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6 steps to a professional LinkedIn profile

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Not too long ago, if a person updated her LinkedIn profile it was probably because she was job hunting. Because of this, I think many of us approached LinkedIn with caution. We didn’t want to make the impression that we had a foot out the door of our current job, so we made our appearances scarce. We updated our LinkedIn profiles only when we had a new line item to add to our resume.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn. (Are we connected? We should be!) The way professionals are using LinkedIn is evolving quickly. Like other social networks, it’s becoming more…well, social. We share frequent updates, engage in the news feed, and create original written, photo, and video content for the platform. Sure, they’re videos of our marketing team at a trade show, not of our family at a pumpkin patch. Regardless, LinkedIn is becoming a place where sharing is the norm.

At this point, it’s easy to dispel the myth that LinkedIn is only for job searchers. People in almost any professional network use LinkedIn to vet and learn about one another. If somebody Googles you, one of the first hits is likely to be your LinkedIn profile. I visit LinkedIn to do research any time I meet a new professional contact; I like to know who I’m meeting for coffee, whose business card I just picked up, or who I’m scheduling a phone call with. As a person whose career benefits from networking, my career also benefits from LinkedIn.

Many of my clients have placed LinkedIn on a social media pedestal. Even though it’s becoming more engagement-friendly, LinkedIn is still buttoned up enough that we need to demonstrate our ability to write complete sentences. For those of us who use it to reach potential clients or employers, it can be intimidating to navigate the gray area between showing our personalities and being professional. A LinkedIn profile can feel like a very public resume mixed with a networking happy hour, and that can be a very confusing thing to write.

At the minimum, most professionals need a LinkedIn profile that is up-to-date, nice to look at, and easy to understand. That way, employers, classmates, recruiters, hires, clients, colleagues, collaborators, and partners can understand what we do for work and the value it might bring to them or their organization.

If your profile isn’t showcasing your hard work, talents, accomplishments yet, don’t worry. Here are six simple changes you can make to your LinkedIn profile to make it more professional.

#1: Make sure it’s complete

The easiest thing you can do on LinkedIn is assure that you’ve filled out every part of the profile. Make sure you have a profile picture, header image, headline, summary, and itemized experiences including a brief description of your work or accomplishments in each position.

Taking the time to complete your profile can communicate that you’ve invested time and effort into your professional brand. When I see a strong LinkedIn profile, it tells me the person is probably approachable to new connections and opportunities, likely to respond if I contact them, thoughtful about details, and savvy enough to use the platform well.

#2: Upgrade your photos

The only two photos that are must-haves on a LinkedIn profile are your profile picture and your header image. Your profile picture doesn’t need to be a professional headshot, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use a photo that you've cropped other people out of

  • Don’t use a photo that’s pixelated, low resolution, or has a really busy background

  • Your photo is going to be pretty small on both a phone and a computer screen. The photos that tend to work best are close-ups of your face and shoulders. My favorites are portraits--look directly at the camera and show that gorgeous smile!

If you don’t already have a photo that fits this criteria, it isn’t hard to recreate on a phone. Stand against a neutral wall (or hang a sheet), have a buddy take some photos, and add a light edit with the Lightroom app.

One of the areas I see left incomplete on profiles most often is the header image, which is the long, rectangle image at the top of your profile. I understand why people leave it blank--it crops photos into an awkward shape and size. If you can’t find a photo that fits, you might need to get creative. Here are some options:

  • Websites like Pexels have high quality stock photography with great photos of desks, work spaces, or patterned backgrounds

  • If you own a company or have a website, use Canva to create a header with your logo, brand colors, tagline, or text

#3: Optimize your headline

Your headline is where most people write their title or position, but don’t overlook this prime piece of real estate. It’s what will appear under your name on the news feed and the first thing people will read about you on your profile. Use it to differentiate yourself and showcase what you do.

You might be a Junior Marketing Manager, but you might also be a podcast host, Hubspot certified, and TEDx speaker. Instead of using your headline to say Junior Marketing Manager, try one of these:

  • Lead-driven Jr. Marketing Manager | Hubspot Certified | Marky-Market Podcast | TEDx Speaker

  • Marketing Manager at the fastest rising tech company in Dallas | Hubspot, AdWords, SEO, Social Content Creator

  • Junior Marketing Manager | I create ahead of the trend digital content that grows engaged audiences for small businesses

#4: Elevate your summary section

Your summary is the “About” section on your profile, and the equivalent of that interview question we all hate: “Tell me about yourself.” (For tips, here's an entire post about how to talk about what you do.)

This is where you can really hone your elevator pitch to make potential contacts both understand what you do and connect to you on a personal level. To bring it to life:

Write it in first person.

This is your social media platform, so you are the one speaking. In industries that like to keep a high level of professionalism (finance, law), I see a lot of “Bridget Anderson is a Sr. Financial Analyst at…”

Instead, share who you are in your voice. "When I became a financial analyst, my goal was to help change the statistics that tell us how few small companies will actually become profitable..."

See that? You want people who visit your profile to be impressed by your amazing work, but you also need them to want to sit down with you for a cup of coffee with you. First person is more approachable and authentic than third.

Articulate the problem you solve for people or organizations.

You’re so much more than a financial planner. You help your clients know exactly what to do with their money so they and their families can live the life they want to.

You’re so much more than a high school teacher. You challenge students in an under-resourced neighborhood to beat the statistics that tell them they won’t succeed in college.

See how powerful it is to share the value you add to your clients, students, or organization?

Differentiate yourself.

There’s plenty of space in the Experience section to talk about your specific roles. In the summary, find a way to give a 360 view of who you are in your career. What drives you? What sets you apart? Are their values that have guided you? Accomplishments you’re most proud of? Bring those qualities to the top to light up here at the top of your profile so they aren’t buried in a section at the bottom.

If this is all too much, there's a template on the resources page for Writing a Compelling Bio.

#5: Beef up your content with links, files, and articles

LinkedIn is integrating easy ways for your to showcase your portfolio. In most sections of your profile, you can add a link or a file. If you have a website, a video, or a visual example of your work, this is a perfect opportunity to show it off. I have links to my TEDx talk, website, and other work on my profile.

You can also showcase your specific knowledge by writing a LinkedIn article about your area of expertise. Articles that answer a frequently asked question, teach us how to do something, or provide resources and examples from your industry are usually quick to write. The articles will live on your profile, and they’re a great way to demonstrate to new connections the specific type of work you’re great at doing in a way that’s outside the typical “resume” format of a LinkedIn profile.

#6: Ask for recommendations

Finally, ask your teammates, managers, clients, colleagues, professors, and peers for recommendations. You request these short testimonials directly through LinkedIn, and they can deliver the social proof that packs a lot of punch in you’re in a client-facing industry or looking for new opportunities.

Just click the “Ask for Recommendations” button on your profile (if you don’t have any yet, you’ll have to “Add a Section.” LinkedIn will prompt you to choose someone in your network to ask, establish your relationship with that person, and then send them a note.

Whenever I ask for a testimonial or recommendation, I share with my contact the parts of our work together or results I want to highlight. If we launched a website together, I ask them to share that experience. If I facilitated a workshop about public speaking for their fundraising team, I ask them to describe what it was like to work with me and the value the team found from it.

It’s probably even more uncomfortable for most of us to ask for recommendations than it is to share all of our professional accomplishments (which can also feel super uncomfortable). But a LinkedIn profile that’s complete all the way down to the recommendation section can be a showstopper for your professional brand.

LinkedIn is having a renaissance moment, and with all of its new features, you can nearly build yourself a fully-functioning professional portfolio website. The reality is even if you’re not looking at our own LinkedIn profile, other people are. Make sure they can see the amazing value you have to offer when they get there.

If you made it all the way to the end (wow!) and a LinkedIn update still isn’t in your wheelhouse, let’s talk about how we can optimize it together.


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