LinkedIn is where professionals live. Job seekers live on Indeed, but this is where hiring managers and recruiters check you out before ever deciding to reach out or not.

That’s what makes it so important to nail your profile.

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

A Quick Note on How to Use LinkedIn (and How Not to)

It has job postings too, but there are a few problems with them:

  • Postings don’t match to your skills and interest areas all that well
  • It’s a narrow pool of job listings compared to Indeed
  • Most job listings that do appear are senior and mid-level anyway

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:

  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:

  • 630,000,000 users
    • 177,000,000 in North America
    • 198,000,000 in Europe
    • 90,000,000 in Latin America
    • 165,000,000 in Asia and the Pacific
  • 260,000,000 active users
  • 2 new users join every second (on average)
  • 30,000,000 companies are registered

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.

You never know when it’s going to pay off, but you can absolutely create the preconditions for that to happen.

Upload a Professional Headshot

I can’t stress this enough. It’s so simple, but some people still screw it up.

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. According to LinkedIn’s internal data, having a profile picture increases the odds of viewing your profile by 1,400%. Yes, 14 times the effectiveness.

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 not bad, especially 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 professional headshot:

  • For free from a friend or family
  • For free or discounted from a classmate or acquaintance
  • Barter for services with a junior photographer or graduate

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 (like, 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 one, then try a graduation photo—but understand that the convocation robes will send a subliminal signal to recruiters that you’re not experienced enough.

Write Your “Why” in Your Headline Section

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.

Here are the key points you need to include:

  1. Your value proposition (the value you bring)
  2. Your experience
  3. Industry language (unless you’re freelancing)

Exclude these things:

  1. Too many acronyms
  2. Exaggeration
  3. “Graduate looking for new opportunities”
  4. “Innovator”
  5. “Disruptor”
  6. “Currently seeking employment”
  7. Jack of all trades”

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’s missing two things:

  1. The result
  2. Why I do it

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

Now that says a lot. By condensing “Google Analytics” into “analytics” and shuffling those skills into the best-supporting-actor category, I’ve made room to explain my results and my mission at the front.

As a recent graduate, you might not have the skills or the experience to know your “mission” yet—and that’s okay. Try variations on these kinds of missions:

  • Making X accessible to Y with Z
  • Fixing bad Y with good Z
  • Making X better with Y
  • Doing X through Y to accomplish Z

Create Your Quantified Job History

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.

The only concern here is that some of those points may be confidential, or just sensitive information for the business. If that’s the case then I suggest turning the metric into a percent instead of a hard number.

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% on my channel. It’s accurate and protects your employer’s sensitive data—which is a win for everybody.

Once you have your achievements in order and screened for non-disclosures, I’d recommend that you write a few sentences introducing the reader to the role. Explain what you learned and why it matters for the kind of job you want right now.

Remember to Add Media

Nothing spices up a job entry like some videos or published pages. They do a lot of subtle work for your profile:

  • Adding colour to your role
  • Breaking up the monotony of reading accomplishments
  • Demonstrating your contributions via blogs or videos
  • Showcasing the culture of your past workplaces
  • Proving that your experiences are all real
  • Showing that you left on good enough terms to showcase the workplace

List Specific 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.

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:

  • Undergraduate degree and institution
  • Graduate or Professional degree and institution, if applicable
  • Sports activity
  • Club and/or volunteer activities
  • Presentations you might have given
  • Work appearing in student publications

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 like now:

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.

Add Media From or About Your Schools

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

Use them!

  • 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 Your Certifications

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 skills toolkit.

It shows hiring managers several things:

  1. You’re more qualified than the rest for the industry in question
  2. You can learn technical skills, not just soft skills
  3. 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 digital marketing, you can get bite-sized technical certifications, frequently offered by platforms themselves:

  • 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 as many or more hours than all of those digital marketing certificates combined. One is worth more than the other, pound-for-pound.

So don’t get too hung up on how many you have. Focus on quality over quantity.

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.

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 and

Add Skills and Get Endorsed for Them

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 their motivation? 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.

Focus on helping yourself rather than holding back other competitors. There are just too many entry-level competitors out there for that to make any kind of positive impact on your job search.

Ask People for 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.

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 to building your personal brand on LinkedIn. If you’re taking on free projects to build your portfolio, then a glowing written recommendation really is the absolute least the other person can do for you. Never stop accumulating these.

Include 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

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.

There’s a right place and a wrong place to fall on this one, folks.

Follow Your Relevant Influencers and Companies

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.

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 newsfeed. 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 discussions.

Haven’t had any interviews? Write blog posts exploring those ideas on your portfolio website or LinkedIn itself.

Next Steps

Excellent work! You should have a decked-out LinkedIn profile that will be the envy of every other graduate in the land.

Even though you’ll be moving your focus toward other aspects of building your personal career brand, you should look to grow your profile with some input from your friends, family, classmates, and volunteer groups.

  1. Activate the setting for “let recruiters know I’m open.”
  2. Reach out to people to endorse you for specific skills on your profile
  3. Reach out to people you can trust for awesome written endorsements
  4. Add your portfolio website to your profile when it’s done
  5. Continue to build out your job history, certifications, and volunteer experiences

Great stuff! Next, we’ll look at creating your portfolio website and the process you need to follow to make it happen (whether you have a budget for it or not).