A major part of representing your Human Resources department is having an accessible professional presence not only at your organization, but in cyberspace as well. One of the best ways to establish this presence is to have a respectable LinkedIn profile. If you haven’t spent much time on LinkedIn yet, the task of setting up and maintaining that profile may seem a bit daunting, especially if, like many professionals, your time is limited. Following the recommendations below will enable you to create a complete basic LinkedIn profile in addition to laying a solid foundation you can build on later. Depending on your starting point, you can tackle these to dos in as little as 1-2 hours.
Note: Before you get started, check to see if your employer has created guidelines for you to follow. Since they’re paying your salary and you’re representing their brand, they have a say in how you represent them and your role.
#1: Set Your Profile to Public
Given the purpose of LinkedIn, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want their profile to be private or anonymous, but many people are still hesitant to let their presence be known. Here are three good reasons why you should opt for a public profile:
- If you have an externally-facing role and/or are a senior professional, people you may interact with will look for your profile to learn more about you. As more and more people come to rely on LinkedIn as a resource, it will increasingly strike people as odd if they can’t find you. That’s not a good reflection on either your professional brand or your organization.
- With an anonymous profile, you are referred to in LinkedIn as “private private,” which can look really silly. It’s especially funny when someone with a private profile gets recommended by someone else. I’ve lost count of the number of notifications from my first-level connections that will say something like: Jane Doe has recommended private private: “I worked with Bob Smith at XYZ…” So much for anonymity!
- If people want to find your profile, they can. I can’t reveal the trick, but resourceful LinkedIn users know how to access profiles using people’s LinkedIn member numbers. It’s a very simple workaround.
#2: Add a Respectable Profile Picture
As in most social networks, there’s a normative expectation that people have a profile picture. If you don’t, people will either assume that you don’t know what you’re doing or that you have something to hide. Including a profile picture prevents the speculation and lets you control the initial impression people get when they view your profile.
Depending on their jobs, industries, and reputations, some people on LinkedIn can get away with more daring profile pictures. For most of us, however, a conservative approach is best. Here are some tips that will work for most people:
- Use an image that reflects your professional identity, not your personal identity.
- If you use a photo of yourself, make sure it’s current and of decent quality. Only include yourself in the photo and be sure the focus is on your face (i.e., a headshot).
- If you don’t want to use a photo of yourself, find an image that reflects your values, capabilities or essence in some way. Be careful about using things that are too cutesy or may involve questionable humor.
#3: Include a Headline
To me, the LinkedIn headline is better in concept than in reality. Personally, I’ve always struggled with what to include, and I’ve never been completely satisfied with what I’ve come up with. But since it’s something of a “necessary evil,” you have to try to make the best of it. Here are a few suggestions based on my own experience and my review of hundreds (if not thousands) of profiles:
- Short descriptors separated by bars are probably easier than trying to craft a sentence.
- Focus on what you offer, not what you want (e.g., don’t say you’re looking for a job).
- Avoid bland descriptions like “experienced accountant”.
- Highlight your unique professional capabilities and/or character using key words that will catch people’s attention.
- If you’re currently employed, it’s perfectly acceptable to include your current job title.
#4: Provide a Robust Description for Your Current Job
Even if you don’t have time to fully flesh out your profile, you should at least provide a robust description of your current position. This is especially true for folks in externally-facing roles like recruiting, human resources, public relations, marketing, sales, and business development. You should also at least list all your previous employers/positions–certainly the most recent/relevant ones.
Generally speaking, the description you provide in your LinkedIn profile is the same as what you’d include on a resume. So if your resume is current, you should be able to just cut and paste titles and text from that document to the data entry boxes on LinkedIn. If your resume isn’t current, this is a great opportunity to update it!
Additional Job Description Tips:
- Be sure to link the job to your employer’s Company Page. If they don’t have one, suggest they set one up – pronto!
- Limit your description of the organization to 1-2 sentences. If people want to learn more, they can go to the Company Page.
- Also limit your description of the job and your responsibilities as much as possible, focusing instead on unique contributions, value added, and accomplishments.
- Remember that you’re writing for both search engines and human beings. That means your descriptions should be key word rich, but they also need to be attractive and readable by people.
- When in doubt, leave it out. The profile should entice people to want to learn more rather than try to tell your whole life story. The less relevant a job is to your current professional activities, the less you should say about it.
If you have any professional certifications, be sure to list them in the Certifications section. Similarly, if they’re relevant to your current professional activities, you can also list honors and awards. Both sections can be completed in mere minutes.
#5: Include Your Education
As with some of your older work experiences, you can take a “name/rank/serial” number approach to providing information about your academic background. You should definitely list all the schools you attended and/or got degrees from, but you don’t need to provide more detail than your degree program and the years attended. And yes, I would include the years. If you don’t, people will naturally conclude that you’re trying to hide the fact that it was a long time ago, so not listing them doesn’t protect you from discrimination. Besides, if someone is going to discriminate against you based on your age, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway.
#6: Don’t Include Personal Information
I don’t know why LinkedIn provides these fields, but I would recommend against including personal information such as your address, marital status, and date of birth. This information is generally not relevant to your professional identity or interactions.
#7: Enable People to Get in Touch with You
Related to the fear of having a public profile, many professionals seem to be afraid that if they don’t restrict access to themselves they will be inundated with and overwhelmed by a variety of requests. In my experience, the fear is greater than the reality. I recommend lowering the drawbridge and letting people contact you through every available LinkedIn channel. And if you’re in a job like business development or recruiting, you own your own business, or are on the job market, make it easy for people to get in touch with you outside of LinkedIn as well by adding a statement under your Contact Settings that shares your contact information. Here’s a sample statement:
I can be reached directly via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via phone at 312-555-1212.
To make it easier to manage inappropriate requests, clearly specify the kinds of opportunities you’re open to hearing about.
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