Land the Job

After 20 years of hiring, these are the 6 biggest LinkedIn mistakes—and examples of how to really stand out

(Photo: Getty | Maria Korneeva)

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the job market, companies around the world are working on their plans for post-pandemic life — and so should you.

The first step is to up your LinkedIn game. While the nature of job hunting has changed significantly over the past few years, LinkedIn remains one of the most popular tools employers and recruiters use to find candidates.

As the CEO of the world's largest recruiting company, here are the six biggest LinkedIn mistakes that I've even the most seasoned professionals making, along with some examples of how to really stand out:

1. No profile photo

The absence of a LinkedIn photo can be interpreted as, "I'm too busy to take this seriously." Use a recent photo you genuinely like, one in which you are projecting confidence and approachability.

As long as you're dressed consistently with your professional image, it doesn't matter if the photo is taken by a professional photographer or by a friend with a smartphone.

Want to take things to the next level? Your LinkedIn photo is set against a background image — don't forget this real estate or shrug it off as "window dressing." Recruiters search through hundreds of profiles, and your use of imagery might just be enough to make them stop and say, "This looks interesting."

2. A lackluster introductory 'Headline'

This title appears right below your photo and name, making it one of the first things people see. Think of this field as your answer to, "What do you do?"

Your brief reply might be, "I'm the vice president of manufacturing for [X company]." Or you might say, "I bring next-generation products from design into the marketplace." Both are correct. But which is more effective for you? The answer is, it depends.

Here are two things to consider:

  • When your title and company say it all: If you work for the leader in your field — a Fortune 100 company, the hot digital startup, a top-tier institution — you may want to showcase your official job title as the introductory headline.
  • When a few descriptive words broadcast a better message: The other school of thought says to use a short description to convey not only what you do, but how you do it (e.g., "delivering patient-centered health care" versus "head of nursing"; "connecting great people with jobs they love" versus "head of talent acquisition"; "helping people and organizations tell their story and distinguish themselves in the marketplace" versus "public-relations professional").

3. Not selling yourself enough in the 'About' summary

Just like an entrepreneur pitching a startup or a writer trying to introduce a screenplay to a producer, you have an idea to sell. That idea is you

How to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out
(Gary Burnison / Korn Ferry)

Here are some strategies that will make this section more compelling:

  • Use first-person pronounces: It's okay to say "I" — people expect to hear from you directly. Referring to yourself in the third person (e.g., "John is an experienced [X]" "Mary is a talented [X]") sounds awkward and undermines the connection you're trying to make.
  • Go beyond the buzz phrases and cliches: Most people default to the familiar: "I'm a team player who enjoys collaborating with others." That's not a bad place to start. But take it one step further by referencing what being a "team player" means to you: "I lead collaborative teams that bring out the best in others and myself to creatively address problems and brainstorm solutions."
  • Make it meaningful: While the content of your summary statement makes it all about you, the connection it makes is all about others. In a short amount of space and without too many words, you are showcasing who you are and what you bring to your next employer.

4. A bare and basic 'Experience' section

Too often, people think of this section as just a quick timeline listing all their employers and positions held. But CEOs like myself expect to see much more than that.

Just as with your resume, you should use an accomplishment-first approach. In fact, I always suggest leveraging your resume to fill out this section:

  • For your current or most recent job: Use bullet points to list three to five accomplishments, including the results. (e.g., "Led a team of twelve colleagues in six countries in launching a new product line that exceeded initial sales projections by 18%.")
  • For your past jobs: Use the same approach, highlighting your top accomplishments.
  • Share credit with your team: If you worked on a project with others, tag their names in your LinkedIn post (especially if you're a mid-level manager who directed the team while others did the work). This in no way dilutes recognition of your efforts.
  • Incorporate keywords that are relevant to your industry. Employers scan for keywords that indicate your skills and level of expertise. One way to identify these keywords is to read job descriptions in your industry and take note of specific qualifications. Then make sure those same phrases are included in your profile.
  • Keep updating and refreshing: As you achieve more accomplishments, add new bullet points and remove older ones.

5. Not being proactive with 'Recommendations'

Endorsements are a great way to build credibility. For example, your profile might show that Bob Smith and five other professionals endorse your social media skills.

But recommendations are a huge cut above, because they require more than just the click of a button. The most powerful ones are written by genuinely enthused people whose expectations you exceeded.

Something to keep in mind: a thoughtful and well-written recommendation from a peer who speaks with specifics can do more to distinguish your profile than generic comments from people who are many levels above you.

6. Too much—or too little—'Activity'

While you want to keep an active profile, you don't want to be so active online that it looks like you're never working.

Recently, the online activity of an executive that I was thinking of hiring raised a red flag for me. When I checked out his LinkedIn profile, it appeared he was online multiple times a day — blogging, tweeting and commenting on anything and everything.

Only you can determine the right level of activity. In a world where everything is so transparent and searchable, you want your activity to show that you're interested in the world and other people, enthusiastically engaged in your work, and connecting with others in meaningful online conversations.

Gary Burnison is a best-selling author and CEO of Korn Ferry, the world's largest hiring and recruiting firm. His latest book, "Leadership U: Accelerating Through the Crisis Curve," lays out a framework to show leaders how to create change. His previous book, "Advance: The Ultimate How-to Guide for Your Career," shares an insider's look on everything you need to take control and get ahead in your career. He is also the author of "Lose the Resume, Land the Job." Follow him on LinkedIn.

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