How to Write the Perfect LinkedIn Summary

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Your LinkedIn summary is quickly becoming your most important tool for advancing your career and marketing your skills. That’s because first impressions have gone digital: people are learning about you online before they ever shake your hand. As soon as they know they’re going to meet you or have a phone conference with you, they’ll start their online research.

LinkedIn is often the starting point for that research. And even if they begin their digi-sleuthing with Google, they’ll likely end up at your LinkedIn profile because it shows up at the top of your results – usually in one of the top three spots. We know from a Chitika study that the top three results from a Google search get nearly two-thirds of all the clicks. Note how my LinkedIn profile shows up in the top spot.

Out of all the elements in your profile, your summary is the most important one (I’m assuming you have a quality headshot and compelling headline!), yet many people leave it blank and merely list their experience. That’s like trying to build a website without a home page. The summary receives the most prominent position on the screen in LinkedIn, so it’s the ultimate place to tell your story. To make the most of this opportunity, you must be able to express your personal brand in 2,000 characters and glorious 3D, creating a dazzling picture of who you are and what makes you great.

For more than a decade, I’ve helped executives at many of the world’s top global corporations uncover their personal brands and build stellar LinkedIn summaries. My approach is part of a comprehensive daylong workshop, but I’ve simplified the process into 5 basic steps to get you started.

Step 1: Know your audience

Write your profile specifically for the decision makers you would like to impress and influence. Know who they are (by name, job title, etc.) and don’t start writing your summary until you have the answers to these critical questions:

  • What do you want them to know about you?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • How do you want them to feel?

When you’re clear about your audience, it’s time to pull together the content.

Step 2: Prepare the raw content

You may feel overwhelmed by the different options for presenting your info. I recommend arranging your raw content into the following six buckets:

Victories: Write a sentence for each of your significant accomplishments in terms of the value you create/created (for example, “increased revenue with key small businesses through relationship-building and networking; hired, trained and led our company’s first inside sales organization to support revenue growth objectives”).

VPs (values and passions): List your operating principles and the things that energize or inspire you (for example, “creativity, diversity, and building win-win relationships” along with “windsurfing, astronomy and UNICEF”).

Valiant superpowers: Describe the things you do better than anyone else – the skills that enable you to be a hero for your colleagues (for example, “I can review reams of data to find the million-dollar error; I make team meetings fun and productive, getting everyone involved; I love to listen – not only to what’s being said, but to what is not being said. I have been told I am the best listener”).

Vital statistics: Provide a few quantifiable facts – interesting figures and things you can count (for example, “I participated in three triathlons on three continents; I saved the company $3M through the ‘Go Green’ initiative that I created and executed; I have held six different roles in various finance functions, giving me a comprehensive understanding of the field”).

Verve: Capture the quirky things that make you YOU and differentiate you from your peers (for example, “Being a night owl, I get a lot of my best writing done in the late evening; I like to use my humor to defuse tense situations and keep the team focused on results; I love TV commercials and start every team meeting with one of my favorites to get the creative energy flowing”).

Validation: This could include quotes from others and encompasses all the awards and accolades bestowed upon you (for example, “graduated Suma Cum Laude from UCLA; was named one of the top ten social media executives to watch by Advertising Age”).

Make sure you have content in all six buckets because a truly compelling summary will paint a 3D picture of you. Remember, your summary is YOU when you aren’t there, so you want your personality to shine through.

Step 3: Write your summary

Before you put pen to paper (or more likely, finger to keyboard), choose between first- and third-person formats. Either is acceptable; it’s a personal choice.

First person is my preference (hint, hint, go with the 1st person!). It’s more intimate. It’s like having a conversation with the reader – making it easier to build emotional connections. But for some, it’s hard to write good things about themselves using “I.” “I graduated from Harvard at the top of my class. I saved my company $1M. I managed a team of 42 with a budget of $6M.”

Those who are uncomfortable bragging often water down their accomplishments or leave out valuable credentials. If that’s you, perhaps a third-person summary is the way to go. Although it’s easier to brag in the third person, it does less to connect deeply with the reader than a first-person voice. On the other hand, when you use your name multiple times in the third-person in your summary, you’re giving your profile page an extra shot of Google juice – making it more likely to show up higher in a search on your name.

Now that you have chosen which pronoun is right for you, kick off your profile with a field goal. There was a time where the purpose of your first sentence was to tell people what you do, but today, that’s not original enough. To get the viewer to want to know more and read on, you need to be truly interesting or even provocative. Your first line could be a question, statement or even a few words with punctuation, like: High-Energy. Results-Driven. Focused. Here are a few sassy starts that some of the Reach-certified Social Branding Analysts (Ann Potts, Charley Timmins andDeb Dib) shared with me:

  • Janet Powers: Digital Consultant, Community Builder, Workforce Productivity Catalyst and Content Curator, Janet is driven to accelerate the social engagement of workforces and consumers with measurable results by leveraging technology and content.
  • Larry Thomas: The achievement I’m most proud of didn’t start with a business plan. It started in a dumpster.
  • Deb Dib: Visionary, gutsy, fun CEOs, sr. execs, rising stars, and coaches – with a strong profit motive and a social conscience – are my sweet spot.

Don’t you want to learn more about Janet, Larry and Deb?

Next, let the story unfold by weaving elements from the various categories above. This is a writing exercise, so it’s OK to go through several drafts. Don’t give yourself a time limit, just keep adding to your draft, editing and refining as you go.

Then, close with what you want them to do or where they can go to learn more about you or connect with you.

While you’re writing, save some of your 2,000 characters for two additional sections that are important to being found:

  1. Include a section called Specialties. This gives you the opportunity to add those all-important keywords you want to be associated with one more time.
  2. Include a section called AKA/Common Misspellings so people can find you with a Google search even if they don’t know how to spell your name/nickname or weren’t aware that you were married or divorced and changed your name. Here’s what Sean Combs’ (a man with many names!) might look like:

AKA/Common Misspellings: Sean Jean Combs, Puff Daddy, Diddy, P. Diddy, Sean John

Here’s what the end of my profile looks like:

Bravo! You’ve written your summary, but how do you know if it’s a Yay or a Yawn? I’m a firm believer in reality checks. It’s time to critique your work.

Step 4: Test it two ways

To get the most out of your summary, perform these two tests.

Test A: The Question Test

Start by reading your LinkedIn summary as if you were reading it for the first time, through the eyes of your audience. And read slowly, paying attention to every word you wrote. Avoid the tendency to skim. Then, for each of the following questions, give yourself a rating from 1 to 3, where 1 is ‘very little’ and 3 is ‘completely’. Keep track of your ratings so you can calculate a total score (between 13 and 39) at the end.

  1. Does the opening sentence, phrase or heading make you want to read more?
  2. Is it authentic – consistent with who you really are?
  3. Does it differentiate you from your peers or competitors?
  4. Is it relevant, addressing the needs of the people you are trying to attract (decision-makers and influencers)?
  5. Is it compelling? Does it provide interesting facts and statements that make the reader want to get to know you?
  6. Does it contain at least 20 – 30% personal information (your interests, passions, values, philanthropic interests, point of view and life experiences)?
  7. Does it explain how you add value, telling the reader what happens when you do what you do?
  8. Does the writing style and content you included convey your personality?
  9. Is it formatted beautifully? Did you create enough white space to break up the paragraphs? Did you write powerful headlines for different content blocks?
  10. Does it include external validation (things like “People say I’m…” or a favorite quote or “The Association of Finance Executives awarded me…”)?
  11. Is it grammatically correct and perfectly proofed?
  12. Does it include all the keywords for which you want to be known multiple times? (This is vital for being found in online searches.)
  13. Did you get the reader to want to learn more or take action?

Now, total your score.

If you scored between 30 and 39, bravo! Your summary will attract the attention of those who need to know you.

If you scored 29 or under, you need to spruce up your summary.

Once you refine your summary or create a new draft, you’re still not quite ready for prime time. Apply one final test before uploading it to your profile.

Test B: The Audience Test

Identify three people who would be open to helping and will provide you with honest feedback:

  • a member of your target audience
  • a mentor, coach or trusted colleague who wants you to succeed; and
  • a friend or family member who knows you well.

Ask them:

  • Is it an accurate representation of who I am and how I create value?
  • Does it make you want to learn more?
  • Is there anything missing?
  • What one change would you make to improve it?

Once you get their feedback and make your final refinements, upload your summary to your profile.

Step 5: Bring your brand to life

Now that you have the perfect text, it’s time to augment your prose with pictures. After you upload your summary to LinkedIn, supplement it with a variety of multimedia. LinkedIn allows you to integrate videos, pictures and documents into your summary, making it a rich, vibrant way of telling your story while providing evidence to bolster your claims. This will change how your profile looks and provide readers with opportunities to get to know you better.

You likely have some images, PowerPoint presentations, videos of you speaking at events, reports, etc. that you can include. If you don’t, make a plan to create some content that will help you more fully tell your story. Remember, LinkedIn is a living resource that you can add to and refine over time. It evolves with you.

When you’re finished, your LinkedIn summary will be a powerful 3D representation of your personal brand.

About William Arruda: Dubbed the Personal Branding Guru by Entrepreneur, William Arruda is a motivational speaker, branding consultant and author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

 

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