This article is the first post in a mini-series based on my own LinkedIn overhaul.
After I graduated from college, my LinkedIn profile wasn’t bad. I had a professional headshot (I guess high-school senior photos have a shelf life beyond my grandmother’s mantle after all), a short but carefully written summary, and solid experience for someone my age. But it was unclear, reading through it, what I’m best at or exactly why I’m a young professional who deserves to be taken seriously. One of LinkedIn’s virtues is that it allows even teenagers and twenty-somethings establish online legitimacy and communicate holistically about their skills and passions. Whether you’ve graduated or just begun college, you can develop a compelling profile. Today we’ll cover titles, summaries, and photos in depth. If you’re new to this social media platform, check out LinkedIn for Beginners: The 8-Step Profile Setup first.
LinkedIn automatically generates your title as your current position at your current organization. However, you can change that language, and unless you’re so far in your career that your title already communicates prestige, consider choosing something that explains more about what you value and aspire toward. Because your title always appears with your name, many users treat it like a status: “Recent Graduate Seeking Marketing/Communications Experience” or “Psychology Major Looking to Explore Naturopathy through Internships ” For my senior spring semester, I adjusted my title to reflect my simultaneous positions on campus, (“ASWC Executive Director of Communications, Men’s Club Volleyball Coach, and Writing Fellow at Whitman College”), which was a mouthful but got the point across. Once I graduated and I no longer held some of those positions, however, I changed my title to “Wordsmith | Volleyball Coach,” which is succinct and clearly explains what matters to me in ways that my official job title(s) might not.
Opinions abound regarding how long a summary should be. Whether you write five paragraphs or five sentences, this is your best shot at impressing those who read your profile. I spent some time crafting my summary, which is this:
Primary roles: Storyteller–humble, curious, and irreverent at equal turns; mentor–sometimes paid, often not; epistolary aficionado–significant contributor to the continued existence of the United States Postal Service.
Definitive attributes: Desire to persevere supersedes fear of failure. Occasionally attempts to take a break from volleyball; rarely successful. Pursues greatness, not perfection.
I thought about the ways I interact with others and my favorite things about myself and wrote about them with whimsy and humor. If I were planning to work in finance, my summary would likely be very different—I would cite statistics from my previous accomplishments, write in only full sentences, and emphasize the links between my classes and how companies function. Regardless of your field, however, it’s important to write in prose rather than bullet points and include information that explains something about who you are as a human. Many of the best summaries begin with short narratives that create an anecdotal backdrop. Stories of childhood interests bourgeoning into career aspirations, pivotal classes where a concept clicked, or even eye-opening moments of humility could all act as the opening lines for a well-wrought summary.
If your photo is a selfie, blurry, or includes other people (or cut-off bits of other people), change it. You can even use a smartphone to take your portrait–choose a setting with good light and make sure your top half looks professional (read: wear a shirt. Yes, I’ve seen LinkedIn profiles where people have foregone this critical garment.)
I make a point of using an image I’ve selected rather than the LinkedIn stock image, though finding the right one can be tricky. Some people choose to stick with a gradient color (think Microsoft PowerPoint backgrounds) or photos related to their interests (check out unsplash.com for beautiful Creative Commons Zero images). Canva also has pre-sized LinkedIn background images.