How I wrote my LinkedIn profile to CRUSH IT post-University

[Time to read: 6 minutes]

This is the 2nd in a series of posts on how to use LinkedIn to build your online profile.
Part 1: why a LinkedIn profile is useful.
Part 2: how to write your own. 
Part 3: tricks to get the most out of your profile once it’s up and running.
 

Now that I’ve established why you should be on LinkedIn, I’d like to show you how I rewrote my own profile recently.

That's correct, this picture shows me brainstorming on a piece paper suspended in MIDAIR.

But first: do NOT go to the LinkedIn website yet!!! To do this right, you need to plan and think things through. Don’t worry, actually filling in your profile will happen soon enough.

Step 1. What do you want to achieve?

There are plenty of LinkedIn “rules” out there. Depending on who you listen to, you’ll get different, and sometimes contradictory, advice.

I want you to realize that at the end of the day, there is one rule more important than the rest:

RULE #1: Your profile should do what you want it to.

Let's be honest though, if anybody needs obedience school, it's Facebook.

Here’s an example. Two of my uncles both use LinkedIn, but their profiles are very different.

Uncle 1 works for a large, well-known company. He’s listed his education and all of the major positions he’s held in his industry, giving exact years for each, but no further details. He uses LinkedIn for networking, so by sharing when he was at a given school or company, people can figure out if they have any mutual connections that studied or worked with him.

Uncle 2 owns a small business. His profile contains a lot of information about his company and recommendations from satisfied clients. Unlike Uncle 1, whose company has a well-known brand, Uncle 2 needs to invest in informing customers and establishing credibility with them.

Two very different approaches, but the same goal.

What do you want to achieve with your profile?

If you’re looking for a unskilled starter job, then all you need to do is show that you can show up for work on time. I’ll assume that you’re aiming higher though, and that like me, you’re starting your career and want an interesting, challenging position where you can grow and make an impact on the world.

Step 2: Brainstorming.

At this point, we still haven’t gone near the LinkedIn website. There’s still work to be done first.

Sit down with a pen and paper and start writing things down. (I don’t get the same freedom of thought with computers, maybe you do.) Aim for volume, and don’t censor yourself. Just let it flow.

Brainstorming should be fun, so don’t stress yourself out – I did all of this while sipping a glass of red wine at an Italian cafe.

Much thanks to Giuseppe, the cafe owner, for drawing this freehand sketch of me while the soccer game was at halftime.

Start by writing down the different roles you’ve taken on. Hopefully, some of these will be relevant, paid work, but don’t stop there. I wrote down my unrelated work, volunteer positions, club involvement and even informal roles – like being an older brother, and helping a friend through a tough time. Even though I didn’t end up listing these informal roles on my profile, they gave me a wider perspective on my strengths, successes and competencies.

With each role, start writing down all the things you’ve done. What are your strengths, and where did you demonstrate them? When were you really in your element? When were you truly successful? And what can you do that would make an employer’s life easier and better?

Sometimes you can develop impressive skills in surprising places. Have you ever marvelled at the coffee-shop baristas who manage complex orders while bantering with their clientele? Or the drama techs and directors who deliver their product on time, every time – even if the set falls apart, or the main actor has a nervous breakdown? What skills do you have that set you apart?

Think also of the words you want to use to describe yourself, and write them down. Active and creative expressions like “recruited”, “founded” and “led” portray that you are excited to provide value, while passive descriptions like “completed” and “helped” convey an impression of only doing the bare minimum. [Update: here’s a list to help you out.]

Once you’ve gotten the juices flowing, it’s time to finally start filling in your profile.

Step 3. Basic information.

If you already have a profile or resume, Steps 1 and 2 should now be showing their worth. Chances are what you’d written before was unassertive, overly complicated, or somehow portrayed you in the wrong light. That’s okay – just put it to the side and start afresh.

It’s time to write about yourself. As you do this, remember two things:

1. Impact. That’s what it’s all about. People want you for what you can do, not the duties you’ve fulfilled.

2. Be easy to read. Too often, people write long, convoluted sentences, trying to sound professional. They don’t. They actually show a lack of confidence, because it looks like they weren’t able to sell themselves in plain English.

Put yourself in a recruiter’s position. If you were looking through hundreds of profiles, would you want to read whatever you just wrote? Make it short and sweet, and read everything out loud to make sure it sounds natural. Realize that if people enjoy reading your profile, then that’s a good thing.

Here’s a before-and-after example from my last update:

Before

After

Notice the difference? Crisper, cleaner, and more emphasis on impact than duties.

Apart from your job experience, you can fill in other information: skills you have, awards you’ve won, languages you speak. These spaces are good for nitty-gritty details – leave the job experience space for describing impact instead.

Arrange the different profile elements in whatever way works best for you. This usually means putting your most rare and valuable skills at the top. I put my languages first because it’s impressive and it’s rare to find a North American engineering graduate who speaks four languages. I listed my job experience before my education because I have a lot more workplace experience than most recent graduates. Both serve to set me apart.

Step 4. The Summary.

Wait until you’ve finished the rest of your profile to fill out the summary. This is your chance to tell your story. Do it wrong, and people will move on without a backward glance. Do it right, and they’ll want to know more.

Follow the writing guidelines from Step 3. Describe your impact, use plain English, and make sure it sounds right out loud. Keep it as short as you can, while still saying everything you want to say. It’s hard work, but when it’s done right, it’s very powerful.

Step 5. The Professional Headline.

Like the summary, but even shorter and more important. This is what people will see right after your name if they find you on LinkedIn directly, or via a search engine like Google.

It’s tricky, but if you can think of something that will make you stand out, then I think that’s better than the same old employer + job description that everyone uses. We’ll talk about this more in Part 3.

[Update: no sooner had I published this post than I saw an article on Copyblogger about why you should always write headlines first, because the headline is a “promise”  to people viewing your profile, that you fulfill with the summary and job experience sections. This makes a lot of sense to me, but it means that I did things backwards. What do you guys think?]

Step 6. Editing.

Editors can let you know how you present yourself, point out anything you might have overlooked, and find those spelling and grammar howlers that you’ll always miss, no matter how hard you look for them.

Getting feedback can be hard on the ego. Remember that if someone tells you something that’s hard to hear, this means that:

1. they respect you enough to tell you the truth and know that you can handle it, and

2. you now have the chance to improve.

Emotionally, it's a Six Flags roller coaster.

I’ve gotten feedback on my profile from both of the uncles I mentioned in Step 1, as well as an aunt who works in HR, and they spared no punches. It was hard at first, but in the end I’m glad for it, because my profile is much better.

Step 7. Keep tinkering.

The story doesn’t end once your profile’s been written, and in Part 3 we’ll get into the multitude of little things you can do that will make all the the difference. As you stay active on LinkedIn, take a look at what you’ve written every once in a while, and you’ll notice little improvements that you can make.

Of course, if you decide to change industries or your overall strategy, then you should do a major overhaul. Remember Rule #1, and send your profile back to obedience school to learn new tricks.

So…

Have any of you redone your resume or LinkedIn profile recently? How did it go? I’d love to hear any widsom you gained in the process.

Don’t be afraid to:

comment,

share and like on Facebook, or

use Twitter to follow me and tweet this post!

I appreciate most feedback.

Stay tuned for Part 3, where we’ll get into all the tools and tricks to get the most out of your profile.

————————————————————————-

BONUS: they don’t work for everyone, but these creative resumes helped their owners stand out from the crowd. If you’re feeling bold, why not go for it?

Full disclosure: one of the resumes was designed to look like a Facebook profile. Since I was researching this article at the time, I immediately thought “well, what if I based my resume on a LinkedIn profile? What would that look like? Ohhhhh…”

I’ve had better moments.

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Leave a comment

5 Comments

  1. Michael

     /  January 23, 2012

    Love the Picture

    Reply
  2. I’m currently struggling to write my summary. I want to be succinct but at the same time want to really talk about all my strong points. Do you think it’s more important to hit all your important features or more important to be succinct and to the point in your summary? Thanks! Great read.

    Reply
    • Good question!

      I definitely think that “less of more is more” when you’re writing the summary. Write less, but make it targeted.

      Try this yourself by first writing your summary with all the important features, like you suggested. Then cut out 1/3 to 1/2 of what you’ve written, focusing on keeping only the most important points. Compare the two, and my guess is the second one will be crisper and more effective.

      Let me know how it goes!

      Reply
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