Unsure what goes where? Everything a bit of a mess? Worried others are doing it better? Everyone remembers their first time. Filling in a LinkedIn profile, that is. Forget your first kiss, first car and first dodgily-rolled fag on the way back from school: it’s LinkedIn that’s the true modern rite of passage.
In centuries gone by, daughters of aristocrats were presented as debutantes to a gathering of high society, overseen by the King or Queen. The young women ‘made their debut’ in order to be displayed to eligible bachelors and their families, guaranteeing that suitable matches would be arranged.
In a similar way, LinkedIn is the bridge between adolescence and adulthood, education and work. Debutants and bachelors have become young adults and employers. The middlemen at Court who used to identify matches and broker agreements are still around, of course. I’m one of them.
The double-edged sword of LinkedIn is that you’re in control of how you represent yourself. You get to determine the content, the tone, what to show and what to hide. You can choose whether you put up your Grade 2 Trumpet as much as you can choose to show your work experience or lifelong volunteering.
Why bother? Frankly, even an average LinkedIn profile will be viewed several times a day. Many of these views will be curious ex-schoolmates hoping you’re doing well or begrudged exes hoping you’re doing badly, but some will be recruiters and headhunters trying to find the right people for jobs. A good LinkedIn profile keeps these people looking; it holds their gaze, retains their attention for longer than the average profile, and makes contact more likely. A good LinkedIn profile might mean you get messaged immediately about a particular opportunity, or saved for later.
- A polished turd is still a turd
The first thing I would advise any young people to do is very simple. Have things to write about. Much of this article and the next will help add polish to a profile, but no amount of clever structuring or good writing will save you from not having enough to write about. If you’re at school or University, make sure you’re picking up experiences and skills that will provide you with content for life. You want the challenge to be writing about things selectively, rather than making much of little. Speaking as a someone who has recently moved from student-ship to work, you’ll never have the time again.
- Test your profile by playing buzzword bingo
If you can imagine a contestant on The Apprentice saying what you’ve typed, delete it. ‘Passionate’, ‘creative’, ‘specialised’ and ‘excellent’ are all wildly overused. Headhunters read these words countless times a day: pick different ones or, better, illustrate your passion and excellence with clear examples. ‘My enthusiasm for X lead me to doing Y’ is much more engaging than ‘I am passionate about X’.
- Be open about what you like
You might have an impression of LinkedIn as humourless, po-faced, or just plain corporate. Its image goes with things like lanyards, Bluetooth headsets, boring suits and entry-level German saloons. But headhunters and recruiters are real people, and real people buy into real people. Cutting the buzzwords will help, but don’t be afraid to go further: display your interests and hobbies, and write about your work or education in a way that conveys your character. Niche interests, enthusiastically written about, are a great way of showing your personality.
- Have things to click on
LinkedIn offers a considerable platform for showcasing multimedia content. You can link to online publications, newspaper websites, YouTube and can even upload images and documents. Remember – the longer someone is looking at your profile, the better. Include ‘clickables’ to retain their attention and develop their sense of who you are.
- Be visual
Plenty of people miss the opportunity to make their profile stand out by neglecting to include images. You want a clear profile picture in which you are preferably smiling, and a cover photo that is in some way aesthetically pleasing – a picture of your school or University might be a good idea. It looks best if your profile picture is one taken with LinkedIn in mind, a sort of more fun passport photo. Try to register your workplaces or schools where a photo comes up.
- Connect around
LinkedIn isn’t like Facebook. Part of its function is professional networking, and it is perfectly acceptable to connect with people you want to be connected with; imagine you’re all at a huge party and you take the opportunity to introduce yourself. You’re vastly more likely to be found in searches if you build your network (more in the next article), so for now, connect to everyone you know, and those you might want to know.
Losing your LinkedIn virginity will almost certainly be an uncomfortable and self-conscious experience. But confidence, and a bit of theory (this article) will go a long way to making it a little easier.
Look out for the follow-up, ‘How to be headhunted’.
Credit – Jack Drury