How to Make a LinkedIn Profile That Will Actually Help You Get a Job

There’s a lot of buzz about LinkedIn these days (even here on The Billfold)—but for all the buzz, it seems like most people still don’t really understand how or why to use it.

I think that’s because for a long time, a lot of us pictured LinkedIn as a dusty old social network for pinstripe-suit-wearing, briefcase-carrying, stuffy businessman types, and it was a place we simply did not need to be. And that was fine. But now suddenly, it turns out LinkedIn is important and is a place we need to be, and we still don’t know how to use it.

It’s like finding out senior year that all those extracurriculars everyone else was doing in high school actually matter for getting into college, and you wonder if you’re the only one who didn’t know how important that was.

Or at least, that’s how I felt when I found out LinkedIn was important.

In my former life as a Girl Friday to more than one executive in the Seattle tech startup scene, I put together my fair share of impressive LinkedIn profiles. It was only then that I learned how important LinkedIn is to grownup careers, especially in technology and startups, but in most other fields too. Here were people who were making well over $100,000 a year, wanting their assistant to spend time updating their LinkedIn profiles, because it really mattered that they were good.

It mattered not just because these folks got the bulk of their recruiting offers and job candidates via LinkedIn, but because it’s the place where a huge percentage of people went first to learn more about them. When you meet someone at a conference, you might go to their Twitter, and you might go to their blog, but you might also go to their LinkedIn page. And if they don’t have one? Well, hmm, that might be weird.

So now we know that LinkedIn matters. Now, how do you make a LinkedIn profile that doesn’t suck? A profile that’s not just a copy of your resume, but which also tells recruiters from your dream company with absolute certainty that YES they MUST contact you TODAY about that open position?

One word: storytelling.

The one thing that makes LinkedIn better than a resume is that you can target it to the next thing you want to do in your career, make it dynamic, and passively share it in public for any recruiter to find. When you create a profile, you can fill in as much or as little as you want, and you can target the information you include to draw the eye of recruiters and business contacts from the industries that you want to notice you.

When you include past work history, don’t just do the bullet-point list from your resume. Write complete sentences, and tell the story of the best thing you did at each job. Share what achievements you had and how important your very special knowledge was to the success of every project you were on. Explain how this work sparked your interest in the next step you want to take. In most industries, a conversational tone on LinkedIn is welcome and appreciated. Just be a real person talking about your career.

You can also include a summary at the top of your LinkedIn page, which you can basically turn into a not-so-subtle call for recruiters. LinkedIn isn’t for the timid; it’s for networkers and go-getters, so go ahead and say in the summary at the top of your page that you’re looking for new roles (if you are) in whichever industry, company, continent you’re interested in working in/at/on next.

If you’re not looking to be recruited at the moment, you can still organize your profile to interest your professional contacts who will be looking you up on LinkedIn. Talk about what’s exciting you most in your industry by updating your feed (did you know you could do that? It’s like the Facebook newsfeed) with interesting news stories or updates from your blog. Add Projects to the Work History section of your profile to bulk up your description of your role. Projects let you go into deeper detail, and you can even tag the specific people you worked with.

And freelancers: Don’t think that just because you don’t work in an office you’re off the hook. Quite the opposite. Potential clients are Googling you all the time, and want to find your professional presence online. You can link to your website, your best client work, and your portfolio (if you have one) easily all in one place.

Oh, and you should have a photo on your LinkedIn page. You don’t have to be wearing a suit or closing a big deal in the photo, but you do need to have your face on your page. Like any other social network, profiles with no pictures just read as creepy.

The whole point is to use LinkedIn as your digital stand-in at the 24-hour networking event called the Internet. You’re projecting your best professional self, and you’re telling a story about where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s not phony; it’s aspirational.

And if you fancy yourself a grownup with a grownup job (or aspire to have one someday), it’s worth testing the waters and making a LinkedIn profile that tells your story.


Kate Stull learned more than she ever wanted to know about LinkedIn by creating a site called Recruiting Hacks. Her LinkedIn profile today is…fine.


32 Comments / Post A Comment

Wilgrims (#1,318)

This still hasn’t convinced me that anyone has ever gotten a job from LinkedIn. It is an easy way to show a resume. That’s it.


Counterpoint – I got my current job (at Apple) via LinkedIn. Convinced?

Here’s my profile –

Flora Poste (#2,586)

@Wilgrims What I don’t get is, OK, you’re on LinkedIn, linked up to all your colleagues and other work contacts, etc. You decide to look for a new job, and start updating your profile, making new connections and whatever else you can do (I’m no expert). How is not completely obvious that you’re looking to leave your current position?

Wilgrims (#1,318)

@Harper Alexander@facebook But were you contacted without any solicitation by a recruiter, through a mutual contact who was not aware of your being contacted? I feel like that is the only value-added possible. But I would love to be wrong!

@Wilgrims I was contacted out of the blue by an Apple recruiter in September 2009, asking if I was interested in learning more about a specific position. The recruiter wasn’t a contact of mine or a friend of a friend, just someone keywording specific backgrounds, I think.

Best thing that’s ever happened to me career-wise…

@Flora Poste My boss has encouraged me to add more people on LinkedIn, and as far as I know she doesn’t want me to find a new job…

sony_b (#225)

@Wilgrims I got my job through linked in.

Vincennes (#1,693)

@Wilgrims Perhaps it depends on your industry, but in mine (tech, loosely) I’ll get approaches from recruiters 2 or 3 times a month on Linkedin. Maybe one of those a month will be relevant to what I do or want to do, so it’s not a bad hit rate.

From the people that I know in recruitment, they do pretty much all of their seeking out new contacts that way as well. Again, your industry’s mileage may vary on this.

Leila@twitter (#1,607)

@Wilgrims I’ve been recruited, people try to poach me from other companies, etc. via LinkedIn pretty regularly.

Dancercise (#94)

But what if the people at your current job see that you’ve said you’re looking for a new job? That would be… not great for lots of people.

@Dancercise As with anything delicate, there are ways to do it right and ways to do it wrong. I actually have a side hobby/passion helping people navigate career stuff like this. Let me know if you’d like any (free) help.

jessjess (#3,543)

@Dancercise It’s not quite that transparent. At most they might see you’ve updated your profile, but in my experience most of the networking stuff takes place in private emails.

Dancercise (#94)

Understood, but the advice in the article was “say in the summary at the top of your page that you’re looking for new roles (if you are) in whichever industry, company, continent…”. To me, that seems like the wrong way to do it because it could backfire if your boss or indelicate co-worker sees it.

katestull (#3,944)

@Dancercise You’re right; some roles/companies/bosses would have a problem with you saying you’re looking for a new role so publicly. Maybe a better way to have phrased that sentence would have been to say that your summary can announce, not necessarily that you’re looking for specific roles, but that you’re really interested in this field, this field, and this field. So that recruiters from those fields (even if they’re not the ones you work in currently) get the message.

There are also plenty of people who call out specific things like, “My dream job is to be a product manager at Google” which is a slightly more delicate way to say, “I’d be willing to leave my current job if a recruiter from Google wanted to get in touch.”

At the end of the day it’s all about knowing your company’s culture and how open people are about things like this, and aligning your profile in a way that won’t hurt your career. And, as everyone above said, being delicate is key.

“Barack Obama has endorsed you for the following skills: international terrorism.”

Uh oh!

aetataureate (#1,310)

@stuffisthings You . . . are the best.

aetataureate (#1,310)

The tone of this piece makes me so glad this is not the tone of everything else on the Billfold. Ha ha ha, the writer works as a recruiter, you don’t say! Ha ha ha, the commenter who’s rah-rahing it down here is a volunteer LinkedIn consultant or something, you don’t say!

rorow (#1,665)

@aetataureate Wow. I was coming here because I thought the comments would be “duh, of course LinkedIn matters” – I’m shocked so many people disagree.

I work in marketing, and in tech, so my industry is filled with early adopters, but at this point anyone without LinkedIn seems… odd. I wouldn’t pursue a candidate without LinkedIn – again, maybe just my field.

I’ve been approached by probably half a dozen recruiters on LinkedIn. I’ve had friends of friends reach out with opportunities. I’ve heard about jobs that weren’t posted elsewhere. I’ve learned friends are at companies I’m interested in.

I’ve recently decided to look for a new role, and the first thing I’ve done is update my LinkedIn. There are privacy settings available so as not to ruffle feathers at existing employers, though I sincerely doubt any but the most evil of bosses would penalize you for being open to other opportunities.

LinkedIn is a means to project your professional persona to those who may be looking for people like you – why would you not utilize it?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@rorow It’s funny that you chose my comment to reply to. Oh well, let’s do this! I’m hanging on for dear life to the job I have and love, which is part of a rapidly downsizing company and industry. The aggressive joinerism of LinkedIn participants is hugely distasteful to me. If your industry relies on it, great, but stop acting like it’s a bafflement why one solution does not suit everyone across all fields. Literally no one I know has ever said anything about LinkedIn other than that they barely look at theirs and think it’s strangely lurky and predatory there. Opting out doesn’t mean people are ignorant.

Leila@twitter (#1,607)

@aetataureate Sorry you hate it, but honestly the only people I don’t care to see on LinkedIn are dentists, high school students and people in the public service who aren’t looking for anything new.

I totally checked out my therapist on LinkedIn. Just to see her credentials, specializations, etc. I also found it useful to find a guy I’m seeing on LinkedIn to see if his stories match up with his digital self. LinkedIn is not the place to lie, and if they have good recommendations from their jobs, that’s good to know!

rorow (#1,665)

@aetataureate Yes, it could have been a few, but I do think if your field truly doesn’t fit the LinkedIn model it’s in the minority. I don’t think there is ‘aggressive joinerism’ of LinkedIn at the moment, but I’ve had a profile since 2008. Again, my industry breeds early adopters, but much like how Facebook took a while to reach critical mass I think everyone else is just catching up. Sorry to hear your industry/company is going through tough times.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@rorow I’m about to start grad school in a field where it does make sense to use LinkedIn, so it’s not like I’m opposed — but I do think, as my original comment said (and no more), that the tone of this piece is grating and out of place.

acid burn (#113)

I think I still don’t understand why LinkedIn matters.

olivia (#1,618)

I have no affiliation with LinkedIn, but my sister got recruited out of the blue from LinkedIn and got a job that paid $10k more than her previous position. Then she got another $10k pay raise after about 1.5 years there, plus a $10k bonus since they decided they weren’t paying people in her position enough. So I’d say it’s pretty fucking worthwhile! I also got recruited off of LinkedIn (for an interview, that is) but wasn’t interested in the position.

And my boss and several coworkers are on it. I think it’s just like Facebook-you just do it and it’s there. You can really work it if you want to, but unless you put “I WANT A NEW JOB PLEASE RECRUIT ME” in your profile no one will think anything is weird about it.

guenna77 (#856)

yeah, you need a linkedin profile if you are in any kind of business field – tech, marketing, management, finance- even non-profit/association. at my org, even if we didn’t recruit you from there, it’s the first place people go to check you out.

I, too, was recruited off of linkedin-didn’t take the job, but still, it happened.

harlequin13 (#834)

How much recruiting goes on for fields not in tech? I’m a teacher, and I have no idea how education is represented or perceived on LinkedIn. I assume there are headhunting sites for private schools, but I have no idea what they are.

MelNotMissy (#968)

I have been contacted by recruiters on Linkedin, though I have’t pursued those opportunities. However, Linkedin has been helpful to me in the following ways:

1) When I was applying for one position, I checked whether I had any connections to the company, and found that one of my 1st degree connections had connections to two people in the same role as I was applying for. My connection reached out to her connections, and one of them spoke with me over an hour on the phone about the position, and also offered to refer me to the company. Though I wasn’t ultimately offered the position, I did make it through the first round interview, and I found it really helpful to talk to someone doing the type of work I ultimately want to do.

2) I connected on Linkedin to someone I met at a public speaking workshop. Her profile showed she’s done a lot of interesting jobs and projects in my field. I contacted her asking to pick her brain about her career path. She’s also forwarded me information about other groups and networking opportunities that I have found very useful.

3) When I’ve applied for jobs and gone through background checks, it’s been immensely helpful for me to be able to refer to my former supervisor’s/coworker’s/contact’s Linkedin profiles to confirm their contact info and current employment (when they’re updated, of course).

minijen (#656)

Thanks for the article.

Aerobics (#3,996)

Has anyone ever experienced, or heard about, identity theft related to information people publish on LinkedIn? Profiles contain a giant chunk of both personal and professional details that would be easy to collect and exploit.

Jacob (#4,242)

LinkedIn is a great social network that helps to get job. You can upload your resume or contact directly to companies to get a job. – IT project manager resume

Huyen (#5,600)

Hi everyone,

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