If you haven’t yet created your account or you’ve neglected your profile for years, my question is this: How do you expect to land a job if you aren’t active on LinkedIn?! Especially when most job applications have a required form field for your LinkedIn profile URL.
I joined the network around 2011, and I’ve found it incredibly valuable to my career.
When I first started out, I didn’t have a long list of connections, skills, or experience to beef up my profile.
Today, I have 1,928 followers and 1,788 connections.
Don’t let not having a meaty resume stop you from being active on LinkedIn. Everyone starts somewhere, and the earlier you get started, the faster you’ll get that meaty profile you so secretly desire.
In the meantime, here are my tips for optimizing your LinkedIn profile when you’re just starting out.
I recommend completing each step as you go through this article, so set aside 30 minutes, and let’s get optimizing!
The Anatomy of a Stellar LinkedIn Profile
1. LinkedIn Profile Photo
If you’re a knowledge worker, you’re meeting a lot of people online who you might not ever meet in person.
Your profile photo is there to remind them that there’s a living, breathing human behind your online persona—one they can trust and identify with.
Several studies report that placing pictures of authentic people on your site, specifically their faces, increases visitors’ trust and, therefore, conversion rates.
The same goes for your LinkedIn profile photo.
According to research, LinkedIn members with a photo receive a much higher engagement rate than those without.
In fact, profiles with profile photos get 21 times more profile views and nine times more connection requests.
Tip 1: Get someone to take your photo.
You don’t want to take a selfie. This isn’t Instagram, and you’re not Kylie Jenner.
But I also understand you may not have the cash flow for a professional photoshoot. That’s fine. You can take a perfectly respectable profile photo on a budget.
Ask a friend or family member to take a few pictures of you.
Find a local photography student who’s looking to add pieces to their portfolio.
Google for local photographers or search on Instagram.
Tip 2: Plan ahead.
Consider what you’ll wear, the setting/background, and the time of day well ahead of time.
Jot down a list of low-trafficked places with simple backgrounds and good lighting.
As they say, location is everything, and it’s one of the most important factors in getting a quality profile photo.
“Temperature, noise, and surrounding activity all weigh in on making you relaxed and comfortable, or distracted and uptight. Those feelings could come out in your facial expressions and body positioning on camera. You want to appear warm and welcoming, not stiff and impersonal.” (source)
Tip 3: Understand the anatomy of a good shot.
According to LinkedIn, the best profile photos show people who are:
Dressed appropriately for their role
Wearing attire that flatters their body style in colors that complement their hair and skin tone; no busy textures, patterns, or logos
Smiling with their eyes to appear approachable and confident
Making eye contact with the camera
Wearing minimal jewelry, buttons, and headwear
Layering clothing and accessories (shirt and jacket, sweater and loose scarf)
Tip 4: Understand photography basics.
The same LinkedIn post also recommends adhering to the following photography basics:
Avoid direct sunlight, shadows, and fluorescent lighting
Use a solid, bright background color; avoid white in most cases
Stand with your body in a ¾ angle to the camera, placing one foot slightly ahead with hands clasped loosely in front of you
Capture waist-up or mid-chest up (avoid head-only and full body images)
Apply the rule of thirds in the shot composition to make it more interesting; the subject should stand to the left or right a bit rather than dead center
Tip 5: Understand LinkedIn’s technical requirements.
Opt for a square image, although this can be cropped at time of upload
The image should be about 400px x 400px
The file size limit is about 8MB
Tip 6: Soft launch your photo.
Get feedback from family and friends before uploading your profile photo. I also recommend using Snappr’s free profile photo analyzer tool, which will grade your shot and offer recommendations on ways to improve it.
2. LinkedIn Cover Photo
Don’t just pick a cover photo at random.
Think about the professional story you want to tell, then be creative with the image or illustration you choose to convey it.
Your background could be a multitude of things…
You at work. Do you have a nonchalant image of you working or giving a presentation?
Represent your space. Consider using a photo that articulates what you do every day. If you’re a writer, maybe find a photo of a keyboard or typewriter on Unsplash.
Feature a quote.Do you have a favorite quote that signifies your values or mission? Create a quoteable in Canva.
Be abstract.For instance, Richard Branson’s cover photo is a picture of the sky. That makes sense since he’s the founder of Virgin.
Tout your achievements. Tony Robbins promotes his biggest accomplishments via his cover photo. What’s your claim to fame?
Your hobbies and adventures.What interests you? Or where have you traveled that you especially loved?
Your location.I use a pretty picture of palm trees and a cool hotel to represent Fort Lauderdale, where I currently live, as my background picture.
Keep in mind, your cover photo works in tandem with your profile pic as a joint visual asset, so pay attention to how they play together.
For example, if you use a filter on your profile photo, use the same filter on your background image.
Last but not least, note the technical details of LinkedIn cover photos. Your cover photo should be 1584px x 396px and should be a JPG, PNG, or GIF file.
3. LinkedIn Headline
LinkedIn data shows that you only have five to 10 seconds to impress a potential employer online, and one of the very first things they see is your headline.
That’s pretty scary considering LinkedIn automatically makes your headline your current job title and employer, and most people never bother to change it.
For one, it’s a problem because it’s boring and certainly won’t set you apart from the millions of other people with similar job titles on the network. And if you work for a company that isn’t well-known, it’s just not very impressive.
It’s also redundant, since people can scroll down your profile to see what your current position is at what company.
Instead, your LinkedIn headline should not only communicate your “true north” (area of expertise), your industry, and your uniqueness (why you’re special); it should also catch people’s attention.
Conveying all the above is no easy feat considering you only get 120 characters for your headline.
Tip 1: Highlight your unique value proposition.
Your LinkedIn headline should advertise your “So what?” or answer the question, “Why should I stop and click on this profile?”
For example, if I was searching for a stellar writer who could also get hundreds of eyeballs on their posts, I might fall in love with someone with the following headline:
Journalist with a marketing mindset. (This is my current headline.)
When I think of high-caliber writing, I think of journalism-quality content. The problem is many journalists aren’t marketers as well. This headline combines two complementary skills that most people don’t have both of, making me stand out from other “content marketers.”
Tip 2: Consider your target audience.
Imagine the target person you want to visit your profile and reach out to you, then craft a headline specifically for them.
This headline would capture my attention:
I’d reach out to this person because he has proven experience in the skills I’m looking for, and he’s successfully launched popular tools on Product Hunt, which adds to his “social proof.”
Tip 3: Be specific.
The more specific your headline, the better.
Don’t worry about not being broad enough. Being too broad gets you either no one or everyone (including many people who are just going to waste your time).
LinkedIn recommends to refrain from using the following overused buzzwords:
I’d also refrain from talking about your education. No one cares about this really. They care about the results you’ve produced and can produce for them.
Also, stay away from “Seeking new opportunity.” It sounds desperate. It makes people ask the question: Why are you seeking new opportunities?
It’s common knowledge that you’re more desirable to hiring managers when you’re employed—always.
So if you are “seeking a new opportunity,” you’re better off talking about what you can/have delivered. And if you do want to learn about new opps, then turn on your setting that lets recruiters know you’re looking for new opportunities behind the scenes.
4. LinkedIn Summary
After scanning your title, photo, location, and number of connections, interested profile visitors will read your LinkedIn summary.
Think of it more like a cover letter rather than a resume summary, as it’s supposed to give people more of a sense of who you are before they scroll down to what you’ve done.
Because of this, it’s vital your summary is original, personable, and interesting.
Tip 1: Figure out what you want to say.
As I mentioned earlier, reflecting on key questions can help you move this process along faster.
What are the core features and values of my personality?
What unique perspectives and experience do I bring to my field?
What original ideas have I brought to the place where I work now?
Feel free to consider your answers to the questions I mentioned in the headline section as well.
Tip 2: Show off your personality.
Unless you’re in a stodgy field like finance or law, let your personality shine through in your summary.
Don’t word it in third-person. Be normal, and write it in first. We all know you don’t have an executive assistant writing this for you.
TLDR: Write like you talk.
Tip 3: Be concise and utilize white space.
Keep it short.
Remove superlatives. Write in active voice. And don’t say something in 10 words if you can say it in five.
Don’t worry about this on your first summary draft. Just cut ruthlessly after you’ve let it sit for a few hours or even a day.
Tip 4: Proofread.
Use a free tool like Grammarly to proofread it for you, because you don’t want any glaring grammar or spelling errors.
Tip 5: Properly structure it.
Here’s how I’d lay out my LinkedIn summary.
The lede is your killer opening line that gets people to keep reading. Adrian Granzella Larssen does exactly this with her opening summary line:
I’m not your average editor. Of course, I have strong writing skills, geek out over traffic spikes, and proofread my own text messages. But I’m also a project manager, community builder, and team leader (and pretty good party planner, so I’ve been told). My background, while extensive, isn’t traditional. As editor-in-chief and first official employee of The Muse—the career and job search platform that helps millions of people figure out what they want to do and thrive once they get there—I have built our publication, The Daily Muse, and fast-growing community from the ground up. In the past three years, I’ve recruited an incredible team of 500+ freelance writers, career experts, and lifestyle contributors, garnered awards such as Forbes Top 100 Sites for Women and Top 75 Sites for Your Career, and created editorial content that readers truly, truly love. I’ve also significantly increased our audience (4 million UVs/month) and managed syndication partnerships with Time, Inc., Mashable, and Forbes, to name a (notable) few. Currently, I oversee all digital content strategy and creation, including 50+ articles/week, videos, branded content, and The Muse’s education platform, Muse U. Previously, I worked at a university of a different sort, managing print and digital communications and editorial strategy for the George Washington University Medical Center. In a nutshell, my passion for content is coupled with a love for big-picture planning and daily operational management. I’m not the editor who just wants to write. I’m the editor who actually wants to edit—and plan, ideate, and lead. This is what I do best and love most.
Remember when you asked yourself questions earlier? Now is the time to put your answers to good use—in the pitch portion of your LinkedIn summary.
In this part, elaborate on your passions, skills, and unique story. Make sure it’s obvious why these things matter.
We all have fears, and one of the biggest of hiring managers and recruiters is soliciting the wrong person for the job.
To calm their nerves, prove you know your ish by name (and achievement) dropping, if possible.
This is where you tell people to follow you, reach out via email or InMail, or whatever it is you want them to do after viewing your profile.
There’s also evidence that the more you have, the higher you’ll rank in search results. And the more profile views you’re getting, the more opportunities you’ll see.
Tip 1: Review other profiles.
Review relevant people’s profiles in your network, and steal their skills that you also have.
Tip 2: Steal skills from job descriptions.
Search for relevant jobs on LinkedIn and click through to the descriptions.
Scroll a little, and you’ll notice a “Top Skills” section, like this:
Again, add the relevant skills to your profile—ones you actually have, of course.
Tip 3: Give endorsements.
You know how people “follow for a follow”?
Well, this is sort of the same.
First and foremost, never say “follow for a follow” out loud. That’s just embarrassing.
All I’m suggesting here is to give is to receive—people you know will see you endorsed them, may feel grateful, and return the favor.
9. LinkedIn Recommendations
Recommendations are another form of “social proof.” They’re especially powerful because the person’s profile is attached to the recommendation, so it’s likely they’re being honest in their review.
Tip 1: Brainstorm a list of prospects.
If you’re just starting your LinkedIn journey, you’ll need to compile a list of relevant people to ask to leave you a review.
Consider professors, internship advisors/bosses, friends with badass jobs, etc. If you have a decent amount of connections on LinkedIn, I’d scroll through the “Network” tab at the top to see who you forgot about.
Tip 2: Contact them outside of LinkedIn.
Never be lazy and request a recommendation without asking the person ahead of time, outside of LinkedIn.
It just feels a bit impersonal and rude, even if you do write a custom message.
Reach out via email or phone—whichever you prefer.
Tip 3: Don’t pressure them.
At the end of your email, say something like: “No worries if you’re too busy! I totally understand. Just thought I’d ask.”
This gives the person a way out of the ask without feeling bad for rejecting your request.
Tip 4: Make it easy for them.
In your outreach email, I’d also include a line saying that you’d be happy to draft something up for them because you value their time. Then they can feel free to tweak it as they want.
This gives them an easy jumping off point, and you can sort of control the quality of the recommendation.
Tip 5: Give recommendations.
Recommend past colleagues, bosses, friends, and contractors you’ve worked with in the past.
As I mentioned before, to give is to receive.
10. LinkedIn Accomplishments
This section is perfect for recent grads and freelancers who don’t have a lot of professional (or linear) experience.
Here’s what LinkedIn considers an accomplishment:
Publication: Where have you been published or featured?
Project:Did you make someone a website? Or how about a marketing strategy? Include it.
Honor and Award:What awards have you won?
For each one, there’s room to add:
Associated work experience
To complete the descriptions, follow the advice presented in the work experience section above.
Build Your LinkedIn Profile
By now, you have no excuse for not creating a killer LinkedIn profile. I’ve taught you everything you need to know, but of course, if you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments below.