Your LinkedIn headline is an underrated but highly important part of creating an all-star profile. Other than your picture, it’s the first thing that hiring managers see about you—even before they click on your profile in most cases.
I’ve been without a job and I know exactly how anxiety-inducing it can be to update your profile while trying to pretend that everything’s fine when it really, really isn’t. That’s why we’re going to cover LinkedIn headlines for the unemployed on this page.
Note: You can also learn how to write LinkedIn headlines for students here.
Ineffective LinkedIn headlines for the unemployed
Before getting to the good stuff, let’s do a quick recap on what not to write in your headline. Avoid phrases like these:
- Open to new opportunities
- Seeking new role
- Looking for work
- Open to work
- Former [insert role here]
Don’t focus on what you were doing or the professional identity that used to define you (hopefully not too much!). There are a few reasons:
- The role in your headline contributes to your visibility in recruiter searches, so you don’t want to waste that real estate.
- Although it’s unfair, some recruiters and hiring managers are biased against job seekers, exclusively pursuing other employed professionals.
- Reserving that headline space for your role will entice more hiring managers to click on your profile because they’ll see the role that corresponds to their hiring needs.
- Highlighting your unemployed status can be construed as desperate (even though that’s often unfair).
Case in point: what do you think when you read these real-life LinkedIn headlines for the unemployed profiles in this picture?
They don’t inspire confidence, do they? That’s why you should focus on these elements instead:
- The role you want
- Your qualifications
- Challenges you love solving
- Your quantifiable track record (if you have one)
You can also add a subtle but noticeable frame to your profile image that says “looking for work.” The platform introduced this feature when COVID-19 hit because so many people went out of work almost overnight. and it has become a staple best practice on LinkedIn ever since. It works quite effectively to signal that you’re available for work without seeming desperate.
Brand yourself as a consultant or a freelancer
You may need a “current role” to fill your work history. As I mentioned above, plenty of hiring managers and recruiters only pursue people who are already employed, self-employed, or working on some kind of project.
It’s not healthy, but hiring managers and recruiters tend to possess a significant bias against gaps in your work history. I discovered this the hard way when I was unemployed for 9 months straight, but it’s true—and that bias tends to manifest when they scan your resume.
You won’t have a chance to explain a gap on your resume if the hiring manager throws yours in the garbage, and you’d never know how or why your name was passed up. Some employers just assume you were fired for cause or were too lazy to find a job (or too incompetent). It’s toxic and it’s not fair, but it is a reality of the job market. I’ve dealt with it more than a few times.
The solution is pretty straightforward, though. Brand yourself as a consultant. Look at the people who do that below.
LinkedIn consultants would tell you the same thing to cover a gap in your work history, and for good reason. Here’s why it works:
- It covers your career gap in case judgmental hiring managers care about that sort of thing.
- It makes you look proactive. Working for yourself shows character.
- You can get real work experience with real companies to improve your resume.
- People come to you for advice on your area of expertise.
- Networking works much, much faster as a consultant.
Seriously, it works. If you’re willing to network and to actually take on some work projects for the experience and new connections, then you’ll find that people circle back with you. It takes a few months to see those results, but that’s the case with everything related to your personal brand.
Refer to the role you want (or had)
If you aren’t comfortable with the consultant or freelancing angle, then you can just double-down on the role that you’d normally fill. You can identify yourself by the role you held or the role you want, so long as it’s not an unreasonable stretch.
The first reason is that the LinkedIn algorithm factors in keywords on your profile, including your headline. If recruiters are looking for a paralegal, then you want to make sure that your headline contains “paralegal.” Look at how these professionals identify themselves in the image below.
The second reason is that you want to convey confidence. So what if you’re unemployed? If you can do the job well and you have the experience to back that up, then let the world know what you do for a living. Yes, even if no one’s paying you a salary at the moment.
Emphasize your achievements
Even if you aren’t sure exactly what kind role you want (such as a manager or specialist), you can still speak to the achievements that have defined your career so far. This is a gambit. Normally it’s not wise to focus on your past when you’re unemployed (as I wrote above), but in some circumstances you can get a leg up on the competition by highlighting a big achievement.
For example: if I were let go today, I could write a headline that says “grew website traffic to 50K visits per month from scratch.” That will get the attention of the right kinds of businesses I’d want to work for.
Check out the headlines of the profiles in the image below. You’d never know they were unemployed just by reading their profiles. If you found out they were, then you might even view it as an opportunity to scoop them up before anyone else does.
You could try some of these, depending on the job you want:
- “Saved $20,000 per year in operating costs”
- “Placed dozens of successful candidates last year”
- “Identified business opportunities worth $30,000 in annual revenue”
- “Wrote headline stories read by 100,000 people in [your region]”
The caveat is that you need the experience to make that kind of LinkedIn headline for the unemployed to actually work. You can’t catch hiring managers’ attention with bold claims if you don’t have the experience to back it up.
If you’re a young professional or recent graduate then you find yourself unable to draw on work experience you don’t have yet, and that’s okay. In my Job Roadmap I outline exactly how to find businesses and consultants that need help and how to propose limited work projects with them to build your resume.
Focusing on your past tasks makes for a poor headline, but focusing on how much you contributed toward your last project(s) shows that you aren’t just posturing.
Other tips for the unemployed
Creating a good LinkedIn headline is a good start, but there’s a lot more to making the network help along your job search. You might even need a LinkedIn profile makeover to get noticed more often.
First, convey your character. Everyone loves a hard worker and a lifelong learner. You can do this in your headline, your summary, in your work history, and in your activity. Show hiring managers know that you’re willing to hustle—but don’t lay it on too heavily. Excessive humble bragging and virtue signaling makes candidates look desperate and even inauthentic.
Second, you can change the dates on your work history to reflect just years instead of including months. If you were laid off in March 2021, you could just have your work history end in 2021 to disguise the work gap.
Third (and perhaps most importantly), try to earn some LinkedIn recommendations from people who have worked with you. These are essentially built-in references that add serious credibility to your profile.
That’s how to write a LinkedIn headline for the unemployed period in your life. Keep your head held high and remember your value.
Happy job hunting!
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