Is Your LinkedIn Headline Hurting Your Career Opportunities?
Updated: May 25, 2021
Attracting the right attention and setting the context
“Seeking opportunities at Seeking a new opportunity”
“Looking for work”.
“Multi skill employee at (insert company name)“
These are actual headlines I’ve grabbed from current LinkedIn profiles.
The headline is the section that sits right below your name on your LinkedIn profile. Look at these headlines above and ask yourself what you think about them. Assume that these headlines belong to people you are not connected to which makes this the first time you are coming across such a profile.
Think about what impressions these headlines are creating for you.
What does your headline say about you?
At the outset, let me say that there is nothing technically wrong with these headlines. They state a current situation and an important need for the account holder.
What makes for a good headline can be quite subjective but we can all agree that, at its minimum, a good LinkedIn headline should do its primary job.
So what should a good headline do?
It should raise awareness about the person in a positive, compelling way. It should drive curiosity and indicate clearly the person’s area of focus/interest. Each headline above says something about the person’s situation but it is not the best element to highlight.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
“Currently unemployed” This is simply a current state of affairs. Given that it is neither positive nor permanent, it should be removed. Keep your reader in mind. They are not concerned with the fact that you’re out of work.
Your reader is far more interested in understanding the skills and experience you bring to the job. Your reader wants to know the type of work you seek.
“Seeking opportunities at Seeking a new opportunity” and “Looking for work”
All of us are seeking opportunities, even those in full-time roles. Again, your reader is better served if you provide clarity about your experience, skills and interests.
Remember that the headline is powerfully positioned at the top of your profile. Use that to your advantage. Rather than talk about the fact that you’re looking for work, find a way to incorporate in the headline the kind of work you seek and why.
“Multi skill employee at (insert company name)“
Again, you’ve gotten your reader’s attention and instead of delving straight into something that positions you strongly, you choose to waffle. With limited space in the headline, inserting the company name is unnecessary.
Think about your headline much like how online stores think about their customers. These stores want to reduce friction. This may be delays and inconveniences in the customer experience that cause them to abandon their shopping journey before they complete a purchase. This friction costs businesses billions of dollars in ecommerce opportunities every year.
One way to avoid friction is to map out the customer journey and understand where common drop-offs occur. One example is to reduce the number of clicks in the digital shopping experience.
Now apply this to your LinkedIn profile.
Readers can come from anywhere and include people who might be interested in you or your company. Readers can also include people who chance upon your profile because of what is captured in your profile or your posts.
Readers may include managers and peers in your company across location, industry competitors who search for people by company, hiring managers and recruiters, people searching for specific things and come across you based on location, keyword or other criteria.
Your goal is to ensure that your profile is always in a ready state and able to position you strongly.
Besides a clear and smooth flow of information, you want to reduce the possibility of friction too. In this context, friction creates confusion, uncertainty or even a bad impression. Once this sets in, it becomes difficult to undo the damage.
In your profile, friction can arise in a number of ways:
1. Information mismatch
For example, you might say something in your headline that contradicts your work experience. Or you may highlight a skill in your About section that you fail to refer to in your Experience section (a skill that may not be immediately apparent from the role itself).
This can create confusion or disbelief which seeps into the impression created when the reader views other sections of your profile.
2. Incomplete information Your reader gets a sense of you based on what’s presented (and also, what is not presented). Remember that the reader will not assume things in your favour.
For example, not using the About section to tell your story leaves the reader to pick up what they can from the Experience section. This is less than ideal when, for example, your Experience is merely listing your job title and company name.
3. Badly presented details Examples of this include a poorly taken profile picture, a blah background image, a handful of boring descriptions in your About section.
Remember that, unlike a face to face scenario, where you can engage and respond effectively to how the other person reacts or perceives information presented, a digital profile is static. It is up to the reader to draw whatever conclusions they can about you and this occurs within a very short time-frame. Their impression of you may also be affected by information they gather from other sources.
4. The hard sell
This is a term well understood within the advertising or sales context. A hard sell is a technique that is strongly focused on persuading a customer to make an immediate purchase of a product.
Don’t get me wrong. The confluence of the right audience, product and timing is any salesperson’s heaven and a platform like LinkedIn offers a treasure trove of data which provides valuable insight into prospects and leads.
Many would understand the concept of the hard sell by looking in their LinkedIn inbox, having received dozens (if not hundreds) of cold emails from strangers offering to solve problems, demo their product or introduce their service. But aside from this, how else might you be engaging in a hard sell? In your profile and your posts.
With your profile, a hard sell is talking only about your company and product in your About section. This section should be about you, not your company. You can share background information on your company further down in the Experience section. Alternatively, you could consider having a LinkedIn company page.
With your posts, a hard sell can come about when all posts are promotion-heavy or you broadcast excessively pushing products or services. Marketers use social media to churn out content but this is not only a numbers game.
Getting visibility only to come across aggressive can mean that your reader is turned off by you and potentially, even your company.
Develop - Get Feedback - Revisit - Revise - Repeat
One of the best aspects of your LinkedIn headline is the fact that it is malleable. This means that you can reshape it anytime and you should.
Develop your headline and work to make it stand out for you. Solicit feedback from peers, mentors or friends to see what they understand about your headline.
Assess the feedback and decide on the changes you need to make. As your career evolves and as you take on more responsibility or projects at work, constantly assess how these developments can be incorporated into your profile.
What can you highlight?
What can you say about your involvement in a specific project that speaks to your skill?
How can you share a positive outcome you’ve achieved and relate it to your overall strengths?
How can you incorporate storytelling in your profile across all the different aspects, from your headline, experience, volunteering, projects and more?
How can you take all these different aspects and ensure a consistency, flow and alignment with your overall career goals?
At certain milestones - career pivot, change of job, completion of key projects, acquisition of new skills - think about how you can incorporate these in various areas within your profile. Yet, at the same time, keep your reader in mind so that you regularly draw the connection between what you do and the outcomes you obtain.
Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes is one of the most critical aspects of this task.
Your goal is to ensure that your profile attracts attention and that it is retained long enough to get a sense of who you are and what you can bring through a review of your profile, your activities and importantly, how others in your network engage with you.
Now, take a look at your headline.
What does it say about you? Is your current headline hurting your career in any way?
Review the ideas here. You are likely to find a number of ways you can make small (or even big) improvements that will make all the difference.
This is a condensed version of a longer article. To find out some best practices for developing your LinkedIn headline, please read Why LinkedIn Headlines Make a Difference.