LinkedIn is the number one platform used by professionals and hiring managers—over 95% of recruiters use it regularly. So, it's important that you have a presence on this very strategic social media platform.

Your LinkedIn profile is essentially an online version of your resume, in addition to highlighting your personal brand. If you're returning to the workforce or making a career change (or both), we highly recommend you have a profile on LinkedIn.

Here are our top 12 tips to make sure your LinkedIn profile best reflects who you are and what you're looking for next.

1. Profile photo

LinkedIn has said that profiles with photos are seven times more likely to be viewed by others. That's why it's important to try to get a professional photo, or at least have a friend take your photo in good lighting with an updated camera phone. Many industry and networking events now offer this benefit for free for attendees, so you can update your photo for little to no charge.

The key is to make sure your overall image looks professional and approachable. This seems pretty straightforward, but you would be surprised at how many people try to use blurry photos, feature other people or pets or are taken at an odd angle. Some don't even include a photo at all.

2. Banner photo

When crafting their LinkedIn profile, many people dismiss the headline photo as insignificant or unnecessary. This couldn't be further from the truth. In terms of personal branding, your headline photo is a huge piece of real estate where you can showcase your brand. In a world where recruiters and hiring managers spend only six seconds to scan a profile and 90 percent of the information processed by the brain is visual (the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text), the visual element is what draws them in and makes them want to learn more about you.

Search other profiles and take note of what is visually appealing. Then challenge yourself to find an image that sums up your professional personality.

3. Headline

Your headline automatically populates the current or last role you had. This isn't helpful or relevant when you've been out of the workforce or are looking to pivot to something different. You want to use this space to convey your brand and what you're looking for next. Make sure it's compelling enough for recruiters and hiring managers to want to keep reading and learn more about you. The headline should convey what you're looking to do next and not what you've done in the past if you are looking to pivot.

4. About section

The about section is a longer, more detailed (but not too detailed) version of your headline, and should include about three to five sentences. Give your audience a sense of who you are, what you're passionate about, and what makes you unique. You want to make sure you include these main points within your summary:

  • skills
  • experience
  • professional interests
  • keywords

Use your pitch as a baseline, add a few more specific details, and then write it from a first-person perspective to infuse some personality and showcase your professional interests. The tricky part is to remember that it's not all about your past roles and responsibilities, it's about your skills, the impact and accomplishments gained by using those skills, and how they will apply and help you contribute to where you want to go next.

5. Contact info

Make it as easy as possible for contacts to reach out to you. Include your email and phone number while you are job searching so recruiters can contact you quickly.

6. Location and industry

It's important to include your location and make sure it's where you want to look for jobs, especially if you are looking to relocate (unless the company has a majority remote workforce or the type of job you are looking for tends to be remote). Many times, this is the first search term that hiring managers and recruiters use, and you don't want to be excluded based on this. The same goes for the industry—you want to make sure this matches the industry you are looking to return or pivot to.

7. URL

A good best practice is to personalize your profile URL. Your URL is your profile page web address. Examples are /in/sarahduenwald/ and /in/nancymcjensen/. Sarah's last name is uncommon, and Nancy combined her maiden name (McSharry) and married name (Jensen). If you have a more common name, you can be a bit creative. Again, while something like this may not seem like a big deal, it's still a piece of your overall brand, details matter to recruiters and hiring managers and it shows you're relevant.

8. Experience section

The easiest way to start filling out this section is to copy/paste your experience from your resume. It's important that you include your employment, education and industry, and that it all matches up.

The difference between your resume and your LinkedIn profile is that you may not include all your past work on a customized resume if it's not applicable to the job. But it is acceptable and appropriate to include all of your work history on LinkedIn. Employers expect your resume to be specific and condensed, but your LinkedIn profile can be more expansive and detailed. This is your page about the professional you, and reflecting the different work you've been involved in shows how you've evolved into the person you are today.

9. Privacy settings

It's important to understand who can see your profile and edits as you are creating or refining your page. You will also be doing a lot of "sleuthing" of other profiles as you build yours, so understanding who can see what and when is important. These are the top privacy settings that will have the most impact on your job search:

Profile viewing options: As you create your profile, you will be looking at a lot of different profiles for ideas, and would probably rather not have everyone see you "looking" at them. (When you click on someone's profile, they will be able to see that you've viewed them.) If that's the case, go to privacy settings; on the far left scroll down to "How Others See Your LinkedIn Activity." Then choose "Profile Viewing Options" and click the anonymous option. After you've completed your profile and are ready for others to see it, then you can go back into full profile viewing mode.

Share changes to your profile: This can be a strategic setting if used correctly, but it can also make you seem less tech-savvy if you are updating everyone all the time on small profile edits. In your privacy settings on the far left, scroll down to "How Others See Your LinkedIn Activity." Click on the "share job changes, education changes, and work anniversaries" from your profile. Make sure the toggle is showing "No." Remember to change this to "Yes" right before you update a new job: It will let everyone know you have a new job, and you'll get all the congratulations and well wishes.

Let recruiters know you're open to opportunities: If you are currently job searching and your profile is complete, you can turn on this option to signal to recruiters that you are open to talking. Go to your privacy settings and on the far left scroll to "Job Seeking Preferences." From there, you can find this option and turn it on.

10. Skills and endorsements

One of the basic functions of LinkedIn is allowing other people in your network to endorse you for a certain skillset you may have. Be strategic during your job search and use this to your advantage. View others who are in a job that you are interested in and see what skills they have listed on their profile. What are some "great to have" skills? Do you have those as well? If so, make sure they are added. People are often searching using these skills and it's helpful to align them with the roles you are looking to return or pivot to.

11. Recommendations

Similar to how you may read reviews of products before you purchase them, recommendations are like getting a reference before interviewing instead of after. This is also a great time to let that person know you are returning to work and would love to reconnect. You can ask for a recommendation directly through LinkedIn, which makes it easy and simple for the person writing it. If you have a good relationship with this person, you can help even more by drafting a recommendation specific to skills needed for your next desired role, which the person can edit if desired. Try to get a variety of recommendations—past managers, coworkers, vendors, clients (whether paid or unpaid work)—all of these can showcase your work as a whole. Just having even two or three will make a big difference.

12. Accomplishments

If you have any awards you've won professionally or courses you've taken over your career, definitely list them. If an award was won years ago and is no longer relevant, you can still list what it was won for instead of what it was called. Same for courses you've taken. Sometimes the terminology can change, but the relevant concept is the same.

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