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A Comprehensive Guide to Building Your LinkedIn Profile

by Maggie Graham, MEd, CPCC

Whether you’re starting from scratch or you just want to be sure that you haven’t neglected any part of your LinkedIn profile, this checklist is reassurance that you’re on top of your professional social media presence. From top to bottom, here’s what you need to build:

Background Photo

Add some visual appeal to your profile by uploading a photo that represents your brand. You have 1584 pixels x 396 pixels tucked in behind your profile photo, and that space defaults to a blue background and some lines and dots. It’s fine to leave that generic art intact, but if you take the time to customize that space, you demonstrate your technical prowess on LinkedIn.

If you have a Premium membership on LinkedIn, you’ll be able to access an image gallery and select from those options, but there are plenty of sites that offer royalty-free images at no charge. One that I reference often is The Stocks, and there are multiple sites available there. Two of my favorites include Pixabay and Pexels. You might search for images of your service or product, something that highlights your geographic location (either locally such as your office building or a skyline of NYC if you’re located there), classic images associated with your industry, or the logo of your business. If you’re at a loss, simply search for images using the term “abstract” on a royalty-free image site and select one that has colors and shapes that align with your brand. If you want to get very creative, you could use Canva to build a customized background image for your LinkedIn profile.

Specific constraints for your background photos include:

  • Size cannot exceed 8MB.
  • It’s useful to crop the image so that it’s close to 1584 x 396 pixels so that your image doesn’t become distorted.
  • The image must be jpg, gif, or png.

Profile Picture

Get a nice photo taken of yourself and post it to LinkedIn.

You’re not alone if you worry about showing your age through your profile photo (I hear this concern more than any other from job seekers), but I contend that it hurts you irreparably by not including a photo (your profile is 14 times less likely to be viewed without a profile photo), by including an old photo of yourself (that can cause a red flag when you show up for an interview, and it’s almost impossible to recover from that gap between who you represented yourself to be and who you are when you walk in the door – it makes people wonder what else you might have misrepresented), or a photo that’s blurry, shows something besides your head and shoulders, or obscures your face somehow (no ski goggles!).

Aim for a photo size of 400 x 400 pixels, one that shows your face clearly, isn’t cropped awkwardly, and shows you in a professional light.

Headline

Take time to craft your headline. It’s arguably the most valuable real estate on LinkedIn. You have 120 characters to represent your brand, sprinkle in some distinctive keywords, and communicate whom you serve and how you serve them. For a detailed description of how to write a strong headline, see my article titled The Biggest Mistake People Make on LinkedIn May Surprise You.

Introductory Information

It’s a little tricky to find the spot where you can input and edit this information so take a look at the video associated with this article to zero in on it. This is the spot where you add your geographic location, your industry and add media to your Summary.

Contact and Personal Info

This space on the sidebar of your LinkedIn profile is often overlooked, but if you’re building your profile because you want people to find you easily, make it as easy as possible, and fill in this section with your phone and/or email address. If you have a website, it’s particularly helpful to have traffic come to it through LinkedIn because it will dramatically increase your search engine optimization (SEO) score since LinkedIn is such a highly regarded site from an SEO standpoint. Watch the video so that you can find this spot and input your information.

Experience

Your Experience section closely resembles your resume, but it’s a mistake to just copy and paste the content from your resume into your LinkedIn Experience section. It won’t hurt you to take this shortcut, and if you’re in a hurry, do it. But if you’re wanting to optimize your profile, take the time to craft your Experience section carefully, keeping these tips in mind:

  • Write it in first person to maintain consistency with your Summary. You’re starting a conversation with people who are reading your profile, and “I” language allows you to bring your voice and your brand into the mix in a way that your resume cannot accommodate.
  • Open the space with short paragraphs and bulleted lists so that readers can skim and scroll quickly and still get the essence of who you are and what you do. Also, lists are wonderful ways to make sure you’re introducing keywords.
  • Pay particular attention to the keywords that you’re using in your title fields. You have up to 100 characters in these fields, and it’s often the only thing people see when they’re scrolling. Don’t feel confined to just listing your formal title – insert content that reinforces your brand and captures what you do well.
  • You have up to 2,000 characters in each position description. Use as much as possible of that real estate in your current position, and as you move back in time, make your descriptions shorter unless you have a compelling reason to emphasize a particular position.
  • Look for and select the name of large organizations (as well as small ones with a business page on LinkedIn) as you’re entering each company/organization’s name in your Experience section. You’ll get a drop-down menu when you start typing the organization’s name. Select your company’s name if you see it on the list because you’ll then have the logo displayed in your Experience section, which is a nice visual bonus. If you entered the content years ago before logos were available for display on LinkedIn, go back and re-enter the organization’s name to add the logo.
  • If you’re concerned about magnifying your age, you can leave early experience off your profile. Just make sure that you’re mirroring your resume in terms of listing roles. If there’s a mismatch between your resume and your LinkedIn profile, that can be a red flag for potential employers.
  • If you have more than one current position or positions that overlapped in dates, you can decide the order that they appear on LinkedIn. See the video that accompanies this article for instructions about moving entries within your Experience section (you can only do this if you have overlapping dates and/or more than more current position).

Education

Perhaps the most straight-forward section on LinkedIn, there are a few reminders about this one that I want to emphasize:

  • Recognitions and awards from your undergraduate years – unless they’re very well known or reinforce your brand in an important way – are best left off your Education section. Same rule for clubs and activities.
  • Professional development coursework should be included here. It’s a great way to demonstrate that your current skills are sharp. If you’re worried that you may be perceived as being outdated with your technology prowess, take a short course. Lynda.com is a wonderful site that’s reasonably priced and, in fact, it’s often available for free through your local public library. LinkedIn also has professional development coursework that is available for free to Premium members on LinkedIn. Skillshare is free for 60 days, CreativeLive offers sales regularly with deep discounts on their courses and if you can set aside time to watch the courses live when they’re filmed, they’re free. Coursera is one of the better-known MOOC platforms. MOOC stands for “massive open online course,” and it’s a fabulous term to use for a search on Google to uncover courses in your desired area of growth.
  • It’s fine to leave the years of your study off your undergraduate degree listing, but it can indicate that you’re concerned about your age. I contend that you have nothing to hide, but I’ll show you how to remove the years in the video.
  • I’ve seen people list their high school on their LinkedIn profile. Unless there’s a compelling reason (it was a well-known program or you have strong alumni connections, for example), I recommend removing it. Even if you don’t have an undergraduate degree, it’s best to leave high school off your LinkedIn profile. Instead, look for professional development coursework to list, and if you have some coursework at the undergraduate level but didn’t graduate, simply list “Selected coursework” instead of a degree and then put the institution.

Volunteer Experience

Here, you can establish vital experience as you position yourself for a career change, demonstrate your connection to your community and/or your industry, and offer great talking points for an interview (who wouldn’t want to talk about how you train service dogs?!). Take advantage of the description field to explain (briefly!) why you are connected to the organization and what you contribute there.

Featured Skills & Endorsement

Keyword jackpot! You can list up to 50 skills in this section, and I recommend including between 40 and 45 so that you have room to add more as trends and terminology shift. Look at others’ profiles in your industry who share your role and see what they’ve listed. It’s best to select from LinkedIn’s drop-down menu (see video for details) rather than create your own term because the drop-down menu includes terms that LinkedIn searchers have used to find candidates and businesses on LinkedIn. Watch the video to see how to change the order of your skills so that you are sure to list three at the top that amplify your brand and distinguish your strengths.

Recommendations

First, recommendations on LinkedIn are distinct from endorsements. Endorsements are simply a click of the mouse on a skill that’s listed on your profile, and often LinkedIn prompts users to endorse people in their network. Well-meaning LinkedIn users usually click without paying much attention to what they’re doing. For this reason, endorsements (even when you have 99+ next to a particular skill, tend to fall into the “ho-hum, yawn” category.

Recommendations, on the other hand, which people take the time to write – even when it’s just a sentence or two, are more impressive, both in terms of human eyes and also in the way LinkedIn measures keyword optimization. So, it’s worth asking people to write recommendations for you.

Here are three suggestions for your LinkedIn recommendations:

  • Recommend someone else. People almost always will reciprocate. See the video for instructions about how to recommend someone.
  • Ask people to recommend you, and offer clear instructions to them about how to do it (see video). Also, suggest that they include keywords that are useful to you (“please write what you think best represents our work together, but if it’s easy for you to include the words X and Y, that would be very helpful to me”). If it seems appropriate, you might also offer to draft something for them to post. Then, all they need to do is follow your instructions and copy and paste.
  • Proofread the recommendations that people write for you. When people are in a rush, they often strike the wrong key, and it can be embarrassing to both you and the person who wrote the recommendation to have something displayed with a typo in it. You’ll have to send the recommendation back to the writer with a request that they change it, but it’s worth that extra step to ensure that your profile is free of errors.

Accomplishments

Here, it’s all about numbers because of the way LinkedIn displays the content. You can list courses (an alternative location to list your professional development – the other option is your Education section), certifications, patents, awards, publications, professional organizations, projects, languages, and more. See the video for a demo of how to find the categories and add to this section.

Interests

There are four categories in this section:

  • Influencers: Whom do you admire and want to see more of in your News feed on LinkedIn? Decide who to follow in this section based both on your interests and the image you want to present to people viewing your profile.
  • Companies: Follow companies to learn about job openings and keep news from them on your radar.
  • Groups: You can dramatically increase your sphere of connections through this mechanism. With the ceiling of 100 groups on your profile, it’s important to find groups (see video for tips) that are associated with your industry, your role, your geographic location (or target location), your alma mater, your interests, professional organizations, and more.
  • Schools: When you list universities in your Education section, you’ll automatically follow those organizations on LinkedIn so that you’ll receive updates from other alumni and the school’s administration and media department. If you’re interested in attending a school or working there, you can follow schools by visiting their pages (see video).

There you have it! An in-depth look at LinkedIn from top to bottom. My final suggestion is to compose your copy in a word processing program so that you have the benefit of spell check (and Grammarly, a free grammar checker and my personal lifeline!). I recommend hiring a proofreader to go over the copy for you before you post it. Fivrr, Upwork, and Freelancer are useful sites for finding someone, but you can also just Google the phrase “hire freelance proofreader.” I have someone that I use regularly for proofreading, so if you’d like his name, email me at maggie@quietcareers.com. I love receiving your questions and comments via email, so send me email anytime.

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