DC Why LinkedIn Headlines Make a Difference

Why LinkedIn Headlines Make A Difference

Attracting the right attention and setting the context

“Currently unemployed”.
“Seeking opportunities at Seeking a new opportunity”
“Looking for work”.
“Multi skill employee at (insert company name)“

These are actual headlines I’ve grabbed from current LinkedIn profiles. 

The headline is the section that sits right below your name on your LinkedIn profile. Look at these headlines above and ask yourself what you think about them. Assume that these headlines belong to people you are not connected to which makes this the first time you are coming across such a profile. Think about what impressions these headlines are creating for you.

What does your headline say about you?

At the outset, let me say that there is nothing technically wrong with these headlines. They state a current situation and an important need for the account holder. What makes for a good headline can be quite subjective but we can all agree that, at its minimum, a good LinkedIn headline should do its primary job. 

So what should a good headline do?

It should raise awareness about the person in a positive, compelling way. It should drive curiosity and indicate clearly the person’s area of focus/interest. Each headline above says something about the person’s situation but it is not the best element to highlight. 

Let’s look at this in more detail.

“Currently unemployed”
This is simply a current state of affairs. Given that it is neither positive nor permanent, it should be removed. Keep your reader in mind. They are not concerned with the fact that you’re out of work.

Your reader is far more interested in understanding the skills and experience you bring to the job. Your reader wants to know the type of work you seek.

“Seeking opportunities at Seeking a new opportunity” and “Looking for work”.

All of us are seeking opportunities, even those in full-time roles. Again, your reader is better served if you provide clarity about your experience, skills and interests.

Remember that the headline is powerfully positioned at the top of your profile. Use that to your advantage. Rather than talk about the fact that you’re looking for work, find a way to incorporate in the headline the kind of work you seek and why.

“Multi skill employee at (insert company name)“

Again, you’ve gotten your reader’s attention and instead of delving straight into something that positions you strongly, you choose to waffle. With limited space in the headline,  inserting the company name is unnecessary.

Think about your headline much like how online stores think about their customers. These stores want to reduce friction. This may be delays and inconveniences in the customer experience that cause them to abandon their shopping journey before they complete a purchase. This friction costs businesses billions of dollars in e-commerce opportunities every year.

One way to avoid friction is to map out the customer journey and understand where common drop-offs occur. One example is to reduce the number of clicks in the digital shopping experience.

Now apply this to your LinkedIn profile. 

Readers can come from anywhere and include people who might be interested in you or your company. Readers can also include people who chance upon your profile because of what is captured in your profile or your posts.

Readers may include managers and peers in your company across location, industry competitors who search for people by company, hiring managers and recruiters, people searching for specific things and come across you based on location, keyword or other criteria.

Minimise friction

Your goal is to ensure that your profile is always in a ready state and able to position you strongly.

Besides a clear and smooth flow of information, you want to reduce the possibility of friction too. In this context, friction creates confusion, uncertainty or even a bad impression. Once this sets in, it becomes difficult to undo the damage. 

In your profile, friction can arise in a number of ways:

1.Information mismatch
For example, you might say something in your headline that contradicts your work experience. Or you may highlight a skill in your About section that you fail to refer to in your Experience section (a skill that may not be immediately apparent from the role itself).

This can create confusion or disbelief which seeps into the impression created when the reader views other sections of your profile.

2.Incomplete information
Your reader gets a sense of you based on what’s presented (and also, what is not presented). Remember that the reader will not assume things in your favour.

For example, not using the About section to tell your story leaves the reader to pick up what they can from the Experience section. This is less than ideal when, for example, your Experience is merely listing your job title and company name.

3.Badly presented details
Examples of this include a poorly taken profile picture, a blah background image, a handful of boring descriptions in your About section. Remember that, unlike a face to face scenario, where you can engage and respond effectively to how the other person reacts or perceives information presented, a digital profile is static.

It is up to the reader to draw whatever conclusions they can about you and this occurs within a very short time-frame. Their impression of you may also be affected by information they gather from other sources. 

4.The hard sell
This is a term well understood within the advertising or sales context. A hard sell is a technique that is strongly focused on persuading a customer to make an immediate purchase of a product.

Don’t get me wrong. The confluence of the right audience, product and timing is any salesperson’s heaven and a platform like LinkedIn offers a treasure trove of data which provides valuable insight into prospects and leads.

Many would understand the concept of the hard sell by looking in their LinkedIn inbox, having received dozens (if not hundreds) of cold emails from strangers offering to solve problems, demo their product or introduce their service.

But aside from this, how else might you be engaging in a hard sell? In your profile and your posts.

With your profile, a hard sell is talking only about your company and product in your About section. This section should be about you, not your company. You can share background information on your company further down in the Experience section. Alternatively, you could consider having a LinkedIn company page.

With your posts,  a hard sell can come about when all posts are promotion-heavy or you broadcast excessively pushing products or services. Marketers use social media to churn out content but this is not only a numbers game. Getting visibility only to come across aggressive can mean that your reader is turned off by you and potentially, even your company.

Develop – Get Feedback – Revisit – Revise – Repeat

One of the best aspects of your LinkedIn headline is the fact that it is malleable. This means that you can reshape it anytime and you should.

Develop your headline and work to make it stand out for you. Solicit feedback from peers, mentors or friends to see what they understand about your headline. 

Assess the feedback and decide on the changes you need to make. As your career evolves and as you take on more responsibility or projects at work, constantly assess how these developments can be incorporated into your profile. 

  • What can you highlight? 
  • What can you say about your involvement in a specific project that speaks to your skill?
  • How can you share a positive outcome you’ve achieved and relate it to your overall strengths?
  • How can you incorporate storytelling in your profile across all the different aspects, from your headline, experience, volunteering, projects and more?
  • How can you take all these different aspects and ensure a consistency, flow and alignment with your overall career goals?

At certain milestones – career pivot, change of job, completion of key projects, acquisition of new skills – think about how you can incorporate these in various areas within your profile. Yet, at the same time, keep your reader in mind so that you regularly draw the connection between what you do and the outcomes you obtain. 

Putting yourself in your reader’s shoes is one of the most critical aspects of this task.

Your goal is to ensure that your profile attracts attention and that it is retained long enough to get a sense of who you are and what you can bring through a review of your profile, your activities and importantly, how others in your network engage with you. 

Best practices for developing your LinkedIn headline

  1. Include relevant keywords
    Keywords are important to ensure you show up in the right searches. This includes your job title but also primary skills or areas of focus. Examples include ‘Marketing Director’ and ‘copywriting’.

  2. Highlight your top achievements
    If you work at a global organisation or reputable brand, including that in your headline is powerful.

  3. Think about your reader
    Always be thinking about your reader. Who are they? What do they care about? What would they need to know about you? What aspects should be highlighted up front and what can be left for later? Why should they care? If you can answer these questions as you work through all these sections, you will ensure a profile that more closely hits the mark.

  4. Avoid defaulting to your job title
    For one, this is repetition since the job title is shared in your Experience section. Second, you have an opportunity to invoke curiosity and begin telling your story here (to continue it in your About section). Third, this is the place to define yourself and tell readers exactly what you want them to think about you. You are more than your role.

  5. Humanise your profile
    When you look at many profiles and resumes out there, these can sometimes have a tendency to look stiff. It is almost as if people believe there needs to be a series of tick boxes to complete to showcase their personality. Their profiles and resumes are littered with words like trustworthy, responsible and team player. Or they draw attention to the fact that they are hardworking, of solid character and possess good work ethics.

    In reality, such attributes and descriptions are often glazed over and do not assist the reader in understanding the individual. These descriptions do not have enough information to provide the reader a chance to see the breadth of work accomplished, the impact that has been achieved and importantly, how you may have been seen as a valuable asset to your organisation.

    Readers (and recruiters) need to see this. This is best achieved by presenting information in your own voice. The LinkedIn headline and the About section provide just the opportunity to do so.

  6. Talk in the first and second person
    The first person is the I/we perspective. The second person is the you perspective while the third person is the he/she/they perspective.  When talking about yourself in your About section, refrain from using the third person. This is your personal profile. Third person perspective works best when describing yourself as a speaker in a conference brochure.

    I recommend a combination of first and second person. The former is about sharing your perspective, insights and experience and the latter is about addressing your reader directly to engage them and evoke emotion and deeper connection.

  7. The Rule of Three
    This rule is about understanding how we process information. It is the combination of pattern and brevity that creates memorable content. Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of information.

    This could be the approach to developing your headline that provides balance and yet, showcases breadth and depth of experience. One advantage of the Rule of Three is that it allows you to touch on completely different elements seamlessly without needing to connect them.

    An example might be:
    Peter Hunt
    Brand maestro | Diversity advocate | Board member

    You get a great idea about who Peter is without too many words.

  8. Put passion or focus first
    Ask yourself, “If I had to describe myself to a stranger what could I say briefly that would capture the most critical elements about me?”

    Think about the professional context but also a little about the personal. Share your personal mission. It is an experiment in some ways. What you attempt here may seem difficult at first and so, the hardest part is to go through with the exercise and develop variations you are comfortable with and can get feedback on.

    Take Adam Grant’s headline, for example:
    Organisational psychologist at Wharton, bestselling author, and host of the TED podcast WorkLife.

    Adam starts with his job but then moves into his work. Reading this, you’re invited to look up what books he has written and to listen to his podcast.

  9. Tap the network
    Consider asking close friends and family as well as supportive colleagues what they think of you and what they believe is the work you engage in.

    Compare their comments with your internal assessment and notice where the gaps lie. You might be surprised to discover the obvious is sometimes missed (or misunderstood) and the subtleties are clearer than you imagined.

  10. Three ways to focus your reader
    First, get your reader to focus on the benefits they might derive from working with you.

    Concentrate on outcomes more than responsibilities. Second, draw attention to your niche (yes, you should have one). Third, articulate your expert status (decide how that may be represented for you).

  11. Include a CTA when needed
    Remember how I said that you need to periodically assess your headline? Well, from time to time, as the situation calls for it, you could also include a CTA (call to action). This means you are being very specific about the action you’d like your reader to take.

    This is particularly useful if you’re hiring, speaking at a conference, launching a new product, starting a newsletter or wanting to obtain feedback for a survey.

Now, take a look at your headline. 

What does it say about you? Is your current headline hurting your career in any way?

Review the ideas here. You are likely to find a number of ways you can make small (or even big) improvements that will make all the difference.

#LinkedIn #digitalprofile #communication #jobseeking #bodyofwork #influence


This article is part of a series of articles  – Optimise Your LinkedIn Profile.