The world's biggest professional networking site merits deliberation and thoughtfulness in order to achieve optimal results. LinkedIn deserves a strategic view.
Yes, LinkedIn is often used tactically, but it will be much more effective when you step back and look at it strategically. Think of this not as a "how to" so much as a "why". "Why" drives -- and ultimate determines -- the what, how, and when of everything.
And the "why" of LinkedIn for job seekers is driven by one thing...
Show Your Unique Value Proposition on LinkedIn
The job seeker must present a "unique professional value proposition."
Your unique value proposition shows how hiring you will benefit an employer because of the unique set of skills and experiences you bring to the job.
Professionals who share identical titles and experience are, after all, not interchangeable.
Identifying and articulating your own unique value proposition requires both self-knowledge and research.
Reflect upon (or, if possible, examine) past performance reviews, and identify recurring strengths or themes.
Talk with former managers (and if appropriate, direct reports!) to substantiate or grow what was learned.
Transform the resulting data into a statement of your unique combination of abilities and experiences that sum up your professional essence, and environments in which those can be best exercised.
Unique value propositions may look like this:
PMP-certified veteran of pharmaceutical infrastructure transformations always delivered under budget and on time.
A "Swiss Army knife" of Microsoft technologies from .NET, ASP, and VB to SharePoint to SSRS and SSIS, I enable collaboration best in large matrix environments.
I serve up the paired swords that cut through my mid-market client's Gordian knots: managed services and business process outsourcing, driving down recurring costs and increasing profitability for small to medium-sized businesses.
A unique value proposition, once articulated, should be the organizing structure for every facet of a candidate's messaging: from résumé to LinkedIn to cover letter and email signature.
Essential Elements of an Effective LinkedIn Profile
Within the context of LinkedIn, this new structure should reverberate across all parts of a LinkedIn profile. For example:
1. Profile picture
In addition to garnering 14 times as many LinkedIn profile views as those without a photo, the profile picture should be consistent in tone and image conveyed.
A unique value proposition that speaks of a boardroom presence should feature a profile picture in which the subject is attired appropriately, with the attendant dignity and gravity a reader would reasonably associate with that type of context.
For more information, read Why You Need a LinkedIn Profile Photo and The Best Profile Photos for Job Seekers Boomers and Over 50.
The message needs to be crystal clear within these 120 characters -- remember, this part of the profile accompanies a LinkedIn user's name everywhere it goes on the site. Also, see Summary, below. It is popular to separate distinct ideas with the | or * characters.
Because LinkedIn prompts users to auto-populate this with their current job title, in the vast majority of cases, there is absolutely nothing unique about the headline. This renders the headline as not a vibrant branding statement, but rather camouflage -- exactly the opposite of what is desired.
For more information, read Maximizing Your LinkedIn Profile Headline and Leverage Your LinkedIn Profile's Professional Headline for Searchability & Branding.
Keywords appropriate to the messaging should appear early and often within the text of the summary, and be distributed throughout the whole. Researching other users who possess similar experience and titles can yield valuable suggestions for keywords to incorporate.
For more information, read 5 Secrets to a Knockout LinkedIn Profile Summary and Personal Branding Makes Your LinkedIn Summary Dazzle.
Although a good skills list is worth 11 times as many profile views, making sure that a profile is endorsed for the most relevant skills is a bit more difficult. One way to receive appropriate such endorsements is to keep the list of skills tightly controlled and reject any skills suggested until the desired level of endorsement is reached.
For more information, read How LinkedIn Skills Endorsements Work.
5. Public Profile URL
An often under recognized opportunity for customization, LinkedIn allows users to customize the URL of the public profile, the version of the LinkedIn profile visible to anyone online. Provided that the desired name is not already in use by another member, this can be customized to just about anything. This is an excellent branding opportunity.
For details, read Customizing Your LinkedIn Profile's URL.
Most employers can be found easily enough on LinkedIn but especially if part of the unique value proposition is a history of working in blue chip employers, ensure that the employer links to the LinkedIn company page for that entity. If merger & acquisition activity rendered a corporate entity extinct, list the successor organization instead: this demonstrates awareness of the current state of a former employer.
Within each position, there is an opportunity to share interactive content: whitepaper, PowerPoint, etc. Although more common for those in sales or marketing, other professions may have occasion to do the same.
Attached to a position on a LinkedIn profile, these were the original skill endorsements. Although less common now, recommendations remain a potent part of a LinkedIn profile.
Recommendations that underscore the unique value proposition, especially where a key accomplishment is dependent upon some part of it, is a fantastic way to drive home the message. These can only be provided by those within a LinkedIn user's network with whom an invitation to connect was sent and accepted.
For more information, read 3 Keys to Great LinkedIn Recommendations and How to Gather LinkedIn Recommendations for Your Job Search.
One of the problems with a LinkedIn Profile is it is created iteratively, often over an extended period of time, rather than in a single sitting. As a consequence, some elements of a profile may date back to when the Profile was first created, while others are of more recent vintage, and with no rhyme or reason as to which. Profile elements accumulate over time without a unifying vision, yielding something other than a smooth, cohesive image to the reader.
A strategic, top-down review of a LinkedIn profile will ensure that cohesive image is the impression that is left.