I'm a huge fan of the overall service that LinkedIn provides and sincerely believe that all professional adults should set up an account on this social-professional network. That said, I don't spend a lot of time on the site – quite the contrary. A LinkedIn account can pretty much run itself – if you take a few steps to set it up that way.
With these five tips, you can trust that your LinkedIn account is doing its job for you, letting your name, skills, and expertise be known to everyone in your network, as well as potential new connections who might be interested in finding people like you.
1. Use a professional-looking headshot
One of the most important aspects of your LinkedIn account is the profile picture – you really must have one. This advice is true, really, of any online profile, whether it's a dating website or a business project management platform. You need an image, and ideally, it should be a headshot.
The headshot should be of your smiling face and a little bit of your shoulders. And it should look like you. We are often our own worst judges of our appearance, so ask your friends and colleagues their opinions in picking your best pic.
Depending on your career, you may be able to get more creative and expressive with your profile picture, but it depends on your field, level of experience, and reputation.
Sometimes there are complications, though. I once worked with a woman who could not use a headshot due to religious reasons in her country, and her creative workaround was to use the logo of the university where she worked instead. Her solution worked well because she was still able to associate a professional "identity" with her name. The point is, a headshot is ideal, but there are other possible solutions, all of which are better than no picture, a picture of your cat, a picture of your kid – you get the idea.
Also bear in mind that you should not update your profile picture more than once a year. You want to keep one image long enough to develop a strong association between your name and photo.
2. Think in keywords
In filling out the text of your LinkedIn profile, think about the keywords people might enter into a search to find someone like you. For example, my actual job title is technically "software analyst," but what I really do is write. I think of myself as a writer. So my LinkedIn profile uses terms like "writer" and "tech writer."
Load up your profile with straightforward search terms – not a bunch of synonyms. If you're unsure of which words to use, look through the jobs section of LinkedIn to find ads for open positions that are similar to your own job. What keywords turn up there? Reuse the relevant words and phrases in your own profile.
3. Add videos, images, and links
Your profile doesn't have to be all plain old text. Earlier this year, LinkedIn added a new multimedia feature to the profile section that lets you add graphics, slideshows (using Slideshare), documents, and links to other online content, such as your online portfolio.
To be honest, this feature doesn't work as well as I had hoped. You can't simply add an image from your computer – you have to link to a web page, and LinkedIn will choose a default image from that page without giving you any choice in the matter. Sigh.
Still, having something visual to break up the text goes a long way towards improving a profile.
To add a graphic, log into LinkedIn, go to your profile section, and click Edit. Then you have to select a sub-section, such as Summary or Experience, and look for the rectangle-with-plus-sign icon (see right). That button lets you add images.
4. Don't let LinkedIn send auto-invites
It really turns me off to get an invitation to connect with someone on LinkedIn that contains an automatic and impersonal default message. But as the invitation sender, it's really hard to know when LinkedIn is going to send that auto-invitation (unless you use the site a lot). So here's what you need to know.
When you see a circle with a plus sign next to the word "Connect," that's a sign that you're about to send an auto-message. You won't be given an opportunity to tailor the message. The button looks like this:
To send a custom message, you usually have to reach the person's page first. The button in that case is a blue one that says "Connect" in white letters, and it looks like this:
5. Turn on notifications for “Who's viewed your profile”
One of my favourite features on LinkedIn is the way the site tells you when someone else has looked at your profile. It's a great way to get a heads-up about people or an organisation who are interested in you for some reason. If the person checking out your profile is in some way valuable to you, you might take some steps to facilitate their ability to contact you, such as following them on Twitter.
With a free LinkedIn account, you can see a limited selection of people who have viewed your profile by going to Profile > Who's Viewed Your Profile.
To set up email notifications, you have to go to Settings > Communications > Set the frequency of emails > Notifications > Notifications summary, and be sure to turn on daily digest email.
If you upgrade to a paid account, you can see the complete information of who has viewed your profile.
On the flipside, when you look at other people's profiles on LinkedIn, they'll know it too – unless you choose to be anonymous. To do that, go to Privacy and Settings > Profile > "Select what others see when you've viewed their profile." There you can choose between being identifiable or anonymous.
When to disengage the autopilot
If you're actively looking for a new job, new opportunities, new business partners, or something else, you'll probably end up spending more time on LinkedIn than someone who is passively keeping their profile active and organised.
Active job seekers should definitely take advantage of LinkedIn's job board, which is one of the better online job marketplaces.
Anyone trying to improve their networking skills should opt into the relatively new LinkedIn Contacts section. Every time you visit LinkedIn Contacts, it suggests a handful of people in your network with whom you might want to communicate, maybe to congratulate them on a new job or a work anniversary, or just because you're in danger of losing touch. LinkedIn Contacts has an iPhone app, too.
For more career advice, see 5 tech tips and tricks to help organise your career.