Note: the following guide is targeted towards early-career employees specifically applying to the tech & startup space. Some of these details may be less relevant to those applying to traditional industries.
LinkedIn sometimes seems like a bit of a meme with all its self-congratulatory posts and generic comments on work anniversary updates.
Used correctly, it can be the most important tool in your career.
This starts with your profile, and too often, people just use this as a barebones digital resume: a list of jobs and a degree.
But taking the time to flesh out the details and share your story helps to create a more holistic representation of your strengths, your personality, and the opportunities that you’d best be suited to.
Why does that matter? Well, when you’re reaching out to potential employers on LinkedIn or when they’re screening applications, you need to do your best to stand out from the crowd and make your value proposition crystal clear.
Let’s dive in section-by-section and do a makeover.
- Uhhhh...Have A Photo: Just in case there were any doubts, absolutely have a photo; people want to see you’re a real person and not a spam account.
- Keep it PG 13+: You probably don’t want to use that photo with you going wild with a drink on the dancefloor. Save the raunchy holiday photos for your Instagram story.
- Don’t Take Your Photo With a Potato: Have a picture that’s high resolution and clearly displays your face.
- Wear Clothes That Match Your Target Working Environment: A common misconception is that you have to wear a suit & tie or formal work attire in your LinkedIn photo. If you’re applying for banking or legal roles, then that’s a fair call. But if it’s tech/startups? A smart-casual collared shirt is probably fine; even a clean, crisp t-shirt. Wear what you’d wear to the office because that’s an authentic representation of you.
- Crack A Smile: Your photo is the first impression and mental model that people will have of you. Why so serious?
- Keep Your Photo Up To Date: If your hair length, hair colour or facial hair have significantly changed, best to reflect this in your profile picture so people don’t get too shocked when they meet you.
LinkedIn banners are a huge piece of digital real estate at the top of peoples’ screens. And yet, so many waste that opportunity on a default background. Say something about who you are and what you do with visuals, and instantly stand out from other jobseekers before the recruiter has even read a word on your page. There’s no golden rule, but here are 5 key approaches to banners you can consider:
- Profile Summary Graphic: A simple graphic that shows key details like your name, current role/employer, key skills, education, awards, contact details, etc. is an effective way to quickly give readers a high-level visual overview of the most important things they need to know. For the creative types out there, a custom-designed LinkedIn banner in your program of choice can serve as the entree to your design/marketing/content portfolio, with something as simple as your name But don’t worry if you’re no pro: it takes 5 minutes to whip something up in Canva. Note: I had a bit too much fun with mine, but choose a pun at your own risk.
- Action Shot: A photo of you putting your skills to work. For example, think of a photo of you giving a presentation. This can be a great way to highlight one of your recent professional/extracurricular experiences or frame your personal brand around a certain skill or environment.
- Interests: Choose a nice, high-resolution photo from Unsplash that demonstrates a key interest or hobby of yours… except if that hobby is photography. Then maybe take the photo yourself. Overall, a simple and aesthetic way to help people get a better feel for who you are.
- Project: You can use the banner as a clear, visual way to show companies, organisations or projects you’re currently working on. Oftentimes, companies will give staff members LinkedIn banners they can use but if not, you can whip up a simple one yourself with the company logo and a clean background.
- Team: Showcase a photo of the people you work with. This can help give an impression of being friendly, collaborative and team-oriented.
Check out a few examples below for inspiration:
❌ “Student at UNSW”
No no no. Your LinkedIn headline is the one-line summary of who you are and what you do. How are employers going to remember a candidate with the same generic headline as 50 other job applicants?
So what sort of things should you consider adding in?
- Your Current Role and Company: e.g. Business Intern @ Google
- Key Skills / Interests: e.g. Product | Marketing | Sales (high-level disciplines)
- Field of Study and University e.g. Computer Science/Marketing @ UNSW
- Leadership Roles: e.g. VP Consulting @ 180 Degrees Consulting
- Jobseeking Note: e.g Actively Seeking UX Design Role
Note: you don’t necessarily need to have all of these, but maybe choose 2-3 and separate them with bars to improve readability like so:
There's no one right way to do a bio, because everyone's story is different, but here's a few general tips that can help recruiters and companies to get a better sense of who you are and what you can do:
- First Person, Not Third Person: You’re the one writing it, not your mum!
- Be Authentic: Your bio is your chance to give a high-level verbal summary of who you are and why you do what you do. Being open about your story and what motivates you is a powerful way to build a more genuine connection with potential employers who visit your profile.
- Have a Mission Statement: Tell people what motivates you, what problems piss you off, and what industries and skills fascinate you. This is a great way to convey alignment with certain opportunities and companies at a cultural level.
- Have a tl;dr of Your Experiences: Even if you're going to have a longer bio, give people a one-line summary of your career profile to succinctly convey your value proposition. Could be your field(s) of work, companies you've worked for, years of experience and degree.
- Be Structured: In order to improve readability, you can structure your bio into sections with headings like a tl;dr of your whole LinkedIn profile. Even throw in a couple of emojis to break up text and improve readability. Here's the skeleton I use (full version here), but feel free to customise it to your needs!
👋 *intro statement*
👀 What I'm working on now: X
💼 Professional Experience: X
🌏 Community Leadership: X
🏆 Recognition: X
🎨 Skills: X
🔗 Portfolio Link: X
...and in my spare time: X
- Links To Your Work: If you’re in design/software development/content marketing, make sure to link to a portfolio showcasing some of your work (can even be projects you did for university or for fun in your spare time).
This is the best way to showcase pieces of work you’ve created or projects you’ve been involved in. Things to consider featuring:
- Articles you’ve written
- Articles featured in
- Popular posts you’ve made on LinkedIn
- Links to the website of companies and organisations you’re working with
- Links to personal websites/portfolio sites/Github repositories
Open To Work Setting
If you’re actively job-hunting, do yourself a favour and turn on the open to work setting to let recruiters or profile visitors know that you’re actively looking for work. That way, opportunities will come to you instead of you always having to go out and find opportunities.
You can customise what sort of job titles you’re interested in, what job type e.g. intern vs. full time, what locations, and whether you’re looking to start ASAP. A lot of people I know were worried about using this feature because they didn’t want their current employer to find out, but LinkedIn allows you to toggle the visibility of this setting such that it will only be visible to recruiters outside your current company:
Whereas resumes should be limited to one page and may focus only on your most relevant roles, it’s totally okay to show roles on LinkedIn even if less relevant to your target profession. People appreciate the ability to better understand your story and get a more authentic sense of who you are, but compounding that, this also helps you to be more easily discovered by alumni from the same companies.
Here are a few quick tips about how to frame your experiences:
- Focus on Achievements, Not Responsibilities: Employers don’t want to know what you were meant to do in your role, they want to know what you actually did. Talk about what you built, what you created,
- Show Me The Numbers: If you can’t measure it, can an employer really trust you actually got shit done? Think here about:
- $ figures (sales amount, savings generated, revenue generated)
- % figures (increased memberships by 30%, reduced wait times by 50%),
- Scale figures (managed a team of 10 engineers, conducted 50 customer interviews, reached 30,000 viewers)
This doesn’t just have to be your university and degree. The Education section can be a chance to include other external courses, bootcamps or overseas exchanges to add flavour and depth to the learning you’ve undertaken.
Within your university section, it can be helpful to mention your grades if those are a strong point for your profile (both overall average and any standout subject rankings), as well as key extracurriculars, leadership roles and awards/scholarships you’ve received.
Note: if you don’t want to clutter this section, short courses can be moved under Licences and Certifications or under Accomplishments -> Courses, so that people can more easily focus on your main educational experiences.
LinkedIn doesn’t just have to be about your ‘professional roles’. Use this section to showcase work you’ve done for university societies, community organisations, charities or other side-projects that don’t neatly fit into the work section.
Skills & Endorsements
To be honest, most people don’t take the numbers on these as any serious reflection of your ability or quality because LinkedIn has an unfortunate culture of giving out endorsements without any knowledge of whether people actually have those skills.
What is slightly useful is the ability to pin three of your skills as ‘Top Skills’, such that by default, these are the three skills readers see unless they click ‘Show more’. What this demonstrates is what you believe your core competencies and areas of interest to be, which can help employers to understand what roles may be the right fit for you.
WAY more important than Skills & endorsements, but way less utilised. No more “referees available upon request” placeholder in your resume! Build credibility and trust in the information on your profile by asking your co-workers, clients & managers to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn. Ideally, you want these recommendations to capture your personal qualities, technical skills and any key achievements in the relevant role. Generally speaking, avoid seeking recommendations from people with whom you have only had limited interaction on measurable projects and initiatives; this dilutes the value and reliability of the recommendations.
There are two subsections here that have higher leverage:
- Honours & Awards: Pretty self-explanatory, but don’t be afraid to showcase what you’ve achieved. Consider any competitions you’ve won, awards you’ve obtained, scholarships you’ve received and so forth.
- Projects: An underutilised section, but a great way to showcase interesting or career-related projects you’ve worked on that don’t neatly fit into your work or volunteer experiences. This could be major university assignments, personal side-projects, contract job projects, or even key pieces of work you’ve done with student societies/charities.