LinkedIn remains the dominant social media platform for professional and career-related networking. As of January 2018, the website had over 500 million users, and 3 million active job listings. And since being purchased by Microsoft in 2017, the platform has continued to improve its functionality and features.
But how does that matter to you, especially if you’re not currently looking for a job? Because your personal brand – and how it’s communicated online – has an impact on more than your job status. The relative strength of your digital brand impacts your credibility and overall influence. Plus, if you anticipate that you’ll change jobs at some point in the future, don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re in search mode to update your profile and begin networking.
The time is now to make sure your LinkedIn profile includes these 5 must-have elements:
An Acceptable Profile Photo: This doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a professional headshot done. In fact, a smartphone photo can work just fine. However, there are a few critical elements that separate an acceptable photo from one that will leave a negative impression:
Make sure it’s not pixelated. A low-resolution or blurry photo looks unprofessional and suggests you’re not very tech savvy.
Look at the camera and smile. People connect most easily to photos in which you’re looking straight ahead, making eye contact and smiling. Say cheese!
Zoom in. Your photo should be zoomed-in on your face such that the crop is either chest-up or shoulders-up.
Use a simple and modern background. Complicated backgrounds detract from your face or overwhelm the eye of the beholder. Keep it simple with one solid color or a basic pattern. Also, avoid the classic graduation portrait backdrops (they look antiquated), or the natural habitat of your family living room (too casual; save that for Facebook).
A Cover Photo: This is the horizontal graphic that sits behind your profile picture. If you don’t upload a custom image, it defaults to the generic one provided by LinkedIn. And surprisingly, many people haven’t taken advantage of this easy way to stand out and express something about their personal brand. If you’re not sure what type of image to use, consider something abstract that connects to your personal brand. It might be a favorite color, a geographic pattern, or something related to the context of your particular industry. As another option, you could always utilize a photo of your city’s skyline.
A Headline Instead of a Job Title: Your professional headline is what appears in conjunction with your name all over LinkedIn. It acts as a critical first-impression of who you are and what you’re about. And if it’s simply your current or most recent job title, you’re telling us that you haven’t thought much about your personal brand. You’re also missing the opportunity to position yourself more broadly. For example, if your job title is “Director of Account Services at ABC Agency,” then your headline could be something like “Creative, Customer-Focused and Collaborative Agency Leader.”
These headlines are also important in helping you get discovered by potential clients, partners, headhunters, and hiring managers. In that sense, you also need to consider which keywords might be most important to include. You can always utilize a divider line to separate multiple words or phrases. In our example, the headline might become “Collaborative Agency Leader | 10+ Years in Account Services | Advertising & Sales Expert.”
A Personal Summary Statement: Here’s your chance to tell people a little bit more about yourself, and to proactively shape the impression of your personal brand. The strongest summary statements aren’t just a dry regurgitation of the main points from your resume. Instead, they communicate what you’re passionate about and how you provide value to others. Ideally, you’ll also give readers a feel for your unique background, perspective or personality. In addition, you’ll want to incorporate the most relevant industry-related keywords (as long as you do this thoughtfully; no keyword stuffing).
Recommendations: As you probably know from your own experience in scanning hundreds of product reviews online, the endorsement of others can be very powerful. It’s one thing for you to tell me how great you are, but it’s another thing for someone else to say it for you. If you don’t already have 5 to 7 recommendations on your LinkedIn profile, start asking now. This is one of the things that shouldn’t wait until you’re in job search mode. It’s much easier to gather these recommendations as you go, rather than trying to ask for them all at once. To help your reviewers along, you can provide them with a bulleted list of general themes you’d like them to touch upon.