Recruiters spend lots of time combing through LinkedIn profiles—possibly more than many would like. After awhile, they can start to blend together, which means that whatever you can do as a job seeker to stick out from the crowd (at least in a way that reflects well on you) is probably worth trying.
At a minimum, though, you’ve got to sidestep the most common mistakes and drawbacks that recruiters encounter on LinkedIn constantly. These are some of the issues that recruiters, hiring managers, and execs who constantly use LinkedIn to staff their teams say the worst profiles have in common.
1. It’s Outdated
Whether you’re barely keeping an eye on what’s out there or are actively looking for your next role, a complete and current profile can unlock doors—and an outdated one can slam them shut. Many users treat their LinkedIn profiles like their resumes, as a static resource they only bother to update in times of need. That’s a bad move says Stacy Zapar, founder of the recruiting consultancy Tenfold; she relies heavily on LinkedIn to find and make hires.
“Think of your LinkedIn profile as an online portfolio,” she suggests. It’s got to be “a dynamic, real-time representation of your professional experience. If you wait until you’re actively job seeking, you may forget key details, or you may have already gotten passed over by recruiters with great opportunities because those details were not included in your profile.” Even if you’re not on a job hunt, it never hurts to keep your latest qualifications in full view of recruiters and hiring managers, this way they can come to you with opportunities you might never have known about or considered otherwise.
Plus, Zapar points out, “making a bunch of updates to your LinkedIn profile all of a sudden often raises red flags with your current employer.”
2. Your Headline Sucks
When recruiters search profiles on LinkedIn, they see a list of candidates that match their search criteria. The details on the search results page itself are pretty minimal. Often recruiters don’t have much to go on beyond job title and headline when they’re deciding whether to click your profile and read further.
This means your headline can be a huge draw. “The headline is the first thing we see,” says GoDaddy’s VP of talent acquisition, Andrew Carges. “Be sure to use this valuable real estate to tell more than your job title. Grab my attention and give me a reason to keep reading.” If you don’t, you’ll just blend into the sea of other people with the exact same job title as you. Not sure how to make it more memorable? See entrepreneur Cindy Gallop’s LinkedIn profile for inspiration—her headline reads, “I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.”
But keep SEO in mind even as you get creative. LinkedIn is essentially a search engine, and it indexes headlines, so make sure you’re also including a couple of keywords that are relevant to your work (Gallop’s doesn’t but still gets points for being memorable).
3. It Doesn’t Tell A Coherent Story
Most users write their LinkedIn summary and experience sections to reflect their resumes, and wind up with a linear run-through of their employers, responsibilities, and accomplishments. This is effective at conveying what you’ve done and where, but it doesn’t do much to help you stand out.
Consider approaching your LinkedIn profile like a story. Creative strategist Victor Nguyen-Long takes that advice literally; each of his employer sections reads like a mini narrative, explaining why he moved into each new role. Here’s the first line of one of them: “After 3.5 years in Portland, I decided I wanted to move back to Washington, DC to be closer to family.”
You don’t have to take the storytelling approach this far, but you should go beyond just recording what and when, add some why and how. That additional context can help your profile stand out, showcase your creativity, and explain to recruiters what motivates you.
4. It’s All Business
As Nguyen-Long also realizes, separating all things business from anything remotely personal will leave your LinkedIn profile sounding sterile. You want to give recruiters and hiring managers a chance to see common threads.
And not just recruiters. In fact, you never know who will be reviewing your profile, or where they may find common ground that could give you an advantage. Job opportunities sometimes come from surprising places. Do you have a favorite charity or volunteer your time somewhere? Great—mention that! Do you have projects outside your core job that you work on? Add them to the project section. Speak other languages? Include that, too.
Go against the grain wherever you can. At a minimum, don’t just write a bland professional overview in the summary section and leave it at that. Throw in some details about your hobbies, interests, pursuits, and why you do what you do. Sticking just to your business experience alone doesn’t create a complete picture of what you’ll actually be bringing to an employer.
5. You Haven’t Written Anything
LinkedIn’s publishing platform opened up to all members a few years ago. For bloggers and writers, adoption was easy. For most users, not so much.
You don’t have to be a prolific writer to use this feature to your advantage. Be strategic and selective. Consider writing a couple of posts that showcase the way you see your field, how you work, or some thoughts about recent news in your industry. Sankar Venkatraman, a senior product manager at LinkedIn, says these posts can be as short or long as you like, just as long as they let you “share your experiences and expertise around a specific field of interest.”
The goal of blogging periodically on LinkedIn is twofold, he says—to “give recruiters further insight into your ideas, as well as improve how you show up in searches.”
In fact, the same logic is behind avoiding all five of these pitfalls. Not only will sidestepping these common errors make your profile show up more often in searches, it’ll also pique recruiters’ interest once they do find you.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Tenfold as a software company; it is a recruiting consultancy.