Let’s Talk About LinkedIn

By: Hannah Bremer

Let’s be honest, LinkedIn can be a little intimidating. You might shudder at the sight of your simple, bare-bones profile, or at the thought of the massive effort it would take to create an account. But have no fear, your professional development committee is here! Whether you are starting from scratch or simply want to breathe some new life into your lackluster existing profile, this guide will lead you to a killer LinkedIn profile. So grab your laptop charger, kick your feet up, and get ready for a crash course in LinkedIn doctoring! Next stop, professionalism!

First, let’s talk big picture. LinkedIn offers more than 20 different sections to add to your profile, but which ones do you really need? Listed below are the most important sections, prioritized into categories.

Foundation sections: These sections are the framework of a good LinkedIn profile. They provide the most basic information about your experiences and qualifications, like the important information employers would want to see on your resume.

  • Summary
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Volunteer experience
  • Languages

Profile boosters: After you’ve set up the basics of your account, adding these sections is an easy way to enhance your profile and make your profile stand out.

  • Honors and awards
  • Skills
  • Courses
  • Recommendations
  • Endorsements
  • Following
  • Publications

You can skip it: While these sections can be beneficial, in most cases they are not very relevant and can be skipped. Unless you have a test score or certification that is really brag-worthy and relevant to your professional goals, these sections aren’t going to add much to your profile.

  • Test scores
  • Certifications

Okay, now that we have prioritized our sections, let’s look at ways to improve each section. Listed below is a compilation of advice for polishing and making the most of your LinkedIn profile. These certainly don’t apply to every individual profile, so you should take into account the professional goals and brand that you are trying to communicate with your account. However, these tips and tricks can serve as general rules of thumb for creating and improving your profile. Before you start editing, be sure to turn off the “Notify your network” setting on the right side of your profile. If you leave this setting on, all of your connections will see an update for every edit that you make.

Profile image:

An important thing to remember when editing your profile is that LinkedIn is not the same as Facebook. Your profile photo on Facebook might not necessarily be appropriate for your LinkedIn profile, but just find a photo of yourself that is appropriate and professional.

  1. If you have a professional headshot, go ahead and use it! However, don’t worry if you don’t have one. Just find a high-quality photo where you look presentable and professional and you’re all set.
  2. Avoid photos that you obviously cropped someone out of. It’s fine to use last year’s family Christmas card photo and just zoom in on yourself, just avoid that picture where all of your friends have your arms wrapped around each other and your face is smashed against your BFF’s face.
  3. Senior pictures are nice quality and can work great, but make sure they are still professional. Try to avoid photos where you’re laughing with your toes in the sand, sitting on a swing, or posing with an old truck.
  4. Avoid selfies at all costs! If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any other options, at least make sure it isn’t obvious that you took the picture yourself. That means no arms sticking out in front of you, no car selfies with a seat belt across your chest, and absolutely no mirror selfies!
  5. Heavily filtered photos generally don’t look very professional or polished. It’s fine to fix bad lighting or get rid of a red-eye effect, but leave this photo au naturel.
  6. I know you got all gussied up and looked spiffy, but high school prom pictures are best saved for Facebook and Instagram.
  7. Finally, this should go without saying, but photos with your significant other are tacky and do not belong on your professional profile. LinkedIn is not the place for that picture of you and your boyfriend in the Olive Garden parking lot after your three month anniversary dinner.

Summary:

This section appears at the top of your profile and serves to introduce your profile. This can be like a written version of what many people call an “elevator speech,” or a brief explanation of who you are, what you are currently doing, and what kinds of opportunities you are looking for. Listed below are three templates for a basic student summary, but feel free to get more creative with it and add some of your own personality. You can go beyond these templates and use this section to tell a story, describe your short-term or long-term goals, share a few personal details, or list a few specific accomplishments or qualifications. This is your opportunity to introduce yourself to whoever might be reading your profile, so be creative and be yourself!

Basic summary templates for a student:

  1. “I am a student at the University of Minnesota studying ________ with a minor in _______. I have extensive experience and skills in ___________________. I am passionate about ____________ and I am looking for experience in ______________.”
  2. “I am currently a student at the University of Minnesota in the __________ studying ____________. I have experience in the __________ field working with _________, __________, and __________. I enjoy taking on challenges in __________, and I’m looking for opportunities to __________.
  3. I am a student at the University of Minnesota studying ____________ and ____________. My years of experience in ______________ inspired my long-term goal of __________. I am looking for opportunities in ______________ to sharpen my __________ skills and explore this field further.

Education:

This section is especially important for current students. While you are starting to build your professional experience, your educational experience is more relevant than ever.

  1. It’s perfectly fine to list your high school experiences and accomplishments in this section. It would be a little bit odd for a 40-year-old to list all of their high school accomplishments on their profile, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a current college student to include these details. Just make sure you are only including stuff that is relevant.
  2. List your major and minors correctly! I know many schools (SJMC, I’m looking at you) make it confusing as heck to keep your major, track, concentration, or focus straight. When in doubt, look on the program website to see how the school itself describes it. For example, an SJMC student could write the following: “Bachelor of Arts, Journalism (Emphasis in Professional Strategic Communication)” or “B.A. Journalism (Emphasis in Mass Communication).”
  3. When listing activities and societies, make sure the reader will be able to know what the organization is or does. For example, write “XYZ a capella ensemble” rather than just “XYZ” or “Minnesota Student Association” rather than just “MSA.”
  4. List any positions you had in your activities in parentheses. If you held a major position, or one that provided you with very relevant experience, you can also list this under your “Experience” section. However, if you have been on a dozen committees in your club or fraternity or sorority, try to be concise and only list the committees on which you held a position.

Experience:

This section is for you to show off all of your work experience and internships, but don’t be afraid to put valuable unpaid experience in this section too. You don’t need to list every little babysitting and lawn mowing gig you’ve ever had, but include whatever experience you think is relevant and noteworthy.

  1. You can write this section using bullet points or in paragraph form with complete sentences. Neither style is wrong, so it comes down to personal preference. Just make sure you stay consistent across your profile! Choose a style and stick with it across all of your experiences.
    1. This also applies to tense choice in this section. Describing your experiences in the past tense typically sounds a bit more natural, but present tense is not wrong in this context. Either present or past tense is fine, just choose one and stay consistent.
  2. When writing your description, aim for 2-4 sentences or bullet points. However, 1-2 is sufficient for something as simple as babysitting, nannying, or lawn mowing. If you’re stuck and don’t know what to write, you can always use the bullet points from your resume or follow this three-point formula:
    1. What you did: what were your actual duties?
    2. What you learned or gained from the experience: why are you a better candidate or more employable after having this experience?
    3. What you did for them: what did their brand or company gain from the time you spent there?
  3. Make sure you list an actual title for your position. For example, you can list “committee member” rather than just saying “committee.” This is also important when listing activities and involvement under your “Education” section!
  4. Try to make it clear in your description what the company does. At the very least, try to provide details that contextualize your role in terms of the organization’s operations. If the name of your company doesn’t really indicate what kind of business it is, you can make your title a bit more specific to give the reader clues.
    1. Ex: “Radio host” rather than just “host”
  5. Quantify your contributions to the organization wherever possible. When you can’t give a precise number, saying “more than 600 users” sounds more polished than “over 600 users.”
    1. Ex: Say that you “increased social media following by 1,200” rather than just “increased social media following.”
    2. Ex: Say that you “coordinated event communication with 500 guests and 50 vendors” rather than just “coordinated communication for a large event.”
  6. For less relevant positions — like barista, front desk assistant, sales associate at the mall, etc. — you can put a greater emphasis on your responsibilities and what you gained from the experience. Those afternoons you spent making caramel macchiatos in high school might not seem relevant to your professional goals in advertising, but you likely learned how to understand the customers’ needs, juggle a variety of tasks at the same time, maintain a positive customer atmosphere, and provide high quality customer service.

Classes:

Listing your courses can’t hurt anything and is a nice way to show a prospective employer that you are qualified in specific areas. If they see that you have taken classes in professional writing, campaign strategy, design, and multimedia storytelling, that can say a lot more about your qualifications than simply that you are taking strategic communication courses. This is also beneficial for people who are pursuing a minor or certificate. For example, listing financial reporting, managerial accounting, human resource management, information systems for business, and nonprofit finance and budgeting under your classes makes you look much more qualified than simply listing that you are pursuing a management minor.

  1. Many of the courses you take will fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between “relevant” and “irrelevant.” As a general rule of thumb, include a class unless it is completely irrelevant. You can list courses like bowling, eating on a student’s budget, or fencing, but they probably won’t add much to your professional profile. That being said, many seemingly random classes are still worth including, as they make you look more well-rounded .

Honors and Awards:

This section is a great place for you to show off your accomplishments — just make sure they are relevant! Unless the honor is academically or professionally relevant or recognizes some sort of leadership qualities, you can skip that “Most Improved Mathlete” certificate from sophomore year of high school.

  1. Be as specific as possible when listing and describing your honors. If the name of the award does not make it clear what it is for, add a few words to provide some context for the award.
    1. Ex: “Pinnacle Award for Innovation in Public Relations” rather than “Pinnacle Award”
    2. Ex: “University of Minnesota Twin Cities Dean’s List” rather than “Dean’s List”

Miscellaneous Tips:

    1. Make sure that you are listing all of your schools, businesses, and organizations correctly on your profile. If you are unsure, go to the organization’s website to see how they refer to their name. Mimicking the way the organization refers to their own name (including spelling, capitalization, and punctuation) is usually a safe bet.
    2. Be sure to use consistent tense use and capitalization within individual entries as well as across your entire profile.
      1. If you decide to describe your experience in the past tense, stick with the past tense across all of your experience entries.
      2. Job titles, employers, and organization names should all be consistently capitalized across your profile.
    3. It’s perfectly okay to list “Student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities” as your primary title.
    4. To add a little life to your profile, you can follow a few pages. These will show up at the bottom of your profile, so practice good judgment in the pages you decide to follow. If you’re looking for ideas of pages to follow, you can start with PRSA, University of Minnesota, companies you have worked for, companies you might want to work for in the future, and other companies you are connected with or interested in.
    5. It’s easy to get carried away using strategic communication buzzwords on your profile, but try to make sure you are using these kinds of words in a meaningful context. Examples of these buzzwords include the following: storytelling, content, groundbreaking, angle, traction, optimize, circulation, coordinated, engagement, leverage, stakeholder, campaign, and brand. Words like these can make your experiences sound impressive, but overdoing your use of these can turn your profile into one big, transparent cliche.
    6. Many LinkedIn users don’t realize this, but you can create a custom URL for your profile! It’s as easy as going to your profile, hovering over the URL beneath your profile photo, and clicking the small gear symbol next to the URL. On the right side of the page, you will have the option to type in a custom URL, as long as it is not already taken by another user.
    7. To add additional information to your profile, go to your profile, click “Add a section to your profile,” and click on the down arrows that say “View more” to see a list of other section options.
  • Join the new “UMN PRSSA Members & Alumni” group to connect with current chapter members as well as alumni!
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