Step 2: LinkedIn profile tips to stand above every other candidate

This is step 2 of the road map to find your first (or next) job. Job seekers live on Indeed, but LinkedIn is where hiring managers and recruiters check you out before ever deciding to reach out. Follow these LinkedIn profile tips to put your best foot forward.

So without further ado, here’s how to make a killer LinkedIn profile.

There are a lot of bad resumes out there, but not all of them have to be.

It’s hard to create a badass resume when you don’t have too much experience under your belt, but there is definitely a way to make yourself stand out while you build up your experience and personal brand.

It all starts with your resume.

Table of Contents

(Pssst. Don’t be intimidated by the number of sections. They’re not long.)

How to use LinkedIn most effectively

How to create a professional head shot

Write your “why” in your headline section

Create your quantified job history (with media)

List your best academic credentials

Add every certification you have

Add skills and get endorsements for them

Build a collection of recommendations

Include all of your volunteer experience

Curate your interests and influencers

How to use LinkedIn effectively

LinkedIn advertises itself as a platform for job seekers, and it is… but not so much for graduates. Yes, it has job postings, but there are a few problems with them:

  • Postings don’t match to your skills and interest areas all that well.
  • It’s a slim collection of job listings compared to Indeed.
  • Most job listings that do appear are senior and mid-level anyway, which doesn’t help when you’re looking for entry-level work.

But you’re not here to search actively for job postings. Its recommendations aren’t great in my experience. Instead, you’re here to do three things by following these LinkedIn profile tips:

  1. Demonstrate your competence and fit for the role you want
  2. Inject rocket fuel into your personal brand
  3. Let recruiters know that you’re open to being approached

Some quick stats on LinkedIn to give you an idea of scope:

Users worldwide

Active users

Registered companies

It’s a pretty big deal as far as professional development goes, so it is 100% worth your time and effort to do it right.

Pro Tip: I was poached by my third employer through an external recruiter who didn’t even have a “premium” membership. She was just hustling and reached out to me through a private message, and it worked. Create a profile to get noticed in the same way.

That’s the real-life example of how you’ll benefit from an effective LinkedIn profile. You never know when it’s going to pay off, but you can absolutely create the preconditions for that payoff to occur.

How to create a professional headshot

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More views for profiles with headshots

You read that right. LinkedIn’s own internal data says that profiles with head shots are 21 times more likely to be viewed than profiles without one. It’s one of the most important LinkedIn profile tips you can put to use, but also one of the easiest to implement.

A different LinkedIn study says it increases your odds by 1,400% rather than 2,100%, but you get the idea. It is absolutely mandatory to have a headshot in your LinkedIn profile if you want to succeed here (and you will).

That means you can improve your chances of getting an interview on LinkedIn by 2,100% with a nice photo.

The jury is in on this one. Don’t leave your LinkedIn profile picture empty!

Just upload a nice, inoffensive headshot. You might end up working in a 100-year-old corporation, or you might work for a startup.

It’s also worth noting that having a half-decent picture is better than none at all.

Who on this list of marketing specialists isn’t going to get noticed?

But those cost money. How do you get one when you don’t have the job (and therefore money) to pay for one?

You might need to bite the bullet on this one, but it’ll probably set you back $75-$100 USD. That’s not bad when you weigh $100 against a year’s salaryespecially if you can get several different ones in the same take. Make sure to get digital shots in particular.

Here are your options to get a free professional headshot if you can’t afford one:

Free from friends or family

Find someone in your family or a friend of the family who has a decent camera. You’re not doing graduation photos here, so you can get a good shot just about anywhere. Meet up during a holiday gathering if you’re in different cities, or even borrow the equipment and have a friend take the actual shot.

Discounted or free from classmates

The odds are pretty good that an amateur photographer can be found on campus, and they’ll be looking for work and new portfolio items. Ask around in school clubs and post requests on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace.

Barter services

You may need to combine this tactic with one of the others. This is just an alternate way to pay the photographer, since they can’t pay rent with “exposure.” Offer to write or touch up their resume (or LinkedIn profile, now that you’re reading about it). Provide value in return.

For example, my brother-in-law is a hobbyist shutterbug—and he’s good, too. He has professional-grade cameras and everything. I could have asked him for one if I hadn’t moved away from home for grad school and my career so far. In fact, I could have still planned ahead and asked him to do it before visiting for a holiday dinner.

I wish I’d thought of that 5 years ago. Anyway…

Once you have them, you can experiment with different filters. I’m not photogenic (at all), so I uploaded mine into Canva and adjusted the filters to make it black and white.

Predictable, yet tasteful.

If you absolutely don’t have a photo and are 110% sure no one in your circle can do a quick headshot for you, then try a graduation photo—but understand that the convocation robes will send a subliminal signal to recruiters that you’re not experienced enough.

A word to the wise: $100 for a photo could tip the scales in your favour toward a job paying tens of thousands of dollars per year. It’s a good trade-off.

Write your “why” in your headline section

Writing clear and effective headlines is another one of those simple but important LinkedIn profile tips. This is a genuine exercise in writing copy. You need to explain who you are, what you do, and how you’re qualified in one or two sentences.

Include these aspects:

  • What drives you or makes you tick.
  • Your value proposition (the value you bring).
  • Your experience (to reinforce your value proposition).
  • Appropriate industry language… but not if you’re trying to land a role in an agency or marketing.

Exclude these things at all costs:

  • Too many acronyms
  • Exaggeration
  • “Graduate looking for new opportunities”
  • “Innovator”
  • “Disruptor”
  • “Currently seeking employment”
  • “Jack of all trades”

For example: my headline used to be “Professional SEO, Content Manager, and Google Analytics Power User.”

Not bad—there’s a lot packed into that headline, and employers are going to notice the skill set.

But it was missing two things:

  1. The result of my skills.
  2. Why I do it at all.

I changed it to: “Generates traffic for growing companies to grow even further with integrated SEO, content, and Google Analytics.”

Use This Resume Sample Writing as a Template

The trick is to add concrete information to your resume in order to give a sense of scope to the role, even if you don’t have that official data on hand. For example, here’s what my position as a Teaching Assistant looks like on paper through the lenses of tasks vs. quantification:

q

Problem

Every business has problems, pain points, or goals. These prompt you to start projects and solve problems. Outline it clearly and briefly.

Action

With the problem established for context, explain what you did to solve the problem. 

Result

Explain how your actions created a positive result for the organixation. Connect it to revenue if possible, too!

Every company faces business challenges, and that’s why they hire employees. As an employee or freelancer of some kind (even a volunteer), you’re solving those problems. It doesn’t mean you need to achieve world peace, though. Just figure out what value your actions brought to the organization and make sure they live on your resume.

Create your quantified job history (with media)

This part will be easy if you remade your resume with quantifiable achievements in Step 1. If you didn’t, then go do that right now.

I’ll wait.

Ready? Great.

The simplest way to beef up your resume is to copy and paste your quantified achievements into each role you’ve had within your profile’s section for work history.

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of the American workforce is bound by NDAs.

The only concern here is that some of those points may be confidential, or just sensitive information for the business. According to Harvard Business Review, at least one-third of the American workforce is bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

If that’s the case then I suggest turning the metric into a percent instead of a hard number. It’s one of the more subtle LinkedIn profile tips I’ve used to make my profile more competitive, and it works.

For example, I’d be remiss if I published how much traffic I generated for my employer. But competitors are none the wiser if I say that I increased traffic by 1,200%. It’s accurate and protects your employer’s sensitive data—which is a win for everybody.

Round it out with media

Nothing spices up a job entry like some videos or published pages. They do a lot of subtle work to make your profile more readable, such as:

Adding flair to your profile

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Making achievements scannable

Demonstrating your contributions

Showcasing your cultural fit

Proving claims about your results

Demonstrating you’ve parted on good terms

All of those subtle benefits add up, sending trust signals to the hiring manager viewing your profile. The last point is probably the most subtle of them all, and just as important. By associating yourself with your past employers, championing their culture, and interacting with them publicly on LinkedIn, you’ll demonstrate that you left on good terms.

That tips off the hiring manager of your ability to build and maintain positive relationships with your coworkers—even when you’re not forced to do so just to get along in the office.

List your best academic credentials

You don’t need to go crazy with this one, but don’t be afraid to show your high grades and extracurricular credentials here.

Being like Brooklyn 99’s Amy Santiago is a good thing, here. Like most good LinkedIn profile tips, this one adds an extra layer of professionalism.

More to the point: everybody has a bachelor’s degree these days, so it doesn’t hurt to throw in anything extra you’ve worked for to add that little boost to your profile. Besides, you could be found through an alumni connection that you never knew existed.

List these components in your Education section:

All degrees & institutions where you earned them

Sports teams

Clubs you’ve helped organize

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Featured work in student publications

Research & teaching assistant positions

Volunteer activities

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Presentations you’ve given

Events you’ve helped organize

Your post-secondary blurbs

This is what marketers would call “body copy.” 80% of people just read the headlines (section headers in this case), but you can use it to sway that extra 20% of people who do read it.

Summarize what you accomplished and frame it as an experience that prepared you—or even propelled you—into your current field.

For example, you can see my entry for my Master’s Degree in History here. It describes what I did, but not why an employer should care.

Here’s what it looks now:

Old version:

“The ______ History Department accepted me with several entrance scholarships. I served as a teaching assistant for undergraduate seminars and volunteered as a Book Review Editor during my studies, and defended my major research paper in December 2014.”

New version:

“The ___ History Department accepted me with several entrance scholarships. I learned to communicate complex ideas to diverse audiences as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, mentoring 40 students per semester. I also recruited contributors for an academic journal, created a database of contributors, and implemented its strict editorial guidelines while also writing my own book review. I defender my major research paper in December of 2014.”

See the difference? I explained why those post-secondary experiences matter to my professional development and how they allowed me to develop the skills I bring to the table today. Even though I decided to put my academic goals on hold, my time in graduate school could still be framed as a stepping stone to  current and future roles.

Add media from or about your school

Just like each role in your Job History section, you can add multimedia links to each subsection of your education.

Use them! Making use of media is one of the most underrated LinkedIn profile tips you can put to use. Most people just don’t do it.

  • Wrote in a student paper? Link to it.
  • Did your department create a promotional video? Link to it.
  • Did your school make a feel-good promo ad about “starting your future now?” Link to it (if it’s not awful).
  • Did it rank well in a recent college comparison article? Link to it.

Keep it to two pieces of media, though. It creates more virtual real estate for the subsection without getting overwhelming, and it creates a simple-but-effective symmetry.

Add every certification you have

These are important for entry-level positions where the liberal arts are concerned. You’re already fighting workplace prejudice that’s inclined to discount your education as a qualification.

That’s why you need to build up your skill set. It shows hiring managers several things:

You’re more qualified than the rest for the industry

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You can learn technical skills, not just soft skills

You’re able and willing to grow over the long haul

Getting these certifications can differ wildly depending on the industry where you want to work.

For example, becoming a Certified Legal Assistant via the National Association of Legal Assistants Inc. requires:

  1. A diploma from an institution approved by the American Bar Association
  2. 60 semester hours of work in the program

In contrast, bite-sized technical certifications have proliferated in the digital marketing industry because they also promote products and platforms that are shaping it. You can easily get your foot in the door with these:

  • Google Analytics’ Beginner, Advanced, and Power User courses
  • Hootsuite Platform Certification
  • Unbounce’s Landing Page Course
  • Hubspot Academy

That single certified designation as a paralegal takes more time to earn than all of those digital marketing certificates combined, of course—it differs between industries. Keep that in mind for the industry in which you want to work, and don’t get too hung up on how many you have. Focusing on quality over quantity is one of the better LinkedIn profile tips you can follow, here.

What if I don’t have the right certifications?

In truth, employers’ tendency to expect proficiency with a specific platform or technology can be pretty obtuse. You’ll need legitimate certificates for regulated professional fields, but technology- or product-specific certificates usually aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

For example, employers might list familiarity with Salesforce as a key skill for a role, when in reality you could do a great job just by understanding how any similar product works (CRM or Customer Relationship Management software, in this example). You can learn some of Salesforce’s specific features and quirks on the job.

Employers worth your time will understand that. That’s the other big reason to focus on quality over quantity here.

Employers or recruiters might not even know about the best certifications or tools for the role. Imagine how surprised and delighted they’ll be to find a candidate who understands the credentials necessary for the job even better than they do. You can allude to that in your cover letter, emails, a follow-up, or a thank-you

That’s the person they should be looking for, and the better employers out there know it. Take a step toward growing into that person by earning the right certifications out there

Add skills and get endorsed for them (one of the harder LinkedIn profile tips)

Your skills matter. They’re not just there for show, either—they actually get factored into LinkedIn’s search algorithms when hiring managers and recruiters use LinkedIn to find aspiring professionals just like you.

Pick your top 10 and add them to your profile. Order them from most to least relevant from the top downward.

Then start hustling.

Get in touch with everyone you trust who has a LinkedIn profile and ask them to endorse you for your 10 skills. What’s in it for them? You’ll endorse them right back, of course.

LinkedIn isn’t some kind of zero-sum game. You don’t lose anything or give up anything by endorsing other people for skills, even if they’re in the same niche as you.

Even if they’re competing in the same industry space as you for a job, there’s no guarantee they will or won’t get a job. They could network somewhere through family or friends. They could fall flat on their faces after some bad interviews. They could fall into obscurity because they’re not promoting their portfolios.

One of the best LinkedIn profile tips I can give you here is to focus on helping yourself rather than holding back other competitors. There are just too many entry-level competitors out there for withholding endorsements to make any kind of positive impact on your job search.

So, what skills can you list on your profile fresh out of college? Try out these for a start:

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Persuasive writing

Everybody thinks they can write effectively. Most of them are wrong. Leverage those four years of crafting argumentation, flow, tempo, and the rhetorical triangle to demonstrate your skills.

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Research

Scientific research involves carefully designated experiments. Your version of research is a rapid collection and investigation of crucial information. Out-read the competition.

Information literacy

How does most of the population sift through megabytes of irrelevant information to find the crucial details that make or break a project? It doesn’t. But you’ve been trained for it.

Public speaking

Remember all of those seminars where participation counted? This is why. Being able to lead a discussion with relevant information and emotional intelligence is a cornerstone of professional development.

Publishing

Remember memorizing the Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Languages Association editorial guidelines? Apply those learnings and adapt to professional style guides.

Teaching

If you went through graduate school then you’ve likely had the chance to teach. You might have even assissted a professor in your undergraduate career. This is a highly transferrable skill in leading teams to success.

Build a collection of recommendations

Written recommendations go above and beyond a few quick skill endorsements. They’re deliberate call-outs to your character, work ethic, and skills.

They’re references built right into your profile, and that’s invaluable. Aside from getting a proper headshot and quantifying your work history, this is one of the most important LinkedIn profile tips anyone can give you: get recommendations.

Yes, you’ll probably need to provide formal references for just about any job application, but imagine how much more trusted your name will be with a few glowing recommendations plastered right on your profile?

A lot. The answer is a lot.

Ask for these right after doing good work on a project, even if it’s a little awkward. This is one of the key elements of building your personal brand on LinkedIn. If you’re taking on free projects to build your portfolio (which we’ll get to later), then a glowing written recommendation really is the absolute least the other person can do for you.

Never stop accumulating these.

Don’t feel awkward about going back to people you worked with in the past to ask for these, either. Just catch up a little, say that you’re on a mission to build your career, and you thought this would go a long way toward that goal.

Ask coworkers you trust

Your current coworkers might not have illustrious careers yet, but they can provide up-to-date testaments to your character. Start here with one or two people you trust enough to approach.

Ask past supervisors

Don’t feel abashed at asking for a recommendation. It’s just a reference that you publish, and the working world has operated on references for a long, long time. You’ll recommend others too, in time.

Ask past professors

Professors aren’t all aloof. They tap students for research projects, proctoring, and even teaching assistance on a regular basis. Ask some of them to endorse you for your work!

Ask past classmates

Not every reference needs to come from a supervisor. Hiring managers will value seeing how your peers view you (if they’re smart). It’s a sign that you treat everyone with respect, not just the person paying you.

Ask other volunteers or club members

Chances are good that you were involved in at least one extracurricular activity in college. Ask someone to do you a solid and talk about the culture you fostered or the work and ideas you contributed.

Ask coaches and teammates

Coaches are probably the ultimate source for character references, and character is going to take you very, very far if you have the technical skills to qualify for a role. It might even help you overcome some technical gaps on your resume.

Include all of your volunteer experience

This can include your unpaid portfolio projects that you’ll work on in future steps, but be sure to add whatever you can right here.

My own volunteer experiences include:

  1. Consultant for a local heritage organization
  2. College club leader

There are a lot of other kinds of volunteer roles, though. See if any of these trigger a memory for you—and if you’re still in school, then consider applying for one of these roles or one like them:

Help run a campus club

Contribute to a campus magazine or blog

Volunteer for an academic student journal

Assist with archival research

Assist with lab or behavioral experiments

Help organize and lead campus events

Help running campus tours

Manage campus social media pages and groups

Help train service dogs

Help with fundraising campaigns

Tutor students and organize study groups

Help out at the library

Assist elderly communities

Aid community restoration projects

Do administration work in clinics

It’s straightforward to get some work experience here because the work is free, by definition. It’s better if the cause or organization does something that you believe in, but it doesn’t have to be for you to build out this section of your profile.

At the end of the day you want to be able to show employers that you have the strength of character to donate your time and skills to a cause larger than yourself. That in itself goes a long way toward answering their questions about your sense of responsibility, growth, and ethics. It’s one of the smaller LinkedIn profile tips, but it’s a nice touch. You never know which hiring managers lend more weight to volunteer experience than others.

Curate your interests and influencers

This component isn’t the most important one out there, but it’s a nice touch. I’ve noticed it while reviewing resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

Who are the thought leaders in your industry? Which companies set the bar for excellence? Hell, which companies do you want to work for?

Follow them all.

To make it easy for you, LinkedIn has actually started publishing a list of its top influencers for the last 4 years. Most of them are fairly generic, reaching a celebrity status, but it’s a good place to start levelling up your news feed and elevating the level of your professional conversations.

I also have a list of some thought leaders that challenge me to grapple with and implement new ideas regularly, if that list doesn’t do it for you:

Simon Sinek

The man who coined the term “start with why,” which is as critical to business branding as it is to personal branding. This guy’s the real deal.

Seth Godin

The original thought leader, Seth Godin has written more books than I could read when I started. He has a daily email list, too.

Jason Fried

The CEO of Basecamp has a lot of insightful and immediately practical things to share. He sees the intersection of culture, strategy, and profitability like few others.

Avinash Kaushik

A pioneer of web analytics, which you’ll almost certainly encounter in some form throughout your career (especially  in marketing!).

Andy Crestodina

Read his work long enough and you’ll learn that he isn’t just teaching you about marketing, but how to build relationships that pay off.

Liz Ryan

What list would be complete without Liz Ryan? I’ve been following her since I first signed up for LinkedIn in 2014, and she’s taught me a lot about professional self-worth. I highly recommend her work!

Only the most scrutinizing recruiter or employer will notice them on your profile, but the real value here is how these interests will shape your LinkedIn news feed. It will keep you informed about industry trends, the newest frontiers, and it will give you a feel for the prevailing attitudes in your  industry—if you genuinely follow them and read the comments.

In turn, that gives you an edge during interviews, networking events, and in earning visibility on LinkedIn itself.

The finished product and next steps after these LinkedIn profile tips

By the end of this road map you should have:

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Knowledge of how to use LinkedIn effectively

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A professional headshot for LinkedIn

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A professional  headline for your profile

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A quantified job history with multimedia

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Academic credentials listed in detail

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Every certification you have, listed

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Skills and written endorsements

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Volunteer experience and a curated influencer list

Those are the most important LinkedIn profile tips you can follow to cultivate a professional presence. With a solid resume in hand and a compelling LinkedIn profile published online, you’re ready to take that professional profile to watering holes where hiring managers and recruiters live.

Those places are Indeed and LinkedIn (no surprise there!). We’ll show you how to boost your visible searches per month, how to let recruiters know they should contact you, and how to make job notifications come to you.