LinkedIn exists somewhere between the worlds of social media and job boards.
So where does the headline fit into this picture – what is the goal of your headline?
A good Linkedin headline is your 120-character elevator pitch. Aside from your name, it is the most prominent piece of real estate in your profile and in your LinkedIn search result snippet.
If your headline is generic or uninformative, people have no reason to click through to your profile. Nothing else in your profile matters if you don’t get that initial click.
Your headline is your first and best chance to get people hooked on your story.
The vast majority of LinkedIn profiles have terrible headlines. This makes for a great opportunity. It’s not that hard to stand out when the bar is set so low.
Whether you are looking to get hired or just network – these LinkedIn headline tips are the fastest way to make that goal a reality.
1. Focus on Your Goal, Your Audience, and Your Value
You created your LinkedIn account for a reason, didn’t you?
Write down an answer to each of these three questions. These answers can and will change over time, but you can’t write an effective LinkedIn headline without something to use as a starting point.
- What goal do you hope to accomplish on LinkedIn?
- Who needs to see your profile to make that happen?
- What is the unique value proposition that you can offer to that person?
Your LinkedIn goal might be networking with others in your industry or specialty, getting a new job, or finding consultants or other experts. If you have multiple goals, prioritize them and focus your headline only on the top priority. You cannot create a headline that is optimized for every goal, and you can always change your headline as your priorities change.
Your audience will depend on your goal. If you want to get hired, your audience is whoever does the hiring for the jobs you are looking for. If you are looking to network, your audience is other people in your field.
You need to understand these people before you can proceed.
Take a few minutes to quickly make a persona for your audience. This doesn’t need to be complicated or formal, but it helps to have something down on paper.
Your audience is looking for something. Regardless of whether they are hiring or networking, they are not looking for a person so much as a solution to a problem. They have a need.
That need is what will drive their searches, and it will certainly drive their clicks.
The better you can isolate that need, the better you can define your unique value proposition to show that you are the exact right person to address their needs.
2. Fill Your LinkedIn Headline With Keywords
The idea is to show up in searches. The more searches you appear in, the better.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an SEO (search engine optimization) expert to get your profile to appear in searches.
In fact, there is really only one simple rule you need to know: searches are based on keywords.
When people are looking for you, what are they searching for?
If you can answer that question, you can include those keywords in your headline and be well on your way to success. But it’s not necessarily an easy question to answer.
Ever heard the phrase dress for the job you want? That’s the philosophy you should be using.
When you are writing a resume or cover letter for a specific job, you typically want to borrow the phrasing that the employer used in their job posting. The same holds true for your LinkedIn headline. Find your dream positions (within reason), and look to see what terminology they use. Is there anything there that you can borrow?
Other keywords might be heavily influenced by your goal and value proposition. If you are an expert in eCommerce looking to get an eCommerce job, you better have the word eCommerce in your headline. If, on the other hand, you are trying to get a job in a new industry, referencing your old industry is a waste of precious space.
Pick around 15 keywords. Take this time to prioritize them, too. You almost certainly won’t use all of these keywords, but you want a good reservoir to work with.
Once you have your keywords, it’s time to move on to the next tip.
3. Avoid Filler Words in Your Headline
These are examples of real LinkedIn headlines.
- “Currently Unemployed, Seeking FT Job”
- “Looking for work at Unemployed”
- “Unemployed at Looking for a Job Now”
- “Unemployed Looking for Work”
- “Multi-Skilled Business Professional”
- “Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.”
- “Ruthless in business – and proud of it. Don’t get in my way.”
Can you tell me what these people do? Do you know what their skills are?
These are the headline equivalent of receiving a cold email that just says “Can I have a job?”
By the way, I actually have received that message… on LinkedIn… from someone with a headline almost exactly like the ones on that list.
If I’m hiring, I generally don’t care whether you are unemployed. Your profile status already indicates whether you are open to a new job, so including it in your headline just comes off as desperate.
Those last three examples are a different kind of filler, but they are equally useless. “Multi-skilled Business Professional” tells me absolutely nothing about what you do. It is a description that probably fits over 99% of LinkedIn users.
I don’t feel like I should have to say this, but song lyrics don’t belong in your headline. This isn’t MySpace.
There is one other type of filler that is worth discussing: hyperbole.
In a previous article, I suggested calling yourself an expert in your profile when trying to get a freelance job on Upwork.
LinkedIn is not Upwork, and a headline is not a profile. Words like ‘expert’, ‘hard-working’, and ‘dedicated’ are not going to get clicks.
These are not keywords. They don’t tell people what you do. And they certainly aren’t your value proposition. Save the space for more important words.
120 characters is not a lot of space. Make every single character count.
4. Scope Out the Competition
It’s almost time to put this all together. But first, you should see what ideas you can borrow.
Take the highest priority keyword on your list and do a search for it on LinkedIn. Make note of any headlines that really stand out (in a good way).
There are two things that you are especially looking for:
- New keywords that you should include
- The style of writing. (More on this in the next step)
If you know the names of some of the best people in your field, look at their LinkedIn headlines as well. There’s a good chance they’ve either spent more time thinking about this or hired someone else to think about it for them. Add these to the headlines you grabbed already.
5. Write Your Headline
Ready for the big finale?
You are ready to pick your style and make your LinkedIn Headline.
If there is a style that particularly stood out from your competitors, you may just want to copy that for now – especially if this was one that’s worked for a top competitor in your field. Mimicry has its advantages.
If you do go the mimicry route, be sure to include any alterations that illustrate your own personal value proposition. You don’t want to be seen as being identical to your competitor.
For everyone else, here’s a style that is good for 90% of cases:
keyword phrase, keyword phrase, keyword phrase | Value illustration
Take your most important keywords and put them at the front of that list. How many you include will depend on how succinct your value illustration is, but 3-5 is fairly typical.
Your value illustration is key. Just like when including skills on your resume, showing impact matters more than naming skills.
This is, incidentally, why we put it at the end. We want it to be the last thing people see as they decide whether to click. You could move it to the beginning, but I find that keywords – being more succinct – make a better at-a-glance first impression.
Your specific value illustration will vary depending on your field, but the basic idea is to show that you have driven revenue, reduced costs, or decreased inefficiencies in an organization.
In other words, your value illustration is showing that you have had a real business impact.
I know this was a lot to process. I don’t want you to get stressed out about it. Just get something out there.
One of the great things about writing headlines is that they don’t have to be perfect the first time. Your headline, as with most other aspects of your online presence, should be treated as an experiment.
So go out and create your headline. Then revise it. Do it again and again and again.
Revise your goal, adjust your audience, refine your value proposition. Find new keywords. Remove more filler. Research more competitors. Just keep improving.
The rest of your profile won’t matter if nobody is clicking through, so focus most of your early efforts on the headline.
Even if you just loosely follow 1-2 of the above suggestions, your headline will be in the top 10% of headlines on LinkedIn.
That’s a pretty great starting point, isn’t it?