linked-inMany people refer to LinkedIn (LNKD) as Facebook for professionals, and while it has some of the same capabilities, including statuses complete with a “like” option and a wall complete with stories from the pages of your connections, the intended purpose of the platform necessitates different guidelines in order to use it successfully. The first step to using LinkedIn is making sure that you have a well-crafted profile.

If you have an account or are preparing to set one up, keep a few questions front of mind: What is the primary purpose for setting up this account? How do I plan to impact my career or accomplish my goals by using this profile as a tool? How do I want the professional world to perceive me? Ask yourself these questions early for the initial setup, and often for the consistent updates that you should be making during various stages in your career or as your mission changes.

So how do we craft a “connect worthy” profile? Let’s break down the components.

The Marquee

Every profile has a banner that will come up in the LNKD search engine.  I treat this area like the headline of a news article; if you want someone to read the copy you’ve got to have a compelling lead. The marquee consists of several pieces of information, most importantly:

Your Name. Searches by former employers or those that you are applying with are usually conducted by name so use whatever is on your resume. While many Facebook users have started to bury their profiles by inserting middle names or aliases, LinkedIn is meant to drive professional connections and shouldn’t be a place that you want to hide.

Your Picture. This is for the people that are still opting to keep the default shadow photo or who haven’t gotten around to taking a picture yet. While I wouldn’t submit a headshot with a resume, a LinkedIn profile without a picture is incomplete. Using your latest corporate head shot is always a good choice. If you’re in a creative field you can take a little more license with your photo than I would suggest for someone who is a financial professional. Ultimately stick with something that represents you as a professional – this doesn’t include your recent wedding photo, day out with the kids, beach pics, or certified cat lover moment (I’ve seen them all and highly recommend against it).  If you must opt for the ubiquitous selfie, may I recommend using the timer option and choosing your angles wisely? Those two small skills can go a long way to changing perception.

Your Tagline. Use this space wisely! Take the opportunity to input a search savvy description of your areas of expertise.  Many people have begun using quippy descriptions that I could do without. Stay away from terms like “ninja”, “magician”, and “wizard” – all of which have been used. Direct terms based on what you do, skills you offer, or fields of experience will drive profile views – isn’t that the goal?

Summary

Think of this section as a cover letter or a chance to brag a little.  What would you want someone to know about your accomplishments at a glance?  This is the perfect place to highlight what you have accomplished and how you could make a company better.  Ultimately, SELL YOURSELF! For instance, “Grew a $2M book of business by 45% in three months” could be a compelling reason for an employer or new contact to seek you out. If you’re lacking in work experience, try something that demonstrates your ability to take on projects or willingness to work hard, such as, “Organized campus voter registration drive.”

Experience

Since this aspect of your profile is structured like a resume, it’s a no brainer. My primary recommendation: keep it honest, accurate and up to date! My profile includes the freelance or contributing work that I do as a blogger and writer as well as the details of my current “day job.”  If you’re concerned about your employer being aware of any moonlighting that you may do, use your best judgment.

When it comes to honesty, remember that everything is verifiable so don’t mislead anyone about your dates of employment, titles, or responsibilities. The people that view your profiles have easy access to your connections, including co-workers and former supervisors, making fact checking easier than it was in the “pick up and dial” days.

Skills and Endorsements

Dig deep for this portion!  This area can be a driver in keyword searches. Start with the basics of your most recent position and use the details from your Experience section to be sure that you don’t leave anything out. If you’re having a tough time with this, I would suggest listing out the things that you have been successful at, projects you participated in, and abilities that you have demonstrated through volunteerism and hobbies. Once you have that list begin adding them to your skill section and don’t be afraid to ask your connections for endorsements which are often less time consuming and easier to get than recommendations.

Education

Simply put, list the education that you’ve completed or credits gained that would are instrumental to your field of interest. People can be partial to their alma mater so it’s not a bad way to gain a few additional connections.

Additional Info

The very small portion of me that may be wearing a conservative pant suit and sensible shoes cringes at this aspect of LinkedIn.  I’ve seen enough of these sections that read like a dating ad to be uncomfortable suggesting that you fill it in for the sake of “checking a box.” Remember that LinkedIn is ultimately a professional tool.  If you aren’t 100% sure that what you say in this section is relevant to the network that you are aiming to create it’s a good idea to edit it out.

When you’ve completed your profile, make sure that you review your privacy settings and make yourself “searchable.” While it seems like a lot of work initially, keep in mind that this is a necessary networking tool and use it effectively, that’s actually where the fun begins!