Is a lackluster headline killing your LinkedIn profile?

Are you wasting characters on fluff or, worse, defaulting to a basic job title—one that might not align with current industry nomenclature? Follow these tips to stand out from the crowd.

LinkedIn is the modern résumé.

Though it doesn’t necessarily replace the paper version, it’s the first place most people look when you apply for a job, and where recruiters and headhunters are most likely to find your professional achievements.

It’s essential that you stand out and compel visitors to read about the great things you offer.

Probably the biggest challenge of creating a LinkedIn profile is maximizing every field—ensuring all your descriptions and language present you in the best light.

Your headline stands as the most important element—your key opportunity to make a great first impression and entice the reader to learn more. It’s important you get it right, but how? What keywords or terms should you include in your headline? What should you avoid?

Here are a few expert tips on creating and maximizing your LinkedIn headline and building your personal brand on the professional network.

Step 1: Clarify

As with all Web-based search, LinkedIn is reliant on keywords.

In LinkedIn search, your headline is one of the most highly weighted elements. How do you find the right words?

Explore your options with LinkedIn’s built-in search function; you can see what others in your industry are calling themselves. First, select an industry on your profile. Then, go to the edit option for your headline and click “See what other users in your industry are using”:

This will open a window with a listing of others in your industry, along with their headlines. This should spark ideas for your headline.

Another basic yet relevant method is to go to the jobs tab and search for positions being advertised in your field.

Often companies will create their own titles and definitions—your last job title might not be what the industry is calling that same position. Going though the listings, you can get an idea of the terms being used.

Note the specifics. People searching for a “social media editor” might not find you if you list yourself as an expert in “social media editing.”

Those nuances are important; consider searcher intent over self descriptors to ensure you’re getting all the attention you deserve.

Ideally, you could identify the most common keywords searched on LinkedIn specifically. Because that’s not an option, you can use Google Trends to pinpoint the most common terms being used in your industry.

It’s important to be contextually relevant: The word “accounting” is most probably not what searchers use when seeking future employees, but matching up variations of your job title or potential title will show you which terms are commonly searched.

The job search website Indeed has created a job title trends tool that analyzes listings from thousands of job sites; it shows, by percentage, how many listings include the terms you search for.

Using this tool, you can see industry trends and get an idea of the most-searched terms on job sites. The search is not region-specific, so the data should be used only as an indicator, but it could guide you toward the ideal words.

Step 2: Represent

So now you have a list of keywords together, and you know what to call yourself to align with the most common searches. That’s only part of the equation. It’s important that your headline does more than replicate everyone else’s.

You have to stand out.

As noted in this post by Liz Ryan:

“Your LinkedIn headline is your online brand, because your name and your headline are the only things a LinkedIn user will see when s/he conducts a search on the LinkedIn database and your profile comes up as one of the search returns.”

Though keywords will increase your chances of being found, your headline should compel them to find out more.

Consider what you offer, more so than what you are. Summarize yourself and your professional experience in terms of what you can provide and want to do.

It’s commonly held among LinkedIn experts that you should not list yourself as “seeking new opportunities” or “currently unemployed.” Here are a few reasons:

  • You use up valuable space. If your headline is the biggest factor in LinkedIn search—in leading potential employers and opportunities to you—that headline, all 120 characters of it, should showcase you and what you bring to the table.
  • Listing yourself as “seeking opportunities” can be seen as a negative, as some will read this as desperate and detrimental to your value. As Pete Leibman notes: “You shouldn’t be sitting back waiting for recruiters or hiring managers to find you anyway. You should be proactively seeking opportunities on your own.”
  • Your headline is where you want to grab people’s attention. You can end your summary by saying: “I’m looking for new opportunities.” However, the end date of your last job will show your current status either way.

Some believe listing yourself as “seeking new opportunities” is a viable practice. Some recruiters regularly search for “seeking new opportunities” on LinkedIn to identify prospects.

In my research, most LinkedIn experts recommend against noting this in your headline, but if you feel it’s a more honest and transparent representation of your status, then first enter an attention-grabbing sentence of what you offer, then specify what prospects you favor (e.g., “seeking new opportunities in media and communications”).

Step 3: Optimize

So, now you have a keyword-rich, attention-grabbing headline. The last step is to optimize it. Here are some of the best tips I’ve found:

  • MarketingProfsTobias Schremmer advises against making obscure statements (“Always looking for ‘purple squirrels'”) or quirky designations (“Part-time superhero”), and to distill your career experience to one short sentence. It sounds daunting, but there are good examples in this post. Schremmer also advises against using LinkedIn’s default headline—the most recent job title on your profile. That’s boring; avoid it to stand out.
  • Career strategist Michelle Evans offers a guide for creating an attention-grabbing headline in this post. For example, Evans offers this formula for those seeking to establish their expertise in their niche: {Keyword/subject matter expert area} who {does what} for {client, company, audience, project}. {Proof point}. It’s an interesting suggestion that might work if you’re having trouble coming up with a creative sting.
  • Elliott Bell from The Muse provides a short video on creating a great headline. It will help you understand the process and how to conceptualize what you want to achieve.
  • “Think of your Headline as a value statement—as the future, not the present,” says Andy Foote of LinkedInsights.com in this post, which provides great examples of original (if not risky) LinkedIn headlines.
  • Ana Hoffman suggests using the “so what?” approach in this LinkedIn headlines guide. “Social media consultant? So what? So I can show you how to master social media presence no matter what your niche is.” There’s your headline.
  • LinkedIn expert Melonie Dodaro advises that the essence of creating a successful headline is that the best profiles speak directly to your ideal clients. Melonie wrote the best-selling book “The LinkedIn Code,” so I trust her opinions.

Most people find writing about themselves difficult, but these ideas should help you optimize your LinkedIn headline and set you on the path to optimizing your career.

A version of this article first appeared on Firebrand’s blog.

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