If you’ve ever gotten the least bit serious about a job search, chances are you’ve spent some time on LinkedIn. Today, even a rockstar resume and solid cover letter aren’t enough to guarantee you an offer, let alone a first round interview. In a world where our digital presence is just as important as our IRL interactions, the hard truth is that potential employers and recruiters pay as much attention to how you look online as you do on paper.
Whether you’re currently waist deep in a dedicated job hunt or casually use the platform to connect with fellow colleagues (and stalk old college acquaintances, and friends), respected professionals and your future-boss are looking at your page and, yes, secretly judging you. If you care anything about cultivating the career of your dreams, one of the best things you can do to propel your path forward is make sure your profile is in the best shape possible. While we all like to think that our LinkedIn page carries little weight in the larger scheme of things, it’s actually one of the first places recruiters go to scout out potential candidates.
“Any time I have a meeting with someone professionally, the first thing I do is looked at their LinkedIn,” reveals Carolyn Betts Fleming, the founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting. “Regardless of if you’re searching for a job or not, this is a place where people come to find out information about who you are as a professional.”
Unbeknownst to most job-seekers, even something as simple as not triple-checking your spelling can squash your chances of scoring your dream position. Not quite sure what you’re doing wrong? We asked a handful of experts to weigh in on the most common mistakes that make them cringe. Read on for ten red flags that could be driving them away.
When Your Profile Photo Is Non-Existent
“One of the biggest mistakes I see is when someone does not have a photo on their LinkedIn profile—or when they have an unprofessional photo,” shares Fleming. “The first thing recruiters look at on LinkedIn is your profile photo. Think about it like your first impression, but online.”
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. On LinkedIn, think of your headshot as being worth ten thousand words. While leaving your profile photo blank seems like an obvious no-no, there’s a chance you might actually be doing it without even knowing.
“There’s a setting on LinkedIn when, if you’re not first degree connections with them, you cannot see their photo. So you have to make sure that that setting is turned off so anyone on LinkedIn can see your photo. This is your advertisement of yourself to the world, it’s not like Facebook where you want to keep some things private,” adds Fleming.
Case in point: Take two minutes to check your privacy settings! Just because you can see your lovely, shining face, doesn’t mean everyone considering hiring you can.
When You Have a Photo, But It Doesn’t Strike the Right Balance
Of all the things that go into a good LinkedIn profile, having a great headshot is the most important. While blurry images or any photos that show you at a backyard barbeque holding a beer might clearly seem like a bad idea, you’d be surprised by the number of users that like to keep things too casual.
“Don’t include your hubby or a selfie with the duck face. Keep it professional and appear warm and open to connecting,” Gillian Lopez, an account manager at Maven Recruiting Group, tells Domino. The worst profile photo she’s ever seen on someone’s page? “A picture of a candidate and her goat!”
“If you have the opportunity to get a professional headshot taken, do it. You want it to be professional, but you also don’t want it to feel overly stuffy either. Your personality should shine through as well,” explains Fleming.
On a similar note, recruiters also don’t want to see a headshot that’s overly serious. “It doesn’t hurt to smile!” shares Kate Mahoney, a recruiter at Maven Recruiting Group. When it comes to selecting the perfect pic, think, friendly, responsible, calm, and collected.
When Your Summary Falls Short
While not everyone pays extra close attention to your summary (you know, that body of text in your bio), that doesn’t mean you should leave it blank—or go on a personal tangent. Think of this as a place to briefly share your call to action. “What do you want recruiters or people to reach out to you about?” suggests Hayley Morrison, a direct-hire recruiter at Maven Recruiting Group. “This is something you can include in your summary.”
“A nice and concise intro that gives context of the person’s experience is very helpful for those reviewing profiles, but also a good indicator of how focused a person is. [It gives us] the first “flavor” of who they are,” explains Annika Bryntse, managing director at 80Twenty, a San Francisco-based creative staffing agency.
When You Don’t Spell Check
If you’ve already taken the time to triple check your spelling and grammar in your resume and cover letter, you can spare a few extra minutes combing through your LinkedIn. In addition to bad headshots, grammatical errors are one of the most common (and easily fixable!) mistakes that make recruiters cringe. “Make sure your LinkedIn profile is curated much like your resume in that it is flawlessly proofread,” says Fleming.
Tip: Have a friend or trusted colleague go over what you’ve written. Sometimes all you need is a fresh pair of eyes.
When Your Work Experience Lacks Depth
In addition to wanting to see where you’ve worked and for how long, recruiters also want to know what you’ve accomplished, how you’ve excelled in your position, and if you have any specialized talents worth knowing about. No, you don’t have to write a novel, but beefing up your descriptions with buzzwords will pay off in the long run.
“Content is key if you want to be found on LinkedIn, so making sure that relevant industry terms, skills, technologies, and programs are included on your page is extremely important,” dishes Bryntse.
When You List All the Things You DON’T Want
Despite what you may think, no one—your mom, your significant other, and especially a recruiter—wants to hear about all the things you hated about your last job. “When people are looking for a position and they note all the things they do not want in their next role in the summary section it can come across very negative. I usually don’t reach out to them,” says Mahoney.
When You Have Too Few Connections
While everyone knows that finding friends and making connections on LinkedIn is as easy as the tap of a button, depending on what industry you’re in, that number can weigh heavily on a recruiter’s mind.
“People really look at how many connections you have. For some types of jobs, being well-connected is very important. I have certain clients that if somebody doesn’t have the 500 plus connections they’ll pass because they want people who are well-connected,” shares Fleming.
That said, make them count! Don’t just ask a total stranger or someone you sort-of-kind-of know because you can. The more meaningful relationships you build on LinkedIn, the more opportunities will come your way.
When Your Resume and Profile Don’t Align
The one task you’re likely forgetting? Cross-checking. If you don’t catch any differences between your profile and your resume before you send in your application, there’s a chance you’ll actually come off as a liar. And if you are straight up lying about where you live, where you’ve worked, or the positions you’ve held, the recruiters checking out your profile will probably figure it out—and fast.
“Once upon a time I was sent a resume and when I looked at their LinkedIn profile, they had completely different employment experience, so they were either lying on their LinkedIn or their resume… not a good sign!” recalls Morrison.
Even if you aren’t’ currently on the hunt for a new job, make it a rule to go in and update your information regularly as things change.
“If you’re in a business where you are doing business with other people, you should have your LinkedIn up to date and as a reflection of who you are currently as a professional. Even when people take meetings with you they go there to see what you’re all about,” adds Fleming.
When You Jump From Company to Company
Okay, so this red flag has more to do with your actual career path and little to do with how you’ve constructed your profile. Still, to a potential boss, noteworthy awards and big-name companies mean nothing without longevity.
“When I’m looking at someone’s profile, I go straight down to where they’re working right now and evaluate the company. I look to see if they have anything written about their position, how long they’ve been with the company, and, then, anything they did before. I look at their career progression, what kind of promotions they received over the time that they were there, what types of companies—big or small—that they worked for,” says Fleming of her review process.
When You Send Generic Messages
Aside from researching companies and applying for jobs, the majority of LinkedIn users are there to network. And while those first few conversations you have with someone you want to build a working relationship with aren’t made public on your profile, you’ll find little success connecting with people if you don’t follow the proper etiquette to get to know them.
“You want to be personal,” says Fleming of introducing yourself through direct message.
“Nobody likes to get spam, so if you’re going to reach out to somebody show them that you took the time to look at who they are and have a reason as to why you’re reaching out to them.”
FYI: LinkedIn isn’t Facebook. Whether you’re sending a personal message, posting, or liking something, know that your potential next boss could be watching. “Be mindful with the comments and content you share online,” warns Lopez. “That activity is visible to people looking at your profile.”
Now that we’ve covered what not to do, here are ten ways you can make your profile stronger:
10 Key Elements of a Strong Linkedin Profile
- A great headshot
- Information that closely matches your resume
- A call to action
- Skills and personal interests (“For example, do you like to cook? Play sports? Where do you volunteer?” says Fleming.)
- Recommendations from colleagues or previous bosses
- Bullet points explaining your current role
- Location of where you are looking for your next opportunity
- Company stability
- A catchy headline (“Executive Assistant to Joe Smith can become “Meeting and Travel Expert for Joe Smith,” suggests Lopez)
- Detailed education section
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