Let's state the obvious: Job hunting is hard.
Whether you're looking for your first job or your 50th, the whole process can be very intimidating. Social networks like LinkedIn give us more access to job listings than ever before, but on the flip side, the market has never been more saturated.
That's why it's more important than ever to have a strong professional presence online, starting with your LinkedIn profile. When the right recruiter stumbles onto your page, you want it to be in tip-top shape.
So what makes a LinkedIn profile stand out?
Why is your LinkedIn profile important?
Think about your LinkedIn profile is as your "digital resume."
"It gives you a chance to tell your story in your own way, using visuals, using words that will reflect on your background, on your career, but also what you want to do in the future," says Nedyalkova, "It’s all about creating the right image for yourself and connecting with other people."
O'Brien adds that your LinkedIn profile gives you credibility.
"From a professional standpoint, people want to see that you are real," she says. "I think seeing someone’s profile gives some validity.”
When should you get a LinkedIn Profile?
LinkedIn isn't just for professionals.
"It shouldn’t be perceived as a job tool only," says Nedyalkova. "It’s really a life tool."
Whether you're a high school student applying for college or a well-established professional, Nedyalkova says anyone can benefit from having a strong profile page.
How do I stand out from the crowd?
1. Choose the perfect picture
For Nedyalkova, your profile picture is one of the most important parts of your page.
"We are human so we react to visuals first," she says. "The profile photo is something that attracts my attention always."
"If they don’t have a picture, I typically don’t pursue them," O'Brien agrees. "If they can’t complete their profile in its entirety, I assume that maybe they can’t complete things in other areas of their life."
It's also important to have the right kind of photo. O'Brien explains that the best photos are professional pictures taken of just you in which you're smiling.
2. Craft a strong summary
Nedyalkova says the summary is the next most important section because it's the place where you can explain to the recruiter who you are in your own words.
"I would love to see a bit more of their hobbies, their interests, volunteering experience, perhaps different initiatives that they have been a part of to really get to know them in their summary," she says.
For young people just starting out, the summary section can also be used to talk about your goals. Highlighting future goals can also ensure that your profile shows up in searches related to your dream position.
3. Use strong, job-specific keywords
When looking for potential candidates, O'Brien explains that keywords are one of the main ways she finds new talent.
"If you’re looking for a particular job, you should have those keywords in your LinkedIn profile," she says.
Recruiters conduct searches based on particular talents, traits, activities, universities, volunteer organizations, experiences and more. This means that the more you include about yourself, the more likely you are to pop up in a recruiter's search.
As an example, O'Brien shares that a client might be looking to hire a former athlete. When O'Brien is searching for the right candidate, she will include club sports because, for her client, someone who does those activities is still considered an athlete. If a potential candidate leaves that out of their profile, believing it is irrelevant, they won't show up in her search.
4. Fill job descriptions with accomplishments and skills
The job description is your chance to prove you are capable and accomplished. Employers and recruiters are looking for candidates who can back up their hard work with results.
"You don’t want your duties, you want your achievements." says O'Brien, "What cost have you saved a company, what have you managed, project you have taken to fruition, how have you added to the bottom line of the business?"
You also want to include the skills you gained or utilized while on the job.
"If there are critical elements to the job itself, both hard and soft skills, they should be present on the job description," says Nedyalkova.
At the same time, she cautions against using fluffy buzzwords that don't add anything substantial, like "outstanding communication." Overall, you want to get straight to the point, talk about "mission-critical" achievements and keep it short.
5. Give the full picture
If you took a year off to help take care of family matters or to travel, you can explain that in your summary. Experiences beyond your career are also meaningful to hiring managers and recruiters.
When it comes down to it, Nedyalkova says that employers want to hire people. The more you add color to yourself through activities, hobbies and interests, the more you humanize yourself as a candidate.
This also contributes to creating a search-friendly profile. The more information you provide, the more likely you are to show up in a recruiter's search.
What mistakes should I avoid?
1. Don't speak in the third person
"This is your profile and this is your opportunity to shine so you really need to talk about 'I' and 'me'," Nedyalkova says. "Of course in a nice humble way. Not in a self-centered way."
Speaking in the third person distances you from your profile instead of drawing a recruiter in with a pleasant introduction to who you are as a candidate.
O'Brien says that regardless of the person and tense you choose, make sure you are consistent with one throughout your profile. Switching back and forth does not make for a polished LinkedIn profile.
2. Proofread, proofread and proofread again
Making a grammatical error can be an immediate turnoff for someone looking to hire you. Prove you have impeccable attention to detail with an error-free profile.
When you think you're finished proofreading, ask a friend to read through your profile and offer to do the same in return. They might catch mistakes you glazed right over.
3. Make sure your LinkedIn and your resume are aligned
"A lot of my clients will look at LinkedIn and then look at the resume and they don’t match up," O'Brien said. "It needs to be consistent."
If a recruiter or employer finds discrepancies between what you wrote in your LinkedIn profile and what you included in your resume, they may be suspicious of how truthful you are being about your experience.