Without the shiny glitz and popularity of Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn sometimes gets lost in the social media shuffle. After all, there are no funny memes, personality quizzes or celebrity gossip to be found—just work histories and business-related content.
But one thing we say to anyone looking for career advice is this: don’t underestimate the professional power of LinkedIn. It’s an undeniably effective way to find open positions, research prospective employers, make new industry contacts and enhance your personal brand. Best of all, it costs you nothing but time.
If you’re interested in leveraging LinkedIn’s clout—whether you’re new to the site or want to freshen up your current profile—here are a few general rules of thumb to follow.
DO keep your profile complete and up-to-date.
Be sure to list all of your former employers and schools. You don’t necessarily need to include details about positions early in your career; the companies and titles are enough. Plus, there’s no need to feature your work trajectory of the last 30 years—the past seven to 10 years is a good target (don’t forget to include volunteer gigs, too).
While history is important, the primary focus should be on your recent experience. In your experience listings, don’t simply cut and paste directly from your resume. List specific projects in order to underscore in-demand skills. Essentially, you want your profile to show off the skills and knowledge that make you most attractive to employers and professional connections.
It’s a good practice to update your profile any time you achieve a new position, complete a significant side project or receive a special award or recognition.
DO use an appropriate, well-photographed headshot.
Your headshot is one of the most important elements of your LinkedIn profile. Simply having a photo instead of a placeholder makes your profile 14 times more likely to be viewed.
If you can have a photographer take your headshot, that’s great. But if you can’t, follow these guidelines for taking your own profile-worthy shot:
- Take a clean shot of you facing the camera.
- Dress appropriately for your industry.
- Avoid busy or distracting backgrounds.
- Use a natural facial expression (a soft smile is good).
- Don’t include any other people or pets in your photo.
- Don’t use a photo that’s more than two years old.
Your best bet is to aim for a clean, professional look that also shows a bit of your personality.
DO make your headline and summary section shine.
The headline and summary portion of your profile are the first things people see when they click on your name. Take advantage of the various features LinkedIn offers to customize your profile and stand out from the legions of others. Some tips:
- Use a background photo that builds rapport with your target audience. What images or ideas do you want them to associate you with?
- Ditch LinkedIn’s default headline and create a compelling one of your own that entices readers to click. Don’t forget to include keywords.
- An effective summary makes people want to know more about you. Think about who you want to engage, define your objectives and incorporate them. You could use this space to describe where you are now in your career—or where you want to be in the future.
DO enhance your personal brand with these added features.
LinkedIn offers a number of features that allow you to further personalize your profile. One of these is creating a custom URL for your LinkedIn public profile. Edit the URL to include your whole name or tagline.
You can also promote your profile elsewhere on the web by adding an official LinkedIn badge to your website, online resume or professional blog.
DO turn off your activity when updating your profile.
Getting your LinkedIn profile to where you want it can take a lot of tweaking—and you don’t want to bombard your connections with updates every time you make a change. To remedy this, go to your LinkedIn Privacy and Settings page and find the option to “Turn on/off your activity broadcasts” underneath Privacy Controls.
Just don’t forget to turn your updates back on when you’re done making your changes. That way, your connections can see when you add new skills or obtain a new position.
DO personalize your connection requests.
Nothing says “zero effort” like canned invitations. People are far more likely to accept your connection request if you take a quick moment to remind them of how they know you and / or explain why they should connect with you.
When someone accepts your LinkedIn invitation, show your appreciation by sending them a personalized thank you note. This small gesture—one that doesn’t take much time— can mean the difference between piling up random connections and building fruitful relationships.
DO post content regularly.
Posting content regularly on LinkedIn will help you look more professional and improve your credibility. It can also help keep you top of mind and provide opportunities for others to engage with you. That said; don’t post just for the sake of posting. Information that’s worth posting includes speaking engagements, articles you’ve written and upcoming industry events.
Some content guidelines:
- Be consistent and post on a regular basis.
- Focus on content that will be interesting and informative to your audience.
- Don’t blatantly promote yourself or your business.
- Don’t write about topics unrelated to business.
If someone does take the time to read your content or status update and comment, be sure to reply promptly (within one or two business days). Their comment makes your content visible to their first-level network, allowing you to broaden your exposure even more.
Want to distinguish yourself from other job-seekers competing for the same roles? Sharing content is a great way to demonstrate your subject matter expertise and highlight your professional interests.
DO nurture your connections.
Engaging with your connections can help to build productive, long-term business relationships. This could involve liking, sharing and commenting on other’s content (keeping it positive and business-related) or sending congratulatory messages to people who announce a promotion or other achievement. If you stumble upon content that might be of interest to someone in your network, send them the link in a private message.
DON’T lock your profile.
Privacy settings have their place in the world of social media, but when overused on LinkedIn they can prevent you from making valuable connections. Be sure to make your contact list open to connections and your name, profile and activity feed open to everyone.
If there are people you don’t want to share your information with, simply remove them as a connection.
DON’T be afraid to ask for endorsements and recommendations.
As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Meaning, if you want endorsements for specific skills, just ask! All it takes is a quick, polite private message. You might also find success in endorsing others. When you endorse a person, they receive an alert and will often “thank” you by endorsing you back.
The same goes for LinkedIn recommendations. Reach out to former colleagues and supervisors and ask them to speak to your performance in a past role. These brief blurbs should refer to a specific project or skillset.
One thing you should never do is ask someone you don’t know for a recommendation, because their feedback would not be genuine. Conversely, don’t endorse or recommend someone you don’t know. If that person turns out to be unprofessional, it could harm your reputation.
DON’T ignore recruiters just because you’re not job-hunting.
So you love your job and envision staying there for the next decade. But life (and companies) can be unpredictable, and you should always have your finger on the pulse of the current job market. If a recruiter messages you to share a job opportunity, be very honest and say you’re not looking for a job—but leave the door open for future contact.
And most of all… DON’T slack on your LinkedIn upkeep.
Recognizing real benefits from LinkedIn takes a bit of time and effort. Make a commitment to keeping your profile fresh and staying engaged with your connections. Set aside even ten minutes each day to post worthy content, comment on other people’s material and share your favorite articles.
The truth is that LinkedIn is one of the most underappreciated and underused networking and marketing tools of the century. And that’s good news for you. When you use it to build your personal brand and make valuable new contacts, you’ll be that many more steps ahead of competing job-seekers who still haven’t caught on to LinkedIn’s potential.
Deborah Ben-Canaan is a Partner in the firm and the leader of our Washington, D.C., In-House Practice Group. In her more than 16 years as an executive search consultant, Deb has placed more than 600 senior-level legal leaders in corporate legal departments across the U.S. and assisted her U.S. clients in making strategic placements overseas with the support of our EMEA and APAC teams.
Edina Beasley is a Director in our In-House Practice Group based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in placing attorneys at all levels within corporate legal departments nationwide.