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.