If your LinkedIn profile is incomplete, you’re probably missing opportunities
But that’s a loaded statement, so let me explain.
The ubiquitous adoption of LinkedIn among the world’s professionals has created unprecedented new ways of doing business, building professional credibility, and being found for interesting opportunities that leverage your unique areas of specialization.
On the other hand, LinkedIn has unwittingly opened a treasure trove of content, whether as a tool for organizations to scrape the web and aggregate competitive information for sale to other companies, as a resource for investors to help verify the voracity of claims, or as a platform for the press or even protesters to gain an edge on a provocative story.
Indeed, many otherwise savvy professionals simply copy and paste their résumés into LinkedIn with a singular point of view: “LinkedIn is my online résumé.” (For a slightly scary read, visit my LinkedIn Pulse post: “Your LinkedIn Profile Might Be Giving Away Trade Secrets.”)
Unknowingly opening yourself to a professional fumble isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun time, of course. As a corporate communications strategist and executive résumé writer who has worked with management professionals and executives since 1997, I’ve tailored my development of LinkedIn profiles around a challenging idea:
- LinkedIn is not an online résumé. It’s a tool for doing business, which happens to hold the possibility of superb ancillary benefits.
Here are the approaches I take with clients:
- LinkedIn for the C-suite
- LinkedIn for Fortune 500 Executive Teams (see Companies & Organizations)
- LinkedIn for Boutique Firm Owners & Their Teams
- LinkedIn for Stealth Job Seekers & Passive Candidates
- LinkedIn for Academics Transitioning into Business
Just because LinkedIn says you can, doesn’t mean you should
At no other time in history have we as professionals been more able to present ourselves to partners, investors, vendors, employees, bosses, and beyond—yes, even recruiters—than with the rise of LinkedIn. With hundreds of millions of LinkedIn users, creating the right, strategic LinkedIn profile can be a game changer for a professional’s career or a company’s trajectory.
However, when unknown opportunity blends with unforeseen consequences caused by thoughtlessness, guess which one always wins.
Indeed, risk averse companies and professionals who realize the potential pitfalls might opt to create skeleton profiles and leave the rest to chance. (Hello, Apple.)
Which, of course, guarantees one thing: they won’t enjoy the long-term possibilities that a carefully prepared and optimized LinkedIn profile profile can offer.
I believe creating a mindless profile is shortsighted. Too many have worked with me and later enjoyed the benefits of a purposeful profile to suggest otherwise. A skeleton profile isn’t the right choice.
So what’s to be done?
Identify and build around your profile’s purpose. Or if you’re a group of executives aiming to create what I called a harmonized suite of leadership profiles for doing business, make sure you indeed agree about the message you’ll together espouse.
More on that below….
Developing LinkedIn profiles for business, career credibility, and advancement
Are you openly looking for a job? Are you in the C-suite or nearly there? Are you a stealth job seeker or a passive candidate? Are you a company looking to do more business using LinkedIn? Are you looking to demonstrate your executive team’s credibility using a unified approach?
LinkedIn profiles vary remarkably, but one truth remains: nearly everyone in business cross-references each other on LinkedIn, so an untended LinkedIn profile represents opportunity lost.
As such, I believe every good profile has to fulfill several core needs for its intended readership. Here are just two:
- Set tone and expectation. Does your role call for “warm and friendly” or “exclusive and hard-to-reach?”
- Define your audiences. Which of your anticipated audiences will serve as your primary set of likely readers (e.g., clients / customers, press / media, key constituents and other stakeholders), and which will represent your secondary readership (e.g., industry leaders, colleagues; past, present, and future bosses; employees and team members; contractors; regulators; investors; board or committee members; business partners, recruiters and other hiring entities; vendors and other third parties).
Pro tip: Speak to your primary audience and your secondary audience will translate that content for themselves.
- If you graduated from a top school and have worked for notable companies on impressive professional matters—or your company is well-known and beloved—thorough but circumspect copy is the name of the game. Effortless copy demonstrating “you standing in your professional center” trumps gimmicky power verbs.
- If you went to another university or are self-made, take the time to identify the concepts and supporting evidence that support your credibility. Each of us has his or her own journey, and that story needs to be strategically told. Hyperbole, however, never has a place on a LinkedIn profile that summons gravitas and respect.
While LinkedIn’s static “fill in the box” format tempts us into believing that this is easy work, it’s truly an example of “one size not fitting all.”
In fact, if you think of the very naming of the “LinkedIn Summary,” it’s not a traditional career summary at all, because much of the content one would cover in a long-form executive bio, is found later in LinkedIn’s experience section.
So the LinkedIn Summary Section could be renamed “Positioning Section” or “Framing Piece.” No matter what we call the LinkedIn Summary, it’s the heartbeat of your profile and a prompt for your profile’s visitors to read more about you if they’re interested.
As an aside, don’t be afraid to repel readers.
To be sure, we all hate the idea of “repelling” people, but it’s niche marketing 101 to realize that good copy attracts or repels, and there’s nothing wrong with doing just that in the world of business and job searching. It’s about finding a good fit.
That said, repelling readers isn’t a notion we regularly think about or even embrace without thinking a few minutes. The expectation of most professionals straight out of school is that they will conform to what the hiring entity wants. That should wane as experience is gained.
LinkedIn is not your online résumé; here’s why
When I’m presenting and training groups about developing and writing a great LinkedIn, the idea that LinkedIn is not your online résumé is one of my favorite (and least understood) words of caution.
LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman didn’t found the platform in 2002 explicitly as an online résumé. However, seemingly everyone viewed it as such because of the similarities between LinkedIn’s format and the résumé.
In fact, I viewed LinkedIn as an online résumé, myself, until probably 2009, when my deep involvement with stealth job seekers and passive candidates forced me to realize there was something else to be leveraged.
Happily, LinkedIn seems to have grown into itself, and there are some insightful and wonderful ways to use the platform.
Watch your tone of voice
Content that goes into an executive résumé is inherently self-marketing in nature. But placing self-marketing content on LinkedIn makes you sound like you’re actively searching for a job. If you’re in a stealth job search, or are happy in your current role but want to be noticed as a passive candidate when the right opportunity comes along, a self-marketing approach opens you up to all sorts of speculation the moment you update your profile.
LinkedIn content should be inclusive of your career, and what you offer your company, but it should be written as you standing in your professional center.
Be mindful about confidentiality
We can’t forget that a LinkedIn profile is public. Public! ________.
Develop an unwaverable profile
The best LinkedIn profile reflects you on your best day. It should inspire action, one way or another. There should be no question about who you are and who you aren’t. Your profile should read from a position of knowledge and authority—not the “pick me! pick me!” tone of voice I mentioned earlier.
This keeps the power in the profile owner’s court because when opportunities surface—whether with a client or a new role or any other endless kind of contact (LinkedIn isn’t immune to spammers, unfortunately)—the owner can say yes or no.
Conversely, the profile reader can identify whether the profile owner is a match or not. If so, it could be the start of something positive. Or it might not be the right fit, so the profile reader moves on to find a better fit.
A great LinkedIn profile can be written to reflect:
- Quiet authority
- Professional depth
- Topical credibility
- Affable approachability
- Snarky certitude
- Much, much more!
A board director, executive, or management professional needs to cultivate an online persons that reflects their credibility along with their personality and place in the work world.
LinkedIn profiles are:
- Centered, not inflated
- Credible, not self-aggrandizing
- Clear, not convoluted
So how do you write a great LinkedIn profile?
So when people ask me how to write a great LinkedIn profile, I always say, “What do you want to accomplish?”
There’s no single answer.
Do you want to build your business? Sell more products? Have deeper relationships with your partners, vendors, or funders? Are you highly educated and just beginning your career? Are you actively looking for a job? Passively open to opportunity?
It has taken me a long time to develop messaging strategies and writing techniques that serve the people with whom I work, all the while protecting them from suspicion. In fact I threw my hands up in 2009 and stopped writing LinkedIn profiles for six months before being convinced to step back in the ring. So don’t be dismayed or turned off by the challenge.
Unfortunately, the widespread misunderstanding of LinkedIn’s purpose persists among recruiters, executives, and from my perspective most of the professional populace. Even among some of LinkedIn’s own programmers! I know because I’ve talked to them and they look at me like I just landed from Mars before the light bulbs start going off.
Indeed, LinkedIn has so many more applications in the real world than merely serving as an online résumé intended for job searching, and I’m immersed every day in educating my private clients about this fact.
A parting aside
“Vibrant job search strategies” to help get people noticed on LinkedIn is critical for people using LinkedIn for business and active job seekers. It does not, however, work for someone conducting a stealth job search, or who wants to be open to passive opportunities. Those people should work hard not to get noticed by everyone. Rather, they should get noticed by the right people.