Now that LinkedIn LNKD -1.85% is a decade old and has more than 200 million members, most professionals have figured out how to set up a profile and build connections. But with ever-increasing numbers of hiring managers and recruiters using the site to hunt for job candidates and potential employers routinely checking LinkedIn before they make hiring decisions, it’s worth reviewing your profile to make sure it does you the most good. Here are seven basic steps you can take to make your LinkedIn profile more powerful.
1. Customize your URL. Your URL (uniform resource locator) is the address of your LinkedIn page on the Web. Customizing it will drive it toward the top of a Google search on your name. On your profile page next to the rectangular grey “Edit” button to the right of your name, click on the drop-down menu, and then click on “Public profile settings.” Halfway down the page on the right side you’ll see a grey bar that says “Your public profile URL.” Underneath the bar, click on the blue phrase that says “Customize your public profile URL.” If you have an uncommon name, you can probably just plug in your first and last name. If that’s already taken, try your last name first, followed by your first name. If that’s taken, try adding a middle initial or a city abbreviation like “NYC.” Though I did this some time ago, I have a common name so I wound up writing a URL that’s my first name, middle initial (C) and last name, no punctuation and no spaces. This appears after the following: “linkedin.com/in/.”
2. Write a crisp, detailed summary of your career. Shoot for between 100 and 300 words, and try to tell a compelling story about yourself that includes specifics and quantifiable achievements. Use keywords and phrases that you would find in a job description that would interest you. For me, this means listing the topics I cover and emphasizing the kinds of stories I most like writing and editing. Also, because a headhunter might consider me for a job in media training, since I have broadcast experience, at the end of my summary I’ve added the phrase, “I’m interested in media training.”
3. Flesh out the experience section. This is your chance to write an online résumé. Many people only include their current job. Take the time to list the significant jobs that built your career. You don’t need to be exhaustive. In my experience section, I left off two jobs I had long ago, one as a support staffer at a PR firm in San Francisco and another as an administrative assistant at a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C. I was a glorified secretary in each of those jobs. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the jobs are only tangentially related to what I’m doing now, and they are ancient history (They aren’t on my résumé either.).
4. List your skills. Below Experience and Education you’ll find “Skills & Expertise.” LinkedIn introduced this feature in Feb. 2011, so if you created your profile before then, as I did, you may have never fleshed this out. Take a minimum of 10 minutes and do it. This section offers a shorthand way to tell potential employers what you can do. It also gives your connections the chance to “endorse” you for those skills, an option since Sept. 2012. I wrote a separate piece about LinkedIn endorsements. The bottom line is that, while some of us find that this feature can be annoying and meaningless (I was mystified when someone endorsed me for “celebrity,” whatever that means), endorsements are here to stay, so you might as well take the trouble to make sure they reflect your true strengths.
Add to your skills by clicking the grey “Edit” button next to your picture and typing a skill into the box under the Skills & Expertise heading. You can also put your cursor on the word “More” on the dark line at the top of your profile page and scroll down to “Skills & Expertise.” This takes you to a page where you can type in a word and a helpful list of related skills will appear on the left-hand side of the page. The page will also show you a list of people who have that skill in their profile and LinkedIn groups centered on that skill.
5. Get at least five recommendations. I wrote a separate article about recommendations here. In brief, though they can seem repetitive and gratuitous, they can also be helpful because not only do they show up on your LinkedIn page, they also appear on the page of the recommendation writer, and his or her connections can all read them. Also, recruiters do read them. Like your career summary, recommendations should include meaty specifics about skills and accomplishments. In the world of LinkedIn, it’s acceptable to offer to draft a recommendation for the person you’re asking to recommend you. (Admission: I haven’t practiced what I preach; I only have one recommendation, which a colleague volunteered to write after I did her a favor and guest-taught her class at Columbia, but I know I should ask other colleagues and former colleagues to write them.)
6. Add websites that showcase your work. For a journalist, this is easier than for other types of workers, since our writing gets posted online with ready Web addresses. For a designer or photographer, this is an opportunity to include a link to a personal website that showcases your work. If you’re in sales, you can link to customers.
7. Connect. Connections are the backbone of your LinkedIn profile, and what gives you the strength to network. For instance, if you’re interested in working for Company X and you see that one of your connections has a contact there, you can ask your connection to make an introduction to that contact for you. This happened to me just the other day when a friend who lives in Abu Dhabi was exploring a job at a money management firm in New York where I had a connection. I was happy to reach out to my former Forbes colleague who works there and put her in touch.
There are different views on how aggressively you should increase your list of connections. Maybe because I’m a journalist and PR people are always chasing me, I get four or five invitations to connect with people every day. Most of the time, I don’t know the person and wouldn’t dream of networking with them in real life. That is my rule of thumb, and the one LinkedIn professionals recommend: Do I know the person in a professional or personal context, and would I want to connect with the person on professional matters, face to face? Would I be willing to ask that person for an introduction, and would I be willing to make one for them, if they asked?
One the other hand, some people think you should connect with as many people as possible because of the compound effect of multiple connections. Forbes contributor Dan Schawbel, who has a hard-to-fathom 7,400 connections, has written a compelling argument here. He says that you appear more influential and more powerful to others if you have more than 500 connections.
When you send a request, always override the canned “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn,” and write a personal note, even if it’s a brief, “hey, want to connect?” Better yet, put a few minutes of effort into your request. No one likes to receive a form letter.