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Unlike its competitors, LinkedIn serves as both a professional networking site and a job board.

statsLinkedIn had a very humble beginning back in 2003,* when it was conceived in the living room of Reid Hoffman. It received a sizable investment of $4.3 million from Sequoia Capital, which helped it launch its premium services in 2006, aimed at job seekers. Since then, it has seen an upward growth trajectory, becoming one of the top professional networking sites in the world (although lately, it has also become a social networking site).

It was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, the biggest acquisition by the software giant till date. As of 2020, LinkedIn boasts a user base of 660 million users across 200 countries, with the U.S. and India being its top two markets. More importantly, 90 million of the users on LinkedIn are senior-level influencers.

actionWe say all this to drive home the importance of having your profile visible on such a massive platform. Since creating a profile is free, we highly recommend creating one now when you have the time to customize it to your liking. It will always be a work in progress to keep your profile updated, but the right time to start doing that is right now.

No worries, we’ve been there. Generally, if you haven’t been using LinkedIn much until now, your profile would look something like the following:*

That was a dummy profile I created back in 2018 to portray what not to do, in my first YouTube video.* In fact, you can still find it, since I forgot the password and cannot log in to delete it.

On the other hand, if you’re hearing the term LinkedIn for the first time, begin by signing up on the website first. Once you’ve got a profile set up, follow the guidance provided below closely to create a stellar profile.

Beginning with the basics, the following fields are an absolute must on your profile:

1. Profile Picture

Avoid the extremes here. Don’t upload a picture of you taking a selfie. Also, don’t upload your passport picture from three years ago that looks nothing like you. You have to stick to the middle: a semi-professional picture that shows your face clearly with preferably a single-colored background.

Your university will most probably schedule a headshot during your orientation. Until then, settle for something that’s formal and recent.

2. Title

Take some time to craft this. This is what someone sees first when you reach out. The following are some examples you can choose to include:

  • graduate school (e.g., Incoming Student at Duke University)

  • area of interest (e.g., Machine Learning, Big Data Analytics, Linguistics)

  • job title if you’re employed (e.g., Product Manager, Data Analyst)

  • distinguishable awards (e.g., WTM Scholar, Cargill Scholar)

  • titles held in clubs/organizations (e.g., Marketing Manager at TechFest, Founder of 3D Aeromodelling).

Try not to add more than three different types of designation to the title.

3. Summary

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who write one line summaries and those who write one-page summaries.

LinkedIn lets you write up to 2000 characters in your summary (or roughly 350–400 words).* As someone who likes the gray area, my recommendation would be to be somewhere in the middle and write between 200–300 words. Your summary is the part of your profile that is least constrained. There are no dates and titles to be mentioned. Your summary is just a blank, white canvas that you get to paint as you wish.

If you see examples online, you will see that they are all over the place. Some use it as a way to talk about a major life transition,* some preach their professional and personal values,* yet others talk about their major accomplishments.*

The only common thread here is that there is none, because your summary is supposed to bring out your character.

If you were meeting someone in person in a professional setting, what would you want them to know about you if they only had three minutes to listen to you? The answer to that should become your LinkedIn summary.

4. Experience

Your experience is what recruiters, and others in general, would most care about. Chronologically, begin adding all of your professional experiences, such as your current or previous job(s), internship(s), and professional titles held in organizations, if any.

For each experience, add the title, university/company/organization, duration, and location without fail. If the entity is not well known, use the first sentence to introduce it (e.g., NIT Trichy is one among the top 10 engineering universities in India and is recognized as an institute of national importance by the Indian government). It also helps to give some context on the project you worked on, in a sentence or two.

Treat this section similar to your resume. Under each experience, use no more than three to four bullet points to succinctly explain the impact you created using quantitative data and a tight narrative.

Although there isn’t a cap on the number of words, less is always better.

5. Education

Similar to the Experience section, add your university name, degree, major, and CGPA (if you feel comfortable) without fail. If you got involved in extracurriculars, this is a great place to mention that, under Activities and Societies.

6. Skills

Your skills show others what you are capable of in one glance.

A report* from LinkedIn says that, “Depending on what stage you are in your career, you should try to add at least 5 skills. Members with 5 or more skills listed are contacted (messaged) up to 33x more by recruiters and other LinkedIn members, and receive up to 17x more profile views.”

A great place to begin is by looking through the courses you’ve taken, to extract the topics that were taught. You can also take inspiration from articles that talk about the top skills being searched for.*

To be clear, though, merely adding a skill does not turn heads. There are two ways by which LinkedIn lets you add validation to the skills you’ve listed: endorsements and badges.

For every skill you add, anyone on LinkedIn can endorse you for it by going to your profile, selecting the plus symbol next to your skill, and answering questions around how they knew about it.

7. Badges

Badges, on the other hand, are a more recent feature on LinkedIn that got rolled out in September 2019.* This feature lets you take assessment quizzes for a specific set of skills. You can see the button right below your Skills section with the words Take skill quiz. You need to be above the 70th percentile to pass, after which you can choose to add the badge to your profile.

That is why it is better to be sparing in the skills you add, and improve its quality by reaching out to your friends and colleagues who can endorse you,* as well as taking the quizzes.

The more fields you include → the more keywords your profile has → the more data points LinkedIn can use for better recommendations.

Let’s look at the rest of the fields:

8. Cover Picture

We talked about your profile picture before. LinkedIn also lets you upload a cover image or banner that extends across the top of your profile. Depending on your situation, this landscape picture can be the following:

  • an event where you were a speaker / panelist / judge / an emcee

  • a good shot of your graduate school, perhaps a recognizable monument

  • an image capturing your interests, e.g., a mathematician can have an image with an important theorem/proof

  • a quote

  • anything that sparks a viewer’s curiosity in a good way.

9. Recommendations

You might think, why go to the trouble to add recommendations when I’ve already spoken about my amazing experiences and skills?

The answer is the same as the reason your university wanted to hear about you from your professors and managers, despite a comprehensive application from you. I know the author of a book will think her book is the best one written in the history of print. However, if I hear that from ten others who have no strings attached to her, I’ll start to take notice.

We like to know what people around us think of something.

Or in this case, someone.

Similar to your letter of recommendation, get it from people who can vouch for you strongly and talk about personal anecdotes. However, unlike the letter of recommendation, you don’t need to restrict this to your professors or managers. Even seniors and project partners you worked with can recommend you, although the impact of it might not be the same.

10. Accomplishments

This section houses a lot of different topics: awards, courses, projects, publications, scores, and more. We know that sounds exhausting, but think about it this way. The more fields you populate, the more time someone will spend on your profile. The more time they spend, the more reason you are giving them to talk to you.

I remember during my first semester at Columbia, a senior from my major walked up to me and said, “I saw you have [number] awards listed on your LinkedIn profile. That’s very impressive!” You don’t know whose eyes will land upon your profile in the future. For now, play your favorite tune in the background and get to filling this section.

11. Licenses and Certifications

This is where you get to add all the glorious Coursera certificates and other certifications you’ve received. Adding a license or a certification is the highest form of attestation to your ability. If you also took the time to complete a certification course on, say, Project Management Professional (PMP) or Salesforce, pile them on here!

12. Volunteer Experiences

Finally, we end with one of the most underrated sections in the LinkedIn profile: talking about our service to the community. We’ve noticed from personal experience that volunteering is prevalent at many companies, specifically in the domain of information technology. Salesforce, for example, gives the opportunity for its employees to volunteer for 56 hours every year (all paid).*

Hence, adding your past volunteering experiences will greatly boost your image when recruiters from such companies look at it.

Most people who view your profile probably won’t read half of these fields, but the ones who do will walk away with a deep sense of appreciation for you for putting in all the hard work.

We hope you give them a reason to feel that way.

Just a few more pointers to keep in mind.

actionFirst, go to the top of your profile and click on the Add profile section button. You will see a category named Featured under it. The Featured section differs from the Activity section in that it gives you control of what you want to show your visitors. If you have a website, or an article written by you or about you in an external site, or a video you wish to upload with something you did, this is the place for it. Keep updating this section as you climb your career ladder.

Second, use the Hashtag feature in LinkedIn to follow the topics that matter most to you, so your home feed is filled with rich information.* You can begin by searching for a few topics in your search bar prefaced by the # symbol, and following those topics. Once you’ve added a few, you can discover more by navigating to your home page and selecting the Discover more option in the bottom left.* Apart from getting hashtag recommendations, you can also use it to follow people, pages, and groups.

Finally, LinkedIn lets you customize your public profile URL, which is useful as you will attach your URL in various spaces including resume and email signatures. If your current URL is too long or contains numbers, go to your profile and click on the Edit public profile & URL button in the top right corner.* Since two people cannot have the same public URL, this is a first-come, first-served feature. Edit the URL to your liking, and go over your entire profile once, to make sure you’ve put your best foot forward online.

Job Boards

Unlike LinkedIn, job boards have a singular purpose: to let job seekers upload their profile for job providers to evaluate. When it comes to job boards, find out the top two or three as of when you’re applying, create an account, and fill out your profile in all of them. For example, in 2020, Indeed, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder seem to dominate this list.

There is no easy way to sync your data between these job boards, so you need to fill them in again each time. However, as you begin filling, you would soon notice that almost all the fields are exactly the same between them, thus reducing your cognitive load to think of new responses every time.

thinkWe focused on setting up your profile on job recruiting sites in this section, but you can also get creative in leveraging other social media sites. Graphic designers have turned to Instagram to expand their network, writers use blogging platforms like WordPress or the more chic Medium to express their thoughts, and coders turn to GitHub to keep all their projects up-to-date. Where do you fit? Or, how do you want to stand out?

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