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LinkedIn or LinkedOut?

A little while ago, I was asked to give a LinkedIn profile writing presentation to the local chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals called:

“Building and maintaining a strong LinkedIn profile”

We had a great discussion and, while I geared the content to my audience, the key aspects apply to anyone using, or thinking about using, LinkedIn as their virtual resume.

Why LinkedIn?

“Because everyone else is doing it…” has never been much of a good reason for anything, yet even a cursory review of random profiles on LinkedIn will convince you that many users have signed up just because.

Given that LinkedIn is pretty much the first resort for professional networking, then it follows that your LinkedIn profile is your professional identity in the online world. It is your shop window.

Of course, how you choose to use your shop window is up to you. You might use it to:

  1. Let people know what they need to know without contacting you; or
  2. Make yourself feel good about how far you’ve come in your journey of self-actualization and growth

And while people appear to use it for both reasons, the fact remains that people visit your LinkedIn profile to see if you can do something for them now, or in the near future. They’re looking at your profile to:

  • Remind them who you are
  • Connect them to someone else
  • Considering you for a role with their company

If your shop window doesn’t help them do that QUICKLY, guess what? They’re moving on. In ye olde days, it was said that a paper resume had about six seconds to make an impact on the reviewer. Frankly, that’s a lifetime compared to the online world.

LinkedIn profile writing: So what, exactly, do you do?

The physical weight of a paper resume was often an indicator of professional experience – publications, certificates, references, etc. all added to the view that “this is someone who has DONE SOMETHING.”

The same does NOT hold true on LinkedIn, or really any other online profile. It’s a 140 character world out there and, even if you disagree with that in spirit, the people reading your resume are much less likely to concur.

So, optimizing your LinkedIn profile means:

  • Keeping it simple
  • Keeping it specific
  • Keeping it focused

We’re going to look at each of these, but first!

One line to rule them all. Your profile header is the most basic representation of who you are and what you do.

Here’s mine:

linkedin profile writing that has a clean and simple title

Most of that information comes from my profile, but the ‘professional headline’ – Consultant & Coach, in my case – is unique to this header. It’s also what shows up in search results, so you want it to be really good – think of it as your own personal haiku/bonsai/essential oil – i.e. all of your profile boiled down into its simplest, most elegant form.

Everything I’ve mentioned so far applies here. When you’re creating your profile header, watch out for these common mistakes:

  • Acronym soup
    • III OP Administrative Professional at Deloitte LLP
  • Repeating profile information
    • Administrative Assistant at GlaxoSmithKline
  • Trying too hard (“Must… use… all… the… characters…”)
    • Team Builder | Trainer | I Help People Reach Goals | 20Year Business Owner | Network Marketing | Mgt Consultant
  • A little too obvious
    • Looking for a job in government in operations, administrative or customer service. Willing to relocate.
    • I am currently looking for a good job with a great company!

Once you have your simple, elegant headline, it’s time to apply the same spirit to the rest of your profile.

Keeping it simple

When it comes to describing your experiences on your LinkedIn profile, keep it simple, so that the person viewing it gets it QUICKLY. There’s a good chance I’m using targeted keyword search, so any extraneous content is worse than ignored – it just doesn’t register. And if I’m not searching, then I’m reading profiles long-form and looking at LOTS of reading (search “Administrative” on LinkedIn and you’re looking at over 4 million hits!)

One simple area that is often overlooked is that of job titles – if they describe the job, then use them once and don’t repeat them over and again. For example, in the detail section of a job entitled administrative assistant, I’m not sure you really want to take up virtual space with:

“I am a competent administrative assistant who supports executive leaders in administrative duties…”

In the opposite direction, if you haven’t held a role, don’t claim the title. For example, being involved in, or even managing, projects does not make you a project manager. If I’m hiring for a project manager, I know exactly what I’m looking for, and you’re labeling yourself as a fraud before we’ve even spoken.

Keeping it specific

When it comes to getting the job done, we all know that the HOW is as important as the WHAT, but when I’m sourcing via LinkedIn, I really, really don’t care about unnecessary adjectives. In the example above, do you really need to describe yourself as a “competent administrative assistant”? I guess that might help me screen you out when I’m looking for an “incompetent administrative assistant”?

Right about now, you might be thinking I’m being overly harsh. I’m not. If you spend any amount of time reviewing resumes or scanning LinkedIn profiles, you’ll know that nearly everyone is:

“… experienced, energetic, creative… with a proven track record of… exceptional, extraordinary, interpersonal, customer service and leadership skills… excellent administrative, communication, organizational and planning skills… high level of experience… timely execution… results oriented… highly skilled… “expert”… extensive background… dynamic interpersonal skills… exceptional ability to… exceptional customer service skills…with energy and accuracy, consistently exercising sound business judgment and professionalism, usually in fast paced, high pressure environments… consistently meet all goals, and exceed expectations… exceptional business writing, proofreading and editing skills… assertive, proactive, quick thinker who can prioritize and remain accountable with minimal supervision…”

All of that tells me NOTHING, yet look how much space it takes up. Word count isn’t the issue here, it’s that I’m not getting even halfway through that description before a click ‘Next.’

Truth be told, I’ve worked with people who are always totally, amazingly over-adverbing. It’s exhausting, and more often than not a screen for a lack of capability and or confidence. So what assumption do I make when reading it on your profile?

And yes, that is from a real profile pulled at random from LinkedIn – take a look:

linkedin profile writing stuffed with too many adjectives

How far did you get before you stopped reading? Hopefully, you had a reaction within the first three or four words.

Keeping it focused

When it comes to LinkedIn profile writing, what makes you different is less about who you are and more about the value you create.

Think of it this way: Is it more important for me to know that, in your role as a fundraising manager for an inner city hospice, you attended lots of meetings, kept track of donations against a target and regularly reported status to your board OR that you raised $3 million dollars three months early, enabling your organization to build the children’s ward that now offers care to 30+ children and their families.

If you tell me the results of your work, I’ll assume you know how to do your job. If you tell me how you do your job, without sharing results, am I more or less likely to believe you’re bluffing/hiding something?

LinkedIn provides some useful functionality here:

  • Projects
  • Work samples (Media)
  • Recommendations
  • Publications
  • Skills & Endorsements

Use these well and you’ll find your LinkedIn profile writing gets slimmer, but no less rich in valuable information.

The long hard look in the mirror

Another great way to really sharpen your LinkedIn profile writing skills is to ask someone else to review it for you. Find someone who you trust enough to be brutally honest with you, someone who you know will not accept your defensive, knee-jerk reaction to their feedback. Tell them you want to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Don’t have that special someone? It might be time to seek out a career coach, many of whom offer LinkedIn profile writing as a specific service, or as part of a wider approach.

Whoever your trusted adviser is, ask them to review for:

  • Repetition
  • Adjective-soup
  • Focus on mechanics vs. results

As in the example above, once you know what to look for it becomes really obvious.

Determined to do it yourself? OK. There’s one way I’ve found to unleash your critic: Read your profile out loud. And I don’t mean just speak the words, I mean Shakespearean levels of projection – out LOUD. As you do so, notice:

  • Do you have to repeat anything to make it make sense?
  • Do you laugh at any point?
  • Do you get an uneasy feeling, almost like you’re lying?

These are all signals that your profile may be in need of a tune-up.

Of course, if you really want to have some fun, you could read your profile to your trusted adviser – it’s an eye-opening experience, and a wonderful opportunity for live-time coaching!

So, LinkedIn or LinkedOut?

As mentioned, for professional networking, LinkedIn is the first point of call. It’s your professional shop window. How you dress that shop window is up to you, but remember, if I’m looking at your profile on LinkedIn, I’m doing so to:

  • Remind me who you are
  • Connect me to someone else
  • Consider you for a role with my company

And I’m more likely to have a positive reaction if you:

  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it specific
  • Keep it focused

Now, does anyone want to read me their profile?

About the Author Vincent Tuckwood

Vincent Tuckwood is an independent coach and consultant, focused upon helping people, teams and organizations achieve lasting change. A Brit now based in Waterford, Connecticut, Vince is a veteran of a 20-year transatlantic career which he happily left behind to go independent in 2009. You can read more about his business, music and writing at The View Beyond and connect with him on Noomii

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