Best Practices for your LinkedIn Headline

Headlines are made to draw attention. And social media is filled with over-promising headlines, because they get people to click. (Not you, I know. You're much too smart for that. But other people do click on silly titles, like: "7 Breaking Bad tactics to get an interview TOMORROW!")

Your LinkedIn profile also has a headline, with that very real potential of drawing more clicks from recruiters. Seriously. Recruiters use LinkedIn to search for potential candidates. They will very quickly assess your photo and headline in order to decide if they click through or move on. Because they have a lot of ground to cover. That's why your headline is critical... (Part of what I call the Big 3 of LinkedIn first impressions).

Through the best practices to LinkedIn headlines, presented below, I'll share some critical tips gathered from 7 experts on the web. By "experts", I mean professionals who wrote a relevant book or are trusted voices in the job search sphere.

What do experts agree on? (Best practices)

1-Your headline is an important piece of your LinkedIn profile. Take the time to craft it well.

2-Your headline needs to be punchy. It needs to attract readers. And there's a lot of room to do better than the default "Web developer at Widgets.com".

3-Use keywords as building blocks for your LinkedIn headline. This is the part where you "seduce" LinkedIn's algorithm. In other words, you choose optimal words (according to what recruiters are likely to search for) in order to please LinkedIn's search engine. Each word in your headline carries a lot of SEO weight. (It's also true for the words in your job titles.)

3 best practices for your LinkedIn headline

What do they disagree on?

They only disagree on minor stuff.

1- The definition of "personal brand". Louise Fletcher argues against personal brand: "As you build your LinkedIn profile, remember that recruiters don’t give two hoots about your 'personal brand.' They only care about whether you fit the criteria for the position they are currently trying to fill."

On the other hand, Meg Guiseppi has an entire article on making your personal brand visible on Linkedin. When she discusses the headline, she says: "Pump it up with the relevant key words your target audience will be searching for."

I think they fundamentally agree on the basic ideas, but Fletcher associates "personal brand" with buzzword-filled headlines. However, as we'll see below, Guiseppi is also adamant about strictly using meaningful keywords, as opposed to buzzwords such as "professional" or "results-oriented". Because no recruiter ever searches for those.

2- Using capital letters on most words. Most experts seem to write LinkedIn headlines as they would a newspaper headline, i.e. capitalizing most words. Only two experts seem to have a more distant relationship with the Shift key. And I tend to side with them, but that probably stems from my French side.

Overall, the disagreements are hard to notice. No one, for instance, says that LinkedIn headlines are secondary. Now they each have a specific angle, obviously. For instance, some put more emphasis on the benefits ("What's in it for me?"/value for the employer) while others encourage you to make the most of the 120 characters allowed in the headline.

Key excerpts about LinkedIn headlines, with examples

Brian Howard, executive recruiter and author, The Motivated Job Search

On the CareerCloud podcast, Howard talked about what he wants to see in a headline. And he says that even on a resume, he likes to be "punched in the nose right away" with a strong headline. Here's his suggested structure:

Title or functional title... Specializes in/expert in... Industry, area or knowledge

Louise Fletcher, resume writing chief, Blue Sky Resumes

When I write LinkedIn headlines for my clients, I focus on summarizing their story clearly and succinctly. So for a sales executive in the entertainment industry (the profession discussed in the post) I’d prefer to see something like this:

Sales executive with 15+ years in the entertainment industry | ABC, NBC, Sony Music & Warner Bros | MBA, Wharton

This headline tells a recruiter all he needs to know to click through and learn more … and it does it without being icky and boastful.

Meg Guiseppi, C-suite executive job search strategist, Executive Career Brand

To maximize your LinkedIn professional headline, make it SEO-friendly. That is, include the most important relevant keywords recruiters and your target employers will be searching for, when they’re sourcing top talent. [...]

Improving your headline doesn’t mean loading it with anemic phrases like “results-oriented”, “hands-on” and “forward-thinking”. [...]

CEO, COO, President – Global Manufacturing Turnaround Management – Lean | JIT | Demand Flow Technology

You can pack quite a punch with the 120 characters allowed. Use as many of the characters as you can, while keeping the headline comprehensible.

Donna Serdula, LinkedIn and executive branding expert, LinkedIn Makeover

Notice how they are keyword-packed for search engine optimization, contain a benefit statement so people know what they can expect from working with them but they also contain a clear call to action. [...]

Founder & CEO ★ Injection Molding ★ Design & Prototyping & Product Design & Development ★ How Can I Help You?

Experienced Sales Professional Looking to Positively Impact a New Organization ★ Prospecting ★ Closer ★ Let's Connect!

Joshua Waldman, author, Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies

Your message has to be about them and how you can solve their problem. [...]

Your headline needs to very quickly label you as a certain type of person, i.e. Sr. Level Exec versus line manager. [...]

Sr. Director of Operations Specializing in Asset Tracking and Compliance | Former Naval Officer and Six Sigma Blackbelt

It’s easy to get too clever with your headline. Remember that recruiters on LinkedIn are using keyword searching to find new talent. So the use of keywords out-weighs being cute.

[In another article, Career Enlightenment offers 2 cool examples of creative headlines:]
Early Childhood educator with 8 years of experience taking your children off your hands and molding them into angels. You’re welcome.

The Mercedes Whisperer, 20 years of specialized Mercedes auto mechanics.

Donna Svei, executive resume writer, Avid Careerist

After recruiters look at your photo, your LinkedIn headline is the next item they scan in their search results. Because of this, an effective, professional headline plays a critical role in convincing a recruiter to click through. [...] 70% of LinkedIn members use the default headline (Current Job Title and Current Employer)...

Proofread your headline. Nothing says, “Don’t click through,” to a recruiter more than misspelled words. I lied. Misspelled names are worse than misspelled words. Ask Bbob. [...]

Capitalize appropriately. [...] Weird capitalizations make recruiters worry that the person wears stripes with plaid.

[She even suggests to add click-bait to your headline, with the idea of "what's in it for them?", as in her example:]
CEO/President | Fortune 1000 | Sales Background | Double-Digit Sales & Earnings Growth

Susan P. Joyce, online job search expert, job-hunt.org

The Professional Headline also accompanies your name and photo in your LinkedIn Group activities and other LinkedIn visibility. [...]

Using the right words (like the keywords in the job title of the job you are targeting) will increase the probability that your Profile will appear in a recruiter's search for someone with those skills. [...]

Strategic/Product Marketing Analyst w/5 Years in Consumer Products (B2C): Market Assessment and Competitive Positioning

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As a side-note, if you want pretty bullets to separate each item in your headline, you can simply copy-paste from the following:

♥ ✦ ★ ✻ | ▪ ✱

(If, for some weird reason, you want bullets of umbrellas or scissors, you can find a ridiculous amount of other glyphs here.)

Now put on your marketing hat and write your own headline!

Resumes (and LinkedIn profiles) are often described as marketing material. And you're the product being sold. While you can feel a bit grossed out by this analogy, the job search is really a promotional process. As a marketing and communication professional, I've seen many parallels between marketing books and resume books. (Differentiation, discuss needs and value from the audience's perspective, concision, avoid having too many messages...)

So if you've ever dreamed of being a Mad Men-type copywriter, here's your chance, in 120 characters. (And remember... keywords, not buzzwords.) Use the above best practices and tips from LinkedIn experts to write a captivating, click-generating headline!

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