How to Create an Effective LinkedIn Profile

July 17, 2013

In my experience, the place where most people struggle in optimizing their LinkedIn profiles isn't with their content, it's with their approach.

Here's the source of the problem:

The text fields we fill out on LinkedIn are like little essay questions, each begging us to draw from a lifetime's worth of growth and change and developmental experiences to fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately, our brains don't like this kind of exercise. Most of us show a strong preference for concrete, multiple choice type questions over open-ended, essay-type questions. When we sit down to write our LinkedIn profiles, our brains respond as if we've just given ourselves an essay test.

Not fun.

So what happens next is that our minds start turning all those open-ended questions into something more concrete and manageable… typically, a résumé. This feels appealing because résumés are nowhere near as open-ended as LinkedIn profiles: they are drafted for a specific audience, are written according to a specific format, and are used for a specific goal. Very clear, very concrete.

Unfortunately, also very misaligned. The people looking at our LinkedIn profiles are more likely to be coworkers, bosses, and customers looking to work with us, than recruiters looking to hire us.

This misalignment creates conflict, and sends people looking for advice about whether or not to connect with their boss, or how to manage their networks, or how to deal with all the other problems that arise when they use the wrong model for their LinkedIn profile.

It's like they've dressed for a beach party and, finding themselves at a professional dinner, start trying to figure out how to survive in their swimsuits, when the easiest course of action would be to duck into the restroom and change.

Professional at the beach

What people need is a different way of thinking about their LinkedIn profiles; one that still eliminates ambiguity but better fits the way people actually interact with them on LinkedIn.

Here's what we recommend:

Step 1: Pick an audience.

We can't control who visits our profiles, but we also can't be all things to all people. So who's most important? What group do you really want to impress? Write down who this group is. Then, picture one representative from the group. Give the person a name. Write that name down. You're going to write for him (or her).

Step 2: Decide on a goal.

What do you want that person to know about you? Write down exactly what impression you want that person to have of you after he or she visits your profile.

These two steps have just established the context for your LinkedIn profile. With these answers, those open ended text fields will start to feel more concrete—in a good way.

Step 3: In a few words, write down what you do, from the perspective of the person you're writing for. 

That person may use different language than you would use, and that's OK. You're not writing this for yourself, you're writing for them. And by the way, you just created your headline.

Step 4: Imagine the person you're writing for seeing what you do and saying, "Oh, interesting! Tell me more."

Picture yourself answering the question at a networking event, and write down what you'd want to say: Repeat what you do, only with a touch more detail. Add a sentence or two that shows why you're good (this could include a short anecdote, a list of companies you've worked with, or results you've achieved). Close with a sentence that makes you approachable. You just wrote your summary.

Step 5: Repeat Step 4 for previous jobs and educational experiences.

As you do this, each time highlight something you did or learned that prepared you for your current position.

Step 6: Walk away. It's important to know when to stop!

With these steps completed, you've now got the right approach, and aren't missing basic opportunities to make a good impression. Your next step is to make sure you're making the right impression… by which I mean, one that makes you more efficient and effective on the job.

You're now ready to track results.

6 steps to a better personal recruiter brand