What’s the best way to write your LinkedIn Profile?

By Neil Patrick

The web is full of opinions about the best way to write your LinkedIn profile. And they mostly make one big mistake. They assume that there is a single ‘correct’ way…

Last night I enjoyed a great debate with two friends who I think are well qualified to give an expert view about the best way to write a LinkedIn profile.

One has over 10,000 connections on LinkedIn, so you might call him a power user. The other is a full time professional resume writer and LinkedIn profile writer.

Our discussion was all about the best way to present a LinkedIn profile. Is there a single best way, or does it depend on the individual, i.e. different strokes for different folks?

Should it be written in the first or third person?

Of course we’ve all read and written a good deal about the best way to write a LinkedIn profile. We also have between us many years' experience of helping others with their profiles. So we compared notes and experiences and set out to debate some of these ideas and hopefully arrive at some fresh conclusions.

The debate started with the question, ‘What’s best, writing a LinkedIn profile in the first person, i.e. I am..., or the third person, i.e. he/she is...?

We focused not on the mechanics of content as an SEO-orientated writer might, but rather the impression a profile makes on its readers. At the core of this question is a dilemma:

How can we show off our accomplishments and expertise without sounding conceited and frankly like a bit of a jerk?

The first opinion that tumbled out was that if someone is making great claims about their successes, and uses the first person, then the reader is given one of two impressions. Either, if they have reason to trust the profile, they believe it and think “Wow, this person is a real high flyer”. However, if they are a more skeptical reader, they are inclined to think, “What an arrogant show off…I don’t believe half this stuff!”

But if we have genuinely achieved some amazing things in our careers, then it’s only right that we should present them on our LinkedIn profile. So how can we do this without appearing conceited?

Using the third person dissolves skepticism

We felt that in this case, using the third person is a better tactic. Whilst we still may never satisfy the biggest skeptics, at least our profile reads as if it were written by someone other than ourselves. So that’s a way to appear less conceited. The downside however is that it makes us appear less approachable and somewhat aloof. But if you have a great many outstanding achievements in your career, this may be the best compromise.

Facts are facts, adjectives are merely opinions

The second idea we debated was the issue of fact vs. opinion. I happen to believe that a fact-based profile is a good choice for those who have significant career accomplishments.

So what’s a fact-based profile? Well it contains nothing but simple facts of course. It doesn't have hyped-up meaningless adjectives like ‘driven, results-focused, inspiring, dynamic’. As I wrote about here, I think these words are really dangerous, unless they can be backed up by independent evidence.

If you say you are dynamic, what is your metric for measuring that? Compared to whom are you dynamic? Might it just be a lazy way of trying to spin the fact that, “I get bored easily, rush about and neglect details?" So the best way to turn this weakness into a strength is to say I’m ‘dynamic’? Sorry I’m not convinced!

So the second point is that adjectives are really risky. Careless use of ones which are simply there to puff up the impression you create can very easily do the exact opposite and just make you look arrogant and/or sloppy.

But I really am an authority and expert…

But let’s say you are a genuinely highly respected expert in your field and people think very highly of you. Well don’t say it yourself, use what others have said instead. Eg. ‘Described by xyz magazine as one of the foremost thinkers on renewable energies’. Doesn't that sound a whole lot better than, ‘I’m a leading authority and expert on renewable energies.’?

You might be thinking, "that’s fine, but no-one has written anything favorable about me ever." Really? I think you are deceiving yourself. Think back to your appraisals when you were given positive feedback. Remind yourself about how you were introduced last time you spoke at a big meeting or conference. Think hard enough and you’ll find plenty of true and relevant material.

It's a fact. Most people just don’t give enough thought to their profiles. They rush through them, eager to get on to the next task in their to do list. Don’t. Give it quality time and care. But don’t worry you have to get it perfect from the start. Make it as good as you can. And come back to it to refine it when you next have some downtime.

Early stage career people can still have content rich profiles

The third point was that for those people who are early on in their careers, they’ve simply not had enough time to rack up extensive accomplishments. But even so, there’s still plenty of keyword rich material you can use in your profiles. Like the name of the software you used on your final year college project; the name of the business you worked for in your summer vacation, the cities you spent time in during your gap year.

The bottom line we concluded is that there is no ‘correct’ one size fits all answer. And then because we all had beers in hand, our discussion turned to other subjects not so relevant to this blog!

So next time you read a load of tips about the best LinkedIn profile, I hope these points help give you some perspective. If you agree or disagree with anything in the post, do please post your thoughts in the comments below.

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