For better or worse, social media has changed the way business happens. One of its biggest effects has been on how we judge credibility in others. In the past, we would extend provisional trust to new connections. When we met someone, for example through a referral or at a professional event, our starting point would be to trust them. We would then build a relationship and a foundation of credibility underneath it.
These days, because information is so easy to access, that process has inverted. It’s easy to research someone before we decide to do business with them. We’re giving more and more credibility to the information we find online, and a quick Google search can often spell the end of a business relationship before it ever starts. Sharing your career story online is critical – especially for career veterans who have may not have polished that story online.
I worked with an executive in the financial services publishing world. He had over 30 years of experience and was amazingly accomplished…and none of it came through online. A quick search turned up a half-finished LinkedIn profile and a brief bio on his company page. Here was someone who regularly met with leaders in the business world, and he looked like a new kid to the industry.
Whether we are looking for a new job, new clients, or the next step in your career, you have to be aware of the message you are sharing online. You can’t be a digital ghost anymore. We research restaurants on Yelp, our electronics on Amazon, and yes, people are researching you on LinkedIn.
Here are some easy ways to make sure that you are sharing your career story on LinkedIn.
1. Include a High-Quality (and Recent) Headshot
“But they’ll see my gray hair!” Of all the parts of the LinkedIn profile, picking the right photo seems to cause the most stress. It’s especially challenging for non-“digital natives” who didn’t grow up using technology. Sharing your photo on LinkedIn is easy for those who are used to taking selfies all of the time. But what if you aren’t used to that?
From concerns about looking too old and unattractive, to problems with agism in the hiring process, many experienced professionals wish they could just hide behind the default “head” on LinkedIn. But that doesn’t work for a host of reasons. Profiles with photos get almost eight times more traffic that those that don’t. People are visual – we like to see who we are connecting with. When there’s no photo attached to a profile, people don’t trust that there’s an actual person on the other side of the connection.
Here’s how to use the photo to your advantage. Get a good, high-quality headshot. The most important thing you are looking to do is create consistency between the experience and knowledge you are describing in your profile, and the person in the picture. Your viewer is going to look at your face, but also your clothing and the background. If everything doesn’t fit together, you lose credibility points. You photo shouldn’t be an afterthought, it’s one of the most important parts of the profile.
2. Use the About Section to Tell a Story
Most professionals spend very little time on their LinkedIn Profile About Section. Many of us are uncomfortable with writing in general, and almost everyone is uncomfortable writing about themselves. But your summary is one of the most important parts of your profile because it’s one of the few places that is a completely blank slate. You can write whatever you would like!
Avoid copying and pasting your objective from your resume. Picture your ideal visitor (prospect, client, hiring manager, etc.) in your mind and ask yourself “What do they want to know about me?” It can help to imagine them sitting across the table from you. Think about what you would want to tell them about your career and your professional experience.
Keep it short. Three to four short paragraphs is usually long enough to tell your story but short enough that you won’t lose visitors’ attention. It can be good to start with a brief paragraph that outlines your current work or what you’ve done in your career up to this point. Follow that with the highlights of your unique skills and experiences, and then finish with what you are looking to do in the future.
3. Create a Story Arc with Your Experience Section
LinkedIn started as a way for professionals to connect with new jobs. For the first few years, people approached their Profile as a digital extension of their resume. In fact, for a while there was a LinkedIn feature that allowed you to upload your resume directly into your profile. This combined with the structure of the Experience section (company name, title, date,etc…) to make is seem like you should be recreating your resume online.
This approach has two problems. First, no one wants to read your resume. No one curls up on the couch with a glass of wine and a stack for resumes for fun. More importantly, you miss out on the chance to tell the story of your career. When you’ve been in the workplace for decades, you have a wealth of experience and knowledge that won’t come through if you just list off the facts of your employment.
For each entry in the Experience section, include a 2-3 sentence description of the work you did and the skills and experiences that you developed there. That’s what your reader wants to know: how did your previous work influence and inform you work today. In other words, how can your past experience help them! You don’t have to start at the very beginning of your career, but go back as far as is relevant to your career arc. If you started in your industry as a college intern, then maybe it makes sense to go back that far. Usually though, you can leave off the first job or two that you used to get your feet wet.
Many professionals bemoan online networking as a time waster and another thing to add to their already packed schedules. Used correctly, though, sites like LinkedIn can be used to make your current work easier, more effective, and more efficient. I’ll see you online!