meantime, here’s an article from Jobscan that outlines a 10-step guide.
Mobile users can also use the pronunciation tool, and I think this is a great idea if you have a name that is legit unusual or hard for others to pronounce. It really shows that you are engaging with the latest features on LinkedIn and want to make it easy for people to genuinely connect with you.
2. Add Your Preferred Pronouns to Your Name
While not a requirement, if this feels authentic and meaningful to you, you should not hesitate to add your pronouns. This Forbes article discusses the change (and other new features) and notes that according to LinkedIn, 70% of job seekers “believe it’s important that recruiters and hiring managers know their gender pronouns, and 72% of hiring managers agree.” And frankly, if someone were to hold my pronouns against me, I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.
3. Post a Professional Headshot
The biggest mistake is not having a headshot at all. If you can’t be bothered to add a photo, then don’t bother at all. Seriously! This is like wearing a paper bag over your head at a networking event or the company holiday party. The second biggest mistake is not having a professional-looking headshot. You absolutely must have a good headshot.
If you’re a recent college grad, I know you’re deeply thrilled and you’re feeling the big accomplishment, but don’t use your graduation photo for your headshot or background photo on LinkedIn unless you already have a job. If you’re looking for a job, why instantly advertise that you’re not super experienced yet? Instead, you want a professional-looking headshot.
You can choose to show when you’re actively using LinkedIn by having a green dot on the bottom right corner of your profile picture. (See Ashely’s pic below.) You can also show that you are open to new job opportunities with the #OpentoWork feature on your headshot. (See Hana’s pic and more on that below.)
Tips for Excellent LinkedIn Headshots
Here are some good tips for headshots from a website called Headshots (they would know, right?), most notably, that a headshot is not a selfie. If you can’t afford a professional photographer, and if you’re a recent college grad you’re probably broke, ask a friend with a good camera to help you. The point is — don’t take the picture yourself!
This Forbes article by Robin Ryan also has some very good guidance for LinkedIn headshots. I agree with her that you don’t necessarily need a professional photographer, but the photo needs to be recent and professional, so make sure to:
- Focus on capturing your head, neck and possibly the top of your shoulders. This is a very small picture, but your eyes should be clearly visible.
- Have a solid or not super busy/dense background. (You can change backgrounds in Photoshop — and if you don’t know how, someone on Fivr can probably do it for you for cheap.) However, I wouldn’t apply any filters. Just be you.
- Smile. Don’t be overly serious or look annoyed/angry. Yes, I’ve seen many non-smiling, even angry-looking expressions on headshots; it’s a thing!
- Wear professional clothing (no tank tops, muscle tees, bathing suits or off the shoulder tops). If you’re in a conservative field like banking or finance, make sure your clothing is conservative for the picture. Show them you already fit in!
4. Post a Background Photo That Is Appropriate and Copyright Usable
While not as critical as your headshot, you still need one. This is just one of those aspects of your profile that shows you understand the purpose of LinkedIn and your Intro Card — to help you stand out and to show people who you are as a professional and what inspires you.
Make sure the image you choose for the Background is meaningful within the context of your field, your About/Summary narrative and professional vibe. For example, unless you’re selling skiing equipment or working at a ski resort, posting a picture of you or someone skiing makes me think you would rather be on a ski vacation and not working. Remember, this is a professional platform. Ski on Instagram!
FreeLinkedinBackgrounds and Unsplash are good sources for free and usable Background photos. You can customize your own background image using a free account from Canva. For about 12 bucks a month, you can get a premium Canva account that will give you even more access to copyright usable images and customizable backgrounds. If you’re doing a lot of social media, Canva is a lifesaver for customizing and resizing images.
5. Make Your LinkedIn Headline Searchable With Keywords
Okay, this is a biggie. Lots to cover.
Your Headline, or Title as some call it because it seems like one as it’s directly under your name, is the primary way recruiters and hiring managers find you on LinkedIn. Of your whole profile, the headline carries the most weight in the LinkedIn search algorithm that recruiters and hiring managers rely on to find qualified candidates. And they find you by searching for keywords. Therefore, an optimized LinkedIn Headline has job/core skill-related keywords in it.
This is why “cool” and buzz word-laden branding statements don’t work for Headlines either. “People Synchronizer” and “Chief Ideator” and other attempts to sound new and innovative are not going to work in a keyword search. (Plus, they sound a little silly. Sorry, Cool People!) Simple, specific and direct is the better, more strategic and authentic approach.
(Here is a word count counter so you can brainstorm/experiment with Headline options.)
The key here is to think of this space as where you announce, not a job title, but what you want to do and what you do well. And this works especially well for recent grads who don’t have titles yet anyway. Focus on populating this important section with keywords for job functions/core skills that are highlighted in the job descriptions that you’re applying to.
Should You State: “Recent Grad?” (Spoiler Alert: No.)
There is some… if not a debate, then conflicting advice about whether you should include that you’re a recent grad in your Headline. There is no absolute right or wrong here. You don’t have to mention this in your Headline per se, as your About/Summary and Experience will clearly indicate that you have just graduated. That said, you can certainly mention this in your Headline but be strategic about it. I would not lead with: “Recent Graduate” as this has no job keywords, and like a graduation headshot, instantly evokes “lack of experience” when through co-ops, internships, volunteer experience and/or co-curricular activities you may have a good amount of professional experience already.
If you want to include your grad status, mention your major first to get the keywords in, like “Computer Science Major” or “Hospitality Management Grad.” You can also put when you’re graduating at the end as I show in some of the examples below.
And a reality check: You may not be actively recruited so much as an entry-level professional (though you might be) as you will be later on as a more seasoned professional, but remember, your Headline appears with you whenever you post or respond to anything in your feed. This means you are telling people in your network what you actually want to do too. You’re getting the “word out.”
We Know You’re “Seeking an Opportunity”
Avoid writing: “Seeking Opportunities” in your Headline. The point is to be found in a search. Most recruiters generally will search location plus four or five keywords and “Seeking” and “Opportunities” are probably not going to be on the list. You only have 120 characters to work with and everyone is pretty much on LinkedIn because they’re seeking an opportunity. To me, it feels a little desperate too. (Kind of like an aspiring singer belting out a version of Driver’s License at a karaoke bar.)
Instead add the #Opento Work photo frame to your profile headshot directly like Hana did in the example below. You can also share that you’re Open to Work with recruiters only, so it’s not visible to all LinkedIn members. Once you have a job, I don’t think there’s any harm in being open to work. Maybe you’ll get a better offer!
Adding the #OpentoWork photo frame is an important way to announce that you’re looking for a job, but it’s not the only one. If you want to harness your network to help you, do that through your LinkedIn news feed and by emailing contacts (on or off LinkedIn). This is why you want to be on LinkedIn early on — at least at the end of your sophomore year to grow and build your network to help you find internship opportunities in your junior year. (But it’s never too late to get on LinkedIn.) Then when you graduate, you can post that you’re looking for a job and that you would appreciate any help, advice and/or leads. Create job alerts but also keep your network posted on your progress. Engage with other people’s posts. Look for alums at companies you may want to work for and connect with them. Ask for introductions from your connections when appropriate. I have given students introductions to other students/working professionals who are working at companies they want to work for because this is the spirit of a professional network — giving and receiving help. It’s called netWORKING for a reason. It works when you work at it.
Strategies for Successful LinkedIn Headline Writing
Here is a simple, and in my experience, very effective approach to write your Headline. If I am looking for a job in public relations, depending upon my skills/interests my profile Headline might read:
Public Relations │Media Relations │Social Media │Digital Content Creation │Blogging
(I like using vertical lines instead of commas, but commas work too.)
I use this approach on my own Headline. When I changed my LinkedIn headline from my actual teaching position title to keywords for job areas/skills like “blogging,” “content creation” and “online course development,” I suddenly started getting some recruiters from outside of higher education reaching out. Not a ton, but I did get three or four legit inquiries last year for potential jobs, whereas before it was basically crickets. I rarely had anyone hitting me up. The downside — I also suddenly had a lot of sales people suddenly reaching out in my LinkedIn mail, especially when I added “online content developer.” But the point is, I noticed an overall visibility change when I went from title to keywords.
This simple job function/core skills keyword approach works well if you don’t have a lot of experience yet and even when you do. You’re simply indicating the fields/areas that you already work in or want to work in. This isn’t misleading. You have done extensive coursework/projects in these areas and you have some professional experience in at least some of them or you wouldn’t be mentioning them. That you are a recent grad will be very apparent on the rest of your profile which is below the Intro section. You’re simply “going broad.” I know many students for whom this worked, or at least they all have good jobs, so it certainly didn’t work against them.
How to Add “Grad” to Your Headline
Some graduates feel compelled or obligated to include their recent graduation. That’s fine, and as I advise above, lead with the keywords of your area of study. If you want to include your recent graduation, you can use a straightforward formula like:
Business analytics graduate with a focus in ___, ___ and ___.
Business analytics major with a focus in ___, ___ ___. Grad 5/22.
But if you do have professional experience from internships, build that in. Here are some examples to inspire you:
Digital marketing major with internships/experience in digital advertising, SEO and Google analytics. Grad 5/22.
Social media marketing graduate. Internships/experience in digital advertising, SEO and Google analytics
Comm Grad with Excellent Writing Skills & Prof Experience in Public Relations, Media Relations, Social Media, Video Ed
Public Relations Internships Developed my Event Planning, Social Media and Content Creation Skills. Graduating 5/21
If you had some high-profile co-ops or internships, you can mention them but your Headline still needs keywords for jobs/skills to go with them or you won’t show up in a general keyword search:
Business analytics grad with internships at Google and Goldman Sachs. Focus on Predictive Analytics, SAS/SQL/Python
What about “aspiring?” I have had students who have used this, and although it’s not a search term and it does connote limited experience, I think it’s fine, as long as you communicate that you have some professional experience too:
Aspiring Fashion PR Account Rep, Interned with _____ and Generated Media Coverage During Fashion Week
What Happens When You Get a Title?
Hooray! You’re titled! (Yes, this will happen. Have faith.)
Even when you do have a title, you can stick with the general keyword approach, though I understand if you’re excited to finally have a title and you want to use it. That’s fine, but I recommend still mentioning at least two core work or skill areas in your Headline, along with your official title or shortened title to ensure you remain searchable by recruiters. Where you work will populate with your location, so it will be visible high up on your profile. You can always mention who you work for and what you do without using a long or generic title:
Public Relations Account Exec for Pharmetica Inc. Media Relations, Publicity, Crisis Management for Pharma Industry
What if you love your job and your title and you just want to use that? If you’re not looking for a job because you love the one you have, then by all means use your actual title. But many titles are generic and vague, like Senior Account Executive, Clinical Division. My niece’s title was: Director of First Impressions. (lol, okay!) I advised her to change her Headline to: “Academic Adviser, Student Success Advocate, Private K-12 Admin, Parent Liaison” when she’s ready to look for a new job in this field.
If she were trying to career switch out of private K-12 admin work, I would advise her to go with what she wants to do next: Writer, Editor, Content Creator… Though most of her professional background is not in this area, this is what she wants to do and she will discuss her career switch in her summary and boost up the relevant experience she does have in that narrative, like that she edited the school’s monthly parent newsletter and helped start the school’s student blog.
I saw a LinkedIn Headline recently that read: “Donor Relations Coordinator at Food Bank of ______.” This is not bad as far as descriptive titles go, but she can pack more into it if changed out Food Bank for Non-profit and added a few other skill areas that are in her About:
Non Profit Donor Relations, Philanthropy Development, Data Analysis, Outreach Strategy
Again, where you work is listed with your location, so why not focus on what you do/can do in the Headline. You can experiment with some of the formulas/ideas above and change your Headline at any time. (Here is how to change your Headline without notifying your contacts.) Have faith that as long as you have some good keywords for jobs and key skill areas, you will be optimized!
6. Change Your Location if Needed
Finally, something easy! Your location will default to your most current job location unless you change it. If you want to relocate, put in the location of where you want to work next, since most recruiters will search by location, but only do this if you’re seriously willing to relocate. If you work in a small town, you can certainly give your location as the nearest city (you will need a zip code) to help people understand better where you are.
7. Check Your Email in Contact Section
Once your profile is up, or if you set it up a while back and are returning to it, click on your contact info and make sure to provide an email address that is professional. If you sign up with an email with the handle Cocopuffs498 that will become your default contact email. It’s best to have an email so people can reach you outside of the platform, but have a professional handle. Having a Gmail is more professional than using your current work email if you’re actively looking for a new job, so avoid using a work email. (It’s like you’re cheating on them if you use theirs!)
You can always change your email and add a new primary one after your account is set up. Just make sure it’s one you check frequently.
I do not have my cell phone number published on my LinkedIn profile, but if I was actively looking for a job, I might add it. Only your first-level connections have access to this information, so unless you publish it in your About/Summary section, you are generally safe from spammers getting a hold of it, but I understand that some people feel like this is too public a venue for a cell phone number.
Though you can, I would not link my Twitter account to my LinkedIn profile unless my Twitter was very appropriate, professional and not controversial, and how many Twitter users can say this? Even if you think it’s fine, why risk it? If you’re on Twitter for the policial scene and express strong opinions there, that’s appropriate for Twitter, but I would not link it to your LinkedIn. Strong political opinions have a place on Twitter, but really are best avoided on LinkedIn.
You can also add up to three different website links to your contact, and this is a good place to link a personal website or portfolio or blog and/or your company website.
Final Thoughts About Your Optimized LinkedIn Profile
Most of the students I know who have successfully used LinkedIn to land a job did so by networking with alumni and by applying to jobs they found advertised there. But if there’s a chance that you can be recruited on LinkedIn for an entry-level position, why not make it likely that your Intro Section will help you be found and noticed? I think the reason I don’t know more students who have been recruited through LinkedIn directly is that the university where I used to work until very recently had a co-op program and many of my students were recruited directly by their employers. The other reason is that so many college students simply don’t have optimized profiles, thus the reason I wanted to write this post. And they don’t do much networking on the platform, so how can they expect to be noticed?
Please stay tuned for more LinkedIn profile advice in Part 2 next week, but let me know what you think of Part 1. I know it’s a lot to take in, but hopefully, I’ve given you a lot of inspiration and advice to help you be your best self on the top of your LinkedIn page! If you love this post, please share it. Please share your LinkedIn success stories with me so I can share them too. If you were recruited from your LinkedIn profile, please share… we want to put you on display and rub your head for good luck!
As always, don’t be stuck in the past or worried about the future. present. As all conscious communicators have already discovered — the present time of your life is where all the magic in your life happens!