First Impressions on LinkedIn: The Big 3

If someone is quickly scanning through LinkedIn search results, they mainly see your name, picture and headline.

What LinkedIn search results look like

LinkedIn search results - picture and headline

Since your picture and headline are so prominent, they are naturally very important elements that people will use to get a sense of who you are. Are you a valuable connection, potential employee or industry expert?

The third big thing on your profile that matters most for first impressions is your summary (a quick overview of your experience and expertise). Let's see how we can optimize the Big 3 of LinkedIn first impressions.

1. Your LinkedIn picture

If you go to without being logged in, you'll see very good examples of pictures. (Notice that they're a bit darker, to make the form more obvious).

Your picture - LinkedIn first impressions

The pictures make these people seem approachable and reliable. And that's what your picture should convey. So how can you achieve that?

Well, let's examine what they have in common. (Ok, yeah, it's a bunch of not-quite-models-but-very-good-looking people who are still fairly young. But there's more.)

  • Lights are flattering. Which means natural light if possible. Flashes or direct sunlight aren't good for portraits, as they create harsh shadows.
  • Dressed professionally.
  • Smiling (but not overdoing it).
  • Tightly cropped: we see a bit of shoulders and there's just a tiny space above their heads. (Go back to the first image at the top of this article to see how small pictures are in search results. The lady in red is unrecognizable.)
  • No white-wall backgrounds. The above pictures with a white background look great because they were achieved with professional equipment. The background is very crisp, without shadows.

I don't want to geek out on the technical side, but these pictures all have a high quality feel, which is very hard to achieve with point-and-shoot cameras or smart phones. A big camera makes a big difference, beyond megapixels (i.e. image resolution). Lenses and sensors play a big part. You might not have a DSLR camera, but you probably have a relative or a friend who does. Maybe they could help? Or you could pay a professional (which can easily cost in the hundreds of dollars).

But take the time to do it well. It will definitely have a positive impact.

2. Your headline

Your LinkedIn headline is the first thing people read (after your name). These are words which will strongly shape your reader's first impression. Will they click on your profile? It really depends on the compelling power of these 120 characters in your headline. So try to make the most of it!

The obvious way to do it: say what's your job and where you do it.

  • Marketing manager at [Company]
  • Global IP strategy at [Company]
  • Lab technician looking for new challenges

But that's what everybody does. If you want to stand out, you'll have to try something else.

As an aside, if you're looking for a job, recruiters might be using keywords such as "opportunities", "looking for", "challenges", and "new". You want to hit those keywords. So don't find a clever way to say it, like you "want to slay bigger dragons" or you're "craving innovative work". Keep it simple!

Three ways to write a better LinkedIn headline

Alright. Here are 3 options to go beyond the typical headline and stand out.

5 things about you
This one is fairly easy to execute. And you get to choose cute little separators (check marks, vertical bars, stars... or, you know, commas). Of course, it doesn't have to be five things. Here's a few examples I found in groups I belong to:

  • Speaker. 20+ years of B2B. Integrated marketing & sales, strategic planing, inbound marketing
  • Business intelligence // Data // Reporting analyst // BI project manager
  • Keynote speaker ** Social selling evangelist ** Startup advisor ** Modern marketing expert ** Change agent
  • CEO ✔ LinkedIn author ✔ Social media speaker ✔ Sales and lead generation ✔ Brand management
  • Senior social media marketing manager, digital storyteller, corporate brand strategist and speaker

The "classic plus..."
You can start with your job title and add something about the way you do it or the value you bring. See for yourself:

  • Senior brand marketing associate @ [Company]. I'm creating clear, distinct, on-brand stuff.
  • Marketing leader helping brands through smart strategy and technology
  • Social media manager who tripled an already big B2B e-mail list in 6 months
  • Cardiac devices specialist, author and educator
  • Social media | Branding | Online marketing | Simple tips + strategies on how to profitably market your biz/brand online

With panache
This is the most creative approach. It's obviously not for everyone. Some readers won't like it, but those who do might really like it.

  • The World's Greatest Cold Caller / Author / Speaker
  • Registered nurse known for laughing too loud
  • Passionate writer with an addiction to dictionaries

If you want to portray yourself as a "legal ninja" or an "Excel junkie", this is your chance. And the headline is one of the rare places you can get away with this sort of eccentricity. It's not a "safe" way to do it, but it will draw attention. Try it at your own risk. But please do me a favor and never call yourself a guru.

(There are many parallels between the job search and the dating scene: trying to "seduce" by showing what's great about you with various limited tools, having to meet certain criteria very quickly, the pain of rejection, how stressful it is, ... OkCupid wrote a fascinating piece on attractiveness. One of its conclusions is that "The more men disagree about a woman's looks, the more messages she gets." In my view, their analysis demonstrates that something which turns off a lot of people (e.g. tattoos) could be a strong turn on for many others. A good creative headline probably works like that. But that's just an intuition.)

3. Your LinkedIn summary

Your LinkedIn summary should be very similar to your resume summary. With bullet points, you want to show that you've got the credentials, the experience and the skills required. And you want to put forward your best accomplishments. It gives your reader a very quick overview of the value that you can bring. And it's a good spot to drop a few critical keywords from your field.

Example - IT Security (from this article)

  • Seasoned analyst providing leadership, training, and monitoring in security protection and solution development.
  • Unique background includes software engineering, project management, and enterprise-wide security assessments as well as security research.
  • Lead consultant for two large PCI-DSS compliance remediation projects, with a retail client (500 stores) and a restaurant chain (1200 locations).
  • Trained several junior analysts on conducting network forensics and identifying hacking activity.

Example - Finance professional (from this other article)

  • 15 years of experience in investment management, and certified as a CFA.
  • With a record of outperforming widely utilized benchmarks on a consistent basis, I am a top performer with the ability to deliver immediately in new roles.
  • Key accomplishment - Two separately managed account strategies out-performed the S&P 500 in 2013 and 2014 by an average of 250 to 300 basis points annually.
  • Key accomplishment - Recruited, hired, mentored, and led a core team of 6 managers who worked together for 3 fruitful years.

Your LinkedIn summary can repeat material that is found later on in your LinkedIn profile (for instance, the accomplishments can simply be copied and pasted).

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If you do it right, the Big 3 will make your LinkedIn profile shine, which will be a great stepping stone for your job search or your networking efforts.

According to a CareerXRoads 2014 report, 6 in 10 companies surveyed said that LinkedIn was a critical component for their recruiters and sourcing groups. Since LinkedIn has become such a popular recruiting and vetting tool, the time investment to tweak your profile is definitely worth it!