Warning – Ignoring LinkedIn Could Hurt Your Career

By Neal Schaffer

If you’ve been in today’s job market for more than five minutes, you know that it’s a complex, competitive, even cutthroat environment that’s difficult to navigate. Not only is the market overflowing with highly qualified individuals, but to complicate matters, the job search and application functions of yesteryear are no longer valid. If you simply update your résumé and (e)mail it off to a hiring manager, you’ll probably be left twiddling your thumbs for a long, long time while other applicants get all the interviews.

Whether you like it or not, you need to take your job search on the social media road … but even then there are numerous do-and-don’t rules you need to follow. And the most important place of all to cross your t’s and dot your i’s is your LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn continues to evolve at a fast pace, but many job seekers’ profiles are stuck in past years. That’s a big problem, because an increasing number of businesses use LinkedIn to find prospective employees and fill openings.

So if you want to maximize your chances of landing that interview, you need to consider your LinkedIn profile to be the front page for “the website of you”—a place that summarizes who you are, what you represent, what your professional history is and your area of expertise.

If you’re asking, “Why LinkedIn?” the answer is clear: It’s a professionally geared site that’s focused on the quality, rather than the quantity, of its users—meaning that it’s fertile ground on which to find and develop meaningful networking connections.

From a demographic perspective, LinkedIn is very different from other social media channels in that it has a very influential, affluent and educated audience. According to reported data, more business decision-makers, people with household incomes exceeding $100,000, and college and postgraduates are LinkedIn users than the physical distribution audience of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely the group to whom I want to be showcasing my skills and experience.

Whatever activity you do on LinkedIn, it will always lead people back to your profile.

Think of all the time and effort that businesses put into investing in creating a well-branded and strategic website. Have you spent even a fraction of that time thinking about how to create a strong professional LinkedIn presence?

If not (and even if you think you have your bases covered), read on for 17 LinkedIn profile must-haves. (You can also explore them in an infographic I developed with Tammy Kahn Fennell, founder and CEO of the social media dashboard MarketMeSuite. It can be found at the end of this release and here along with the embed code.)

Must-have #1: A serious photo

You should always have a professional picture represent you. In other words, wear office-appropriate attire and avoid distracting backgrounds. And no cocktail-in-hand photos or on-the-beach vacation shots.

You might be tempted to just go photo-less if you don’t already have an appropriate picture, but keep in mind that having a visual will increase your  CTR (click-through rate) after people find you in LinkedIn search results. Actually, LinkedIn itself has asserted that profiles with photos are seven times more likely to be viewed by others. And, besides, if you want to make a deeper connection with someone, shouldn’t you be showing your real face?

Must-have #2: A professional name

Warning - Ignoring LinkedIn Could Hurt Your Career

Source: iStock/Thinkstock

Trawl LinkedIn for a little while, and you’ll probably come across individuals who use keywords, or even worse, phone numbers and email addresses, as part of their names.

When you employ this tactic, you may think you’re making yourself more conspicuous and/or more accessible, but the truth is, you look cheesy—and I can tell that you’re blatantly trying to sell me on something, which is a turn-off. LinkedIn is the most trusted social network out there, so you should have a name that is cognizant of its professional atmosphere. Stay away from gimmicky nicknames. You’ll have plenty of other areas in your profile where you can differentiate yourself.

Must-have #3: A headline that reinforces your professional brand

Speaking of areas to differentiate yourself, look no further than your Professional Headline; in other words, the 110 characters that appear prominently just under your name both on your profile and, more importantly, on search results. You don’t need to put here that you are TITLE at COMPANY NAME—viewers can see that in your profile.

Instead, you need to include information in your Professional Headline that will draw your potential visitor into wanting to find out more about you. Be explicit as to how you can help people—but do it in a professional and well-branded manner. Overtly selling to people in your Professional Headline feels like a slap in the face to many a LinkedIn user. For instance, here are some headline turn-offs:

  • “Call me to hear why I’m the last branding consultant you’ll ever need to hire.” Directly asking for a phone call is inappropriate for a professionally branded headline.
  • “Tri-state businesses get a free logo redesign.” This headline makes you look desperate for business.
  • “Bet your business doesn’t show up in the top 10 Google and LinkedIn results. But I can make it happen.” This headline is provocative, not to mention questionable in terms of truth.

Ouch. Now, let’s look at some examples of professionals who add value with their headlines—and who are undoubtedly attracting more inviting contacts:

  • “Providing thought leadership and compelling content in public relations @ XYZ Company.”
  • “Bilingual human resources professional with 15 years’ direct experience.”
  • “A proven track record in the financial services industry.”

Much better, wouldn’t you agree?

Must-have #4: An optimized location

On LinkedIn, it’s sometimes best for your stated location not to match your physical one. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your target visitor.

For instance, I live in Orange County, California, but if I were in charge of a territory that was primarily centered around Los Angeles, I would want to change my location to Los Angeles. This location change makes me more approachable in my target market because I’m considered “local,” and it also means I get found in more relevant search results because many are using the location feature as a filter.

Must-have #5: An optimized industry

Much like optimizing your location, think about what the people with whom you’re trying to connect might type into the “Industry” field during a search. This can be tough, because even individuals who work at the same company might list different industries here.

Note that if you upgrade to a paid LinkedIn account, your complete “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” will also include data as to which industries best represent the visitors to your profile. Regardless, you might have to do some experimenting in this area. While not everyone uses the Industry feature to filter search results, you should still put your best foot forward and experiment in seeing how changing your industry might affect your profile views.

Must-have #6: A customized profile URL

LinkedIn provides you with a default URL that you can—and should—customize. Some talk about the SEO (search engine optimization) benefits of doing so, but I look at your LinkedIn URL in a simpler way.

Once you’re invested in LinkedIn as part of your professional infrastructure, you’ll probably want to include your LinkedIn URL in your email signature or even print it on your business card. Wouldn’t you rather have a professional looking—and easy to input—URL like http://www.linkedin.com/in/nealschaffer rather than http://www.linkedin.com/pub/neal-schaffer/4a/z89/145/?

Must-have #7: Strong status updates

Posting constant updates about our lives has become a common part of our culture, whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, a photo on Instagram or something else. But as you probably suspect, your LinkedIn updates shouldn’t reflect your political opinions, announce your child’s achievements or comment on the latest reality TV twist. For that reason, many users simply skip status updates altogether. However, that’s a mistake too.

When someone finally lands on your profile, your activity section will show your latest status update—if you have one. This is the only dynamically updated part of your profile that gives others the ability to see what’s on your mind, so get into the habit of updating your status on a regular basis. Sharing thoughtful, insightful and relevant news that might interest your target visitor just once a day is a great way to keep your professional profile “fresh”—as well as engage with your own network of connections!

Must-have #8: A compelling Professional Summary

If done effectively, one of the most time-consuming items on this checklist will be writing a well-crafted and branded Professional Summary. But don’t worry—the effort will be worth it.

Your Professional Summary should support what you say in your headline and expand upon its branding, as well as potentially end with a good call-to-action. This is how you “close the deal”: by making sure that, after your profile visitors read your Professional Summary, they will be sold on you and want to initiate contact.

Must-have #9: A window into your past

Your LinkedIn Profile is about helping you get found. It is an Inbound Marketing tool. That’s why it’s important to connect the dots with your past: so that as many people as possible can find you—and so that you can find them.

Don’t stop at your current employer. Go back in history and fill in every employer you’ve ever worked for and every educational institution you’ve attended. I go as far back as high school on my own profile, and even include short-term study abroad programs—which have helped me restore old ties with valued professionals in my network.

Must-have #10: Valuable keywords

Many LinkedIn users a) haven’t leveraged keywords enough or b) have overstuffed their profiles with keywords to the point of meaninglessness.

To avoid falling into either of these traps, search for keywords that you’re thinking of using in your own profile. Examine the profiles of those that appear in the top few results, paying attention to the location and frequency of the keywords. Now take that knowledge and apply it to your own profile.

Must-have #11: Credibility-enhancing recommendations

With all of the quid pro quo recommendations you see out there, many people wonder whether LinkedIn recommendations should be taken seriously. Yes, very much so—because they can help you establish credibility if someone viewing your profile doesn’t know you.

When I speak on LinkedIn, I often talk about how I was looking for a realtor on LinkedIn and found three good-looking profiles. One had zero recommendations, another had two, and another had more than 30. Who do you think I first contacted? You don’t need to have 30-plus recommendations, but remember that every genuine recommendation helps to establish your credibility.

Must-have #12: Well-managed endorsements

Of all the features that LinkedIn has released, endorsements are the ones that have stirred the most controversy in the professional community. I recommend that you ignore that controversy and utilize whatever functionality LinkedIn provides you. For instance, some believe that endorsements might affect how you appear in LinkedIn search results.

You should make sure that the people you’d most like to be associated with your brand comprise all of the maximum 50 endorsements you can display. Let them show off your skill set and provide your profile with a little bit more credibility (although not nearly as much credibility as having good recommendations, of course).

Must-have #13: Curated visuals

LinkedIn gives you the ability to upload contents from a link (presentations from SlideShare or Prezi, videos from YouTube or Vimeo and documents from Scribd are all supported) or directly from your computer (in addition to images, PDF, Word and PowerPoint presentations are supported). If you’ve ever been interviewed or had your picture taken at a professional event, this is your chance to promote yourself by adding these visual elements.

But don’t stop there: This is the area where you can be as creative as you want to be. Even uploading your standard corporate presentation will at least provide something for your viewers to look at—and it might provide you business benefits as well!

Must-have #14: Clear contact information

Don’t make it hard for other users to contact you: If they can’t easily get in touch, they might just move on to the next person! Remember, if you’re a third-degree connection or beyond, many people won’t go through the hassle of sending a high-risk introduction or buying an InMail in order to initiate a conversation.

LinkedIn gives you the ability to include your contact details, such as up to three websites and a Twitter handle, for anyone to see. There is also an “Advice for Contacting [Name]” section where you could include your email address and/or phone number. You also have the option to subscribe to the LinkedIn Personal Plus account plan and, for a low price, join the OpenLink Network, giving those not in your network the opportunity to email you without having to pay for it.

Must-have #15: Membership in relevant Groups

Joining LinkedIn Groups is about enhancing your contactability. Joining the same Group allows others to contact you using the Group messaging feature. So, which LinkedIn Groups should you become part of?

You don’t have to join the maximum 50, but at least join a few groups that are related to your industry, discipline, or location—not to mention alumni groups from your university or even previous workplaces. If you haven’t been active in Groups before, you might be surprised as to the business opportunities that exist within them! Even if you don’t have time to be active, displaying those Group logos on your profile increases your contactability.

Must-have #16: Customized Sections

While this might not apply to everyone, many LinkedIn users should be leveraging their profiles’ Sections.

LinkedIn gives you the ability to add a number of additional items to your profile called “Sections,” including Projects, Test Scores, Courses, Patents, Certifications and Volunteering and Causes. If these are important to you or your professional brand, you’ll want to make sure they’re part of your professional profile.

Must-have #17: Connections.

My final tip isn’t related to filling out your profile, but to how many people might find and interact with you on LinkedIn. Simply put, if you don’t have enough LinkedIn connections, you might not show up on as many LinkedIn searches as a second-degree connection.

From an outbound networking perspective, you also won’t discover many of the hidden connections that exist all around you. Those are uncovered only when 1) you have a specific objective to search for, and 2) you have a robust network.

After you’ve used this checklist to evaluate and tweak your LinkedIn profile, ask someone you trust to do the same. You might be surprised by what they find! Remember, when it comes to your profile, the opinion that matters most is that of the person who’s looking at it, not your own. Once you finish auditing and overhauling your LinkedIn profile, I think you’ll notice a difference in your job-hunting fortunes. So brush off your interview suit—and start networking!

About the Author

Neal Schaffer is the author of Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success. Named a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer two years in a row, Neal is the creator of Advertising Age’s Top 100 Global Marketing Blog, Windmill Networking (recently rebranded as Maximize Social Business) and a global speaker on social media who also teaches as part of Rutgers University’s Mini-MBA™ in Social Media Marketing Program.

As a leading social media strategist, Neal has created social media strategies, coached implementation and helped train dozens of companies, from startups and small businesses to Fortune 500 enterprises and even a Grammy Award-winning musician. Neal has previously written two award-winning books on LinkedIn. His work has been recognized by the media, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, Yahoo! and the American Express OPEN Forum.

For more information, please visit www.maximizeyoursocial.com.

14 Comments on "Warning – Ignoring LinkedIn Could Hurt Your Career"

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  1. Casey says:

    This, if at all true, is why so many of us are just wandering around starving half to death …

    bring back the early 90′s, please. Technology killed the curious cats.

  2. Dan Daily says:

    All this on a “professional” web site full of people telling you how great they are. They get referrals from one another they’ve never even met, just like facebook’s “friends.” I wouldn’t hire from the lot.

    • KC says:

      Comments like this smack of a bitter, middle-aged, over-employed manager who isn’t open to new ideas. Don’t worry. Those of us on LI wouldn’t work for you.

      ~Signed, a 41-year old manager who has filled her team with exceptional talent by using LI as one piece of the hiring puzzle. I am frequently contacted by recruiters as a result of my activity, meaning I wouldn’t be working for you long if you somehow tricked me into thinking you were worth working for.

  3. Dave Jones says:

    What a load of bunk. Linked is nothing but spam. If you have a relevent resume, know how to interview and have requisite skills you can get the job.

    I wouldn’t want to work for an employer who uses a spam recruiting tool to hire anybody, even the janitor.

  4. Dan says:

    This all sounds great until you put up your picture and they realize your are over 50! I have only seen Linkedin weed candidates out. Current employers can take a look at your profile to see how active you are about finding new employment.

    • Ann says:

      I totally agree! I do not use LinkedIn for these two reasons – I don’t want to work for someone who is interested/not interested based on my photo, and I know that my employer corporation is too involved with employee pages. I’ve had lots of invitations to network with other individuals in my organization, and since we have a very robust intercompany communication system, this doesn’t make sense to me. I would certainly caution people to consider this before becoming too involved.

      • tde says:

        a person will learn a lot more about you and will steal someone else’s identity and match it to your information by name.

    • Robert says:

      Yes, and that’s good for hiring managers to know because job hopping is a big red flag, in most cases.

  5. John Adams says:

    Our F500 company had HR force all IT to have a linkedin account. Then they got upset because no one uses it except employees looking to leave. We regularly get HR messages about how they didn’t know we had abc skillsets (recommended by other unknow linkedin users). Myself I have 10 skills that I don’t even know why I was recommended for. I would not trust linkedin for a recommendation, but their stock has made me a lot of money. :)

  6. Hesiquio Rivera says:

    I love the technology of yesteryear.
    Very simple. In my working years, I worked all kinds of construction work. Building roads and highways, erecting buildings and skyscrapers, building high-pressure vessels. and the best trade I’ve ever learned was pipe fitting and certified pipe welding.

    In many instances, while looking for a job, the superintendent in charge of hiring, would ask me, where you have worked? And when I named Brown and Root, or a Chemical plant, he would tell me do you want to start working now, or do you prefer to start tomorrow.
    I always said, I can start now. Then I went ahead and filled out the paperwork required for the income tax and Social Security. And never had a problem finding a job.

    The Mailing Lists always had been a good source of income.
    I was found on an e-mail list in Alberta, Canada, Where a fine lady asked me to go to work as a pipe fitter on the Keystone Pipe line, she knew I worked on the Alaskan pipeline, and offer me room & board covered in the deal. This is a great opportunity for young pipe fitters and pipe-welders, if you are certified.

    I thanked the lady, and remind her that at 78 years of age I do not qualify to do the work that I was able to do at 28 years of age.

    THANK TO THE OLD TECHNOLOGY AND THE OLD MAILING LIST, THAT COULD GET THE BEST WORKERS IN THE WORLD, VERY EASY AND VERY FAST.
    Have a good day.

  7. George says:

    YEAH RIGHT, sign up so NSA can track you around and HACKERS can steal your data at will.

  8. Gene says:

    This is utter nonsense. Just another way to fool people into being on LinkedIn. I don’t use it nor have I needed it to get a job in the current job market.

  9. kiesterplug says:

    Nice ad for LinkedIn. Still not using it.

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