How to Build a Great Profile on LinkedIn

Jobvite is the full-time gig, and they’re nice enough to let me blog. I talk all the time to recruiters, and one of the discussions we have about searching for candidates is the quality of LinkedIn profiles.

The best job opportunities often appear when you aren’t looking for them. Recruiters look for both passive and active candidates and may be looking for someone like you. Keeping your LinkedIn profile updated with well-written, relevant, and professional content can help you attract interesting career opportunities, even if you aren’t actively looking.

There are a lot of people that give advice on what a great LinkedIn profile is. The important distinction between “social media consultants” and this blog post is that the tips here are from real recruiting professionals who work with Jobvite and ones who I know and trust. We trade stories and tips about LinkedIn profiles and talk about great people we have seen. Here are some of the best tips:

Have a Clear Headline and Summary

Most recruiters make their initial decision of whom they’re going to look at right on the search results page. They have a position have to fill, and their focus is pretty narrow to start.

Do you really think they’re going to click on a profile that’s titled “UX Ninja?”

(And can we please retire the word “ninja” from the English language when describing anything career related, unless you wield a sword?)

The headline should be clear, concise, and describe exactly what your chosen goal is for using LinkedIn as a professional. It should communicate the type of opportunity you would want at any size company.

Ideal headlines are “Social Media Consultant” or “Java Software Developer.” It could also be “Marketing Professional” or “Health Domain Expert.” Each of those headlines describes exactly what the person is and what kind of position they are looking for. It can stand out, but it doesn’t have to stand out too much.

Your summary should also be short, snappy, and explain exactly how you can help your ideal employer or client.

Have a Professional Photo

LinkedIn is not Facebook.

It’s a network where professionals connect and recruiters look to make sure the person they hiring isn’t Jabba the Hut. Image isn’t everything, but it does count for a lot; and those images do appear in search results.

It’s also important to emphasize that even if you are attractive, that trip you took to Cabo San Lucas has exactly zero photos that should be used on LinkedIn.

How do you get professional photos?

It’s really easy. Visit your local photo studio and ask how much it costs for a one-hour session where you can wear something appropriate to your line of your work. If you’re unemployed, do a trade for photos or request on Craigslist.

For User Experience, it might be just a nice collar shirt. For Sales, it might include a tie. You don’t have to be overly made up. Look good enough with great lighting so people will get a good impression.

List Only Relevant Positions

I’ve been going through the hiring process for Visual and User Experience Designers and have seen a lot of LinkedIn profiles. Most of them were in pretty good share, but there was the occasional “I worked at Joe’s Pizza Place” in the profile. It may seem cool to list every non-profit and coffee shop you have worked for, but here’s the reality: it isn’t.

Recruiters scan through your resume, and they want to see positions relevant to your field of experience. Hiring managers need to see a clear progression from position to position. There are allowances for moving around (especially in this economy), but recruiters want to see career growth, especially for professional positions.

For that, DJ’ing at the local dance hall doesn’t apply.

You have extracurricular activities you think may be good? Great, put that on your resume after education but not in your professional profile. Show the progression in your career, and you’ll get a better response rate in calls and interviews.

Be Realistic about What You Can Do

I’ve gone through a lot of profiles that the typical “User Experience/Web Design/Social Media/Search Engine Optimization/Search Engine Marketing/Programming Expert” job descriptions. If you were really skilled at all of those positions, you would never, EVER need a LinkedIn profile.

Aim for a level higher than you could achieve, but don’t reach for the moon. Recruiters are looking for candidates that fit the position they are filling right now, not where that position could be five years from now. If you’re currently a Product Manager, aim for Senior Product Manager positions. If your a sales professional, aim for Sales Manager. It’s all about advancing in your career, but not too much to look like you’re really reaching up the ladder.

One candidate I found was good product management type, but there was nothing in his resume that indicated what his intended goal was: “Vice President of Product Management.” His track record had nothing to indicate he should have been higher than a Senior Product Manager or User Experience professional.

Recruiters pick up on that. Quickly.

Make Sure Your Resume Matches Your LinkedIn Profile

Several times I’ve found a great candidate on LinkedIn, and it looks like he has the experience I’ve needed for a position. We go through the interview process, and the resume says something different.

True, people should spend much more time on resumes than they’re LinkedIn profile. The irony is that tools like Jobvite integrate LinkedIn profiles into the application process, and it’s viewed before the resume, especially for sourcing passive candidates.

I follow a very simple formula for writing my profile and resume: I have two to three sentences about what my responsibilities at the position were, and three clear bullet points about my accomplishments. It’s easy: explain what you did, how it affected the bottom line of the company.

Everyone from a low paid customer service position from CEO should have some idea of how you contributed to the company, and can explain it succinctly in your profile.

For example, a friend of mine worked at You Tube. It might have been “just” a position around customer support, but she did it for a major brand. The quality of the work saved the company thousands of dollars in extra support costs. That’s huge and something very valuable to most companies.

Use Keywords that Are Relevant to Your Job

It all goes down to the way people search in the web. Recruiters enter keywords like User Experience, Product Manager, Developer, and Java to look for skill sets or job titles. They have to do that, because recruiters don’t understand most positions unless they are really embedded in a team.

Generally, recruiters work with hiring managers to define the requisitions and search other requisitions on the web to figure out what experiences the perfect candidate should have.
Having an obscure job title like “UX Ninja” or “Superstar” won’t help your chances, and I would even go so far in talking about specifics. For example, I use Wireframes, Personas, and Use Cases in my profile, because recruiters search against that. Several recruiters have found me that way. I also don’t list skills that I have, but I don’t want to do anymore, like Creative Direction.

Don’t Have Too Many Recommendations

It goes both ways, but when I talk to most recruiters, the number of recommendations that a candidate has on LinkedIn doesn’t really influence their decision. In fact, they’ll question the value of them if the candidate has too many of them.

What they really want to see is the quality of recommendations.

Having a few is good, and I’ve even used them in my resume. This makes it easier for the recruiter or hiring manager to gauge the quality of a candidate without having to pull up their profile. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know in what kind of environment the person best fits, the quality of the work, and how the person works with teams. Cultural fit is so important these days, especially in smaller teams.

What they don’t want to see is the typical stuff: “He comes in on time,” “She’s motivated,” or “Loves working in teams.” These don’t mean anything.

The more concrete the recommendation is on working style, the better.

Patrick Neeman is the Director of User Experience with Jobvite. His previous experience includes working with startups to launch their product, User Experience and Social Media consulting with Microsoft, and managing a team of 25 User Experience professionals for a technology consultancy. He also runs a blog,  Usability Counts, that covers topics such as User Experience, Social Media, and Web Marketing.