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How to write the best LinkedIn headline (and why it matters)


DATE: 18 April, 2016

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

LinkedIn is the new résumé — while it doesn't necessarily replace the paper version, it's the first place most people are going to look at when you apply for a new job, and the place where recruiters and headhunters are most likely to come across your profile. It's important to do whatever you can to ensure you're found, but also to stand out and have visitors stick around to read about the great things you can offer.

In this context, it's your headline that stands as the most important element — your key opportunity to make a positive first impression and entice the reader to want to know more.

So it's important you get it right. But how do you go about doing that? What keywords or terms should you include in your headline? What things should you avoid?

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

Step 1: Clarify

Like all web-based search, LinkedIn is reliant on keywords. Searches are made based on keyword queries, and while context also plays a part, it's the key terms that will lead people to your profile in the first instance.

In LinkedIn search, your headline is one of the most highly weighted elements, meaning the words you use here are very likely to influence where you appear when someone goes looking. So how do you find the right ones to use?

Use LinkedIn's built-in comparison tool

An easy way to get an idea of your options is to use LinkedIn's built-in search function to see what others in your industry are calling themselves. To do this, you first need to ensure you've selected an industry on your profile. Once you have, go to the edit option for your headline and click on ‘See what other users in your industry are using':

This will open up a new window with a listing of other people within your industry, along with their headlines. This is good, basic research to get an idea of how people are utilising headlines in your field.

Search job listings in your industry to see what terms people are using

Another basic — but relevant — way to work out what terms to use is to go to the jobs tab in LinkedIn and search for positions being advertised in your field.

This is important because often companies will create their own titles and definitions – what you were called in your last job might not necessarily be what the industry is calling that same position. Going though the listings, you can get an idea of the terms being used, and in particular, take note of the specifics. People searching for a ‘Social Media Editor' may not find you if you list yourself as an expert in ‘Social Media Editing'.

Those small differences in language are important – consider searcher intent over self descriptors to ensure you're getting all the attention you can.

Use Google Trends for research

Ideally, you'd be able to search for the most common keywords searched on LinkedIn specifically, but since that's not an option, you can use Google Trends to search for the most common terms being used in your industry.

I had an example of this come up recently when working with an accounting firm. They had the term ‘accountants' prominently featured on their website, but not the word ‘accounting'. As with the previous note, those differences are important. A Google Trends search will highlight which terms are being used, by region, which can help you refine your best potential keywords.

Now, obviously, it's contextually relevant – ‘accounting' is most probably not the term searchers are going to use when seeking future employees, but matching up variations of your job title or potential title will show you which terms are more commonly searched on the web, providing additional guidance on what terms you should use.

Search by job trends

Job search website Indeed has created an interesting job title trends tool which analyses listings from thousands of job sites and shows how many job listings contain the terms you search for, by percentage.

Using this tool you can get an idea of what the more searched terms are on job sites and industry trends. The search is not region-specific, so the data should only be used as an indicator, but it may help guide you towards the words to use to maximise your findability.

Step 2: Represent

So now you have a list of keywords together, you know what you need to call yourself to fit in line with the most common searches. But that's only part of the equation. It's important that your headline does more than align with everyone else, what you need is 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.”

While keywords will increase your chances of being found, your headline needs to give people a reason to click, something that compels them to want to know more.

Your LinkedIn headline is a headline, the same as any newspaper or magazine article. Saying ‘Man loses keys, finds them again' is nowhere near as compelling as ‘Man loses keys – you won't believe what happens next'. Now, I'm not saying you should give your LinkedIn profile a clickbait-type headline (in fact, the total opposite – don't do that), but you need to consider what you offer, more so than what you are. Is there a way to summarise yourself and your professional experience in terms of what you can provide and want to do?

Seeking new opportunities

It's commonly held amongst LinkedIn experts that you should not list yourself as ‘seeking new opportunities' or ‘currently unemployed'. Why? There's a couple of reasons:

  1. You're using up valuable profile 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, needs to showcase you and what you bring to the table.
  2. Listing yourself as ‘seeking opportunities' can be seen as a negative, as some will read this as desperate and undermining 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.”
  3. Your headline is the place where you want to grab people's attention and get people in. You can put a line at the end of your summary saying: ‘I'm currently looking for new opportunities' however the end date of your last job will show your current status either way.

Are these beliefs 100% gospel? No, they are not. There are some who believe listing yourself as ‘seeking new opportunities' is a totally viable and proactive practice. Some recruiters have said they regularly search for ‘seeking new opportunities' on LinkedIn to source new prospects.

In my research, the majority of LinkedIn experts recommend against noting this in your headline, but if you feel it's a better way to go, a more honest and transparent representation of your status, then my advice would be to ensure you enter an attention grabbing sentence of what you offer first, then include ‘seeking new opportunities', and where possible, specify what opportunities you mean (i.e. ‘seeking new opportunities in media and communications').

Step 3: Maximise

So, now you have a keyword-rich, attention grabbing headline. The last step is to maximise it. There's a heap of advice on how to construct a next-level headline that will push your profile views over the edge. Here are a selection of some of the best tips:

  • MarketingProfs' Tobias Schremmer advises against making obscure statements (‘Always looking for ‘Purple Squirrels'') or quirky statements (‘Part-time Super Hero'), and to try to distil your career experience ‘down to one short sentence'. Sounds a bit daunting, but they offer some good examples in this post. Schremmer also advises against allowing LinkedIn to give you a default headline – if you don't choose to edit your headline, it will give you the most recently listed job titled on your profile. That's pretty boring. Best to avoid that if you want to stand out.
  • Career Strategist Michelle Evans offers a how-to 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, and might work if you're having real trouble coming up with a creative sting.
  • Elliott Bell from The Muse provides a short video explainer on creating a great headline. Worth a watch to help you understand the process and how to conceptualise what you want to achieve.
  • “Think of your Headline as a value statement – as the future, not the present”, says Andy Foote of in this post, which also provides some 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 golden rule of creating a successful LinkedIn headline is that the best profiles speak directly to your ideal clients. Melonie wrote the best-selling book ‘The LinkedIn Code' so I tend to trust her opinions on such things

Reading through all (or even a few) of these, will give you more context and get your mind really thinking about how to max-out your LinkedIn headline to ensure you're reaching your full potential on the platform.

The important thing to consider is that your headline is YOU. It's likely, these days, that the first impression potential employers' will get of you will come from LinkedIn. Of course, it can't represent every aspect of you, it can't capture what it's like to meet you face-to-face, but it may be the thing that gets you to that next level, that leads you to an in-person meeting and sets you up with the opportunity to land your ideal job.

Most people find writing about themselves difficult — it's not always easy to clarify your value proposition — but hopefully these notes will help you understand what you can do to maximise your LinkedIn header, and set you on the path to maximising your career as a result.