A strong LinkedIn profile is a must-have tool for senior leaders. Your online presence is often the first impression you make on prospective employers, company employees, potential direct reports, boards of directors—even customers.
Yet executives often hesitate to leverage LinkedIn beyond the basics, resulting in overlooked opportunities for professional networking, relationship building, personal branding and career advancement.
We asked Richard Dodson, LinkedIn Practice Lead at Navigate Forward, to share best practices for winning executive profiles. Dodson leads the “LinkedIn Mastery for Executives” training series, which helps senior leaders maximize their online presence.
“Your profile should be welcoming and make it easy for people to get a sense of who you are, your professional point of view and how you can be of service to others,” Dodson says.
Define your purpose, then tell your story
Before tackling your profile, Dodson recommends thinking through these three elements:
- Purpose. What are you trying to accomplish in your career? Your LinkedIn profile and your online activity should support your goals, whether that’s expanding your professional network, landing a board of director seat, showcasing your experience to potential employers or attracting new consulting clients.
- Target audience. Who are you trying to communicate and connect with? Identifying the most important individuals or groups will help you focus your profile. A common mistake is assuming your only audience will be recruiters. The most effective executive profiles speak to a broad array of professionals who share your interests at all stages of your career, not just during a job search.
- Key messages. What is your core message? As a leader, you have a distinct point of view and clear personal brand; you’re passionate about your job, your company, your industry and your team. A welcoming and authentic LinkedIn profile translates these perspectives to the online environment.
Best Practices for Executive LinkedIn Profiles
Once you’ve clarified your purpose, audience and core message, let that information drive your LinkedIn profile. Dodson recommends these best practices for executives:
Make a strong first impression. Our expectations of social media have grown significantly; they’re especially high for those in C-suite, president, general manager and VP roles. That means starting your profile with a professional photo, a memorable headline and a personalized URL.
Dodson also encourages executives to use free or inexpensive stock photography to convey their expertise through a unique banner graphic.
“Be creative and think outside the box,” he says. “If you’re an experienced strategist, a chess game or a compass image help tell that story. If you’re working in science or biotechnology, an image of a lab or a DNA helix will make your industry readily apparent.”
Share your story. Next, convey who you are and the value you deliver in the About section. This text is most effective when written in first person (“I / we”) and in a conversational tone; avoid acronyms and jargon.
Unlike resumes, which are more formal, your LinkedIn profile should give a glimpse of your personality. Featured Content does this well. You can spotlight your own articles or posts, share presentations and whitepapers, or simply link to public content that resonates with your point of view.
“Your profile should be welcoming and make it easy for people to get a sense of who you are, your professional point of view and how you can be of service to others.”
Outline your experience. In the Experience section, outline the scope of your responsibility in each position, then include one to three highlights that your target audience will care about. Focus on the most recent ten years.
Be sure to include volunteer experience, especially if you served in a leadership capacity, and board of director roles. If you serve on multiple boards, consider creating a position called “Board Service,” then listing each organization and relevant dates.
Optimize and expand. Before you finalize your LinkedIn profile, complete some of the extra sections available. Choose the top three skills to associate with your profile; your connections will be able to “endorse” you for these and other capabilities. Consider asking those you trust for recommendations. This social proof provides a multi-faceted view of your experience, personality and leadership style.
Lastly, brainstorm a handful of keywords that will help others find you quickly when searching LinkedIn. Make sure these terms appear naturally in multiple sections, including your headline and job titles.
“It’s best to write for humans first—not search engines. Place keywords across your profile, but in sentences, rather than keyword lists.”
“The more fields where your keywords show up, the more potent they will be,” Dodson explains. “However, it’s best to write for humans first—not search engines. Place keywords across your profile, but in sentences, rather than keyword lists. This keeps your content clear and readable.”
Focus on Completion, Then Evolve
While the thought of crafting a LinkedIn profile can be intimidating, Dodson encourages senior leaders to approach it in bite-sized pieces.
“The absolutely perfect profile will always be elusive. Complete your profile, make sure it’s professional, then evolve it over time,” Dodson states.
He adds, “The profile is just one aspect of LinkedIn. It’s really just the starting point so you can focus your effort on what matters, which is using LinkedIn as a tool to stay current, build a network, elevate your visibility, increase your impact and pursue career opportunities.”
Ready to rev up your executive profile? Contact the pros at Navigate Forward for our LinkedIn Profile Diagnostic tool. It’s the perfect checklist for an effective executive profile.