Updated: November, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2015 but has been completed revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
LinkedIn profile optimization is a critical part of job search strategy. But did you know that there is one profile part that is more important than all the rest? It’s true, not all LinkedIn profile parts are created equal. The LinkedIn headline is one of the most important profile parts. If you aren’t getting it right, you may not be capturing recruiter / hiring manager attention. In this blog post, we will explain why your LinkedIn headline is so important and how to fully optimize your LinkedIn headline to create a stellar first impression.
Why your LinkedIn headline is so important for attracting employers
Your LinkedIn photo and headline are your two most important profile parts. Why? Because they are the only profile parts someone will see when scrolling through a list of returned LinkedIn search results. These two profile parts are your first impression whenever your profile appears in searches. If you think about how you search for other people, this will make more sense. When you’re quickly skimming your search results, do you spend a whole lot of time clicking into every profile and learning more? No. You are likely spending less than a few seconds scanning each person’s headline. Recruiters and hiring managers search the same way. Similar to the 6-second resume scan, recruiters will only skim the list of candidates in search of the right one. Only if your headline and photo are compelling, will they click into your profile to learn more. Therefore, you can’t afford to get your headline wrong.
What your LinkedIn headline communicates in under 5 seconds
You might be wondering how a simple one-liner can be so powerful. In a day and age where we can communicate a mouthful via one tweet, the impact of this small profile part shouldn’t come as a surprise. Your LinkedIn headline communicates who you are, what you do and whether or not you have potential to be the best person for the job. This simple statement should summarize your entire professional brand. This statement will determine how you are perceived by hiring managers and recruiters at any given point in your career. While the headline is fairly easy to create, it can just as easily be overlooked. Therefore, it’s important to spend some time getting it absolutely right.
What happens if you don’t edit your LinkedIn headline?
One of the biggest branding mistakes people make, is not updating the LinkedIn headline. If you don’t update the LinkedIn headline, LinkedIn will pull your most recent job title and company from the Experience section. LinkedIn does this in order to help your profile appear more complete. By having a complete profile, you are contributing to the value LinkedIn aims to provide its users. This is nice of LinkedIn to do but not entirely helpful for your brand. If you happen to have a vague job title and work at a company no one’s ever heard of, recruiters/hiring managers will not be compelled to click on your profile. Therefore, avoid using the “headline” they provide and create your own instead. The headline LinkedIn provides, while effortless, is not a branding strategy. It is simply pulling information that may or may not be helpful to the recruiters or hiring managers searching for you. Your goal is to be found and clicked. Therefore you need to intentionally brand your headline so you appear to be the perfect fit.
If you happen to have a very specific title and work at a well-known company, I still advise crafting a new headline. Titles don’t tell the full story. Titles may also be lacking in keyword power. Therefore you should enhance your title with strong, searchable keywords. With regards to the company name, there is no need to include that in your headline. LinkedIn already provides this info in the search results. Including it in your headline would only make it redundant. Use strong brand or industry keywords instead.
“I’m already through my first interview with a company that found me 2 days after I updated my new LinkedIn profile.” – Tom, Operations Executive & LinkedIn Makeover Client
What is the LinkedIn headline character limit?
Professional branding can be a challenge for most people. The good news with your LinkedIn headline is that you only need to write a few characters. For as long as I can remember, LinkedIn only allowed 120 characters for the headline. As of this update in 2020, it appears LinkedIn has expanded that to 220 characters. This expansion of characters will allow for more branding potential.
How many characters should you use for your LinkedIn headline?
When it comes to LinkedIn profile writing strategy, my rule of thumb is simple: max out all of the characters. More characters equals more keywords. Considering that LinkedIn is a search engine the more keywords you use, the more searchable you become. Think: Google or Amazon. While I’ve always believed in maxing out the characters, the new headline character count has made me reconsider. The 120 character count always seemed to be just enough to create a robust, clear, and skimmable branding statement. However, the added characters create a bit more text for the reader. This could work against you in that your brand message may be lost. It could also cause you to write more than is necessary to attract quick interest. Therefore, I would recommend staying anywhere between 120 and 220 characters, with a tendency to stay on the short side. This will keep your brand more concise. To illustrate my point, I’ve included two LinkedIn headline examples:
This headline example has 185 characters.
This headline example has the traditional 120 characters. In my opinion this headline is much more concise and reader-friendly.
Have a headline strategy in mind before you write
The most important concept to remember when writing your LinkedIn headline is to keep it keyword relevant. Use job descriptions to find your brand-relevant keyword. Skimming other professionals’ LinkedIn profiles can also provide some good ideas. While you may be tempted to rely solely on your job title to convey your brand, I would caution against it. Job titles vary from one company/industry to the next, so they aren’t always a clear indicator of what one actually does in their job. This can make for a potentially confusing brand. Your goal with the headline is to communicate two pieces of information: what you do and what you’re all about. Therefore you need to expand upon your title to create a more detailed picture of you.
Brand to your future target, not your past roles
Another area of confusion amongst job searchers is whether to brand to the current role, the past experience or to the future targeted role. Whenever you’re in the job search, you should brand to your future target role. The reason you do this is so that you are appearing in recruiter searches for your target role. If you are currently in pharmaceutical sales but are trying to transition into software sales, a pharma-centric headline will not serve you well. Anyone who lands on your profile will assume you are targeting pharmaceutical sales roles. By focusing your headline on your target role/industry, you will appear to be more of a relevant candidate. This will ensure you appear in more searches and cause more recruiters or employers to actually click on your profile. To achieve this, focus your brand on the common connection points to the industry or roles you are targeting. This is an important strategy for career changers.
Watch Noelle’s LinkedIn Headline Tutorial Now! Examples of multiple LinkedIn headlines across multiple career levels and industries!
Should you use complete sentences, phrases, or both to communicate your brand?
The beauty of the LinkedIn headline is that there is flexibility in how it is displayed. Some professionals opt for complete sentences. Others create a solid brand out of a few keyword phrases. It’s entirely up to you so long as you get your keywords right. I tend to really like a combination of sentences and keywords. Don’t worry about forcing complete sentences if they don’t fit. If you find that short phrases or single words work best, I recommend using a sleek separator line “|”. This will create a more high-impact easy-to-scan headline. The separator line is located below the delete key on your keyboard using Shift + backslash.
What to write in your LinkedIn headline
Think of the headline as a condensed version of your elevator pitch. Try to communicate: who you are, what you do, results you’ve produced, and credibility or proof. This may seem near impossible but it’s actually quite simple. It just takes some practice. Spend some time focusing on the “who” – who you’re trying to attract to your profile. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. If you were trying to hire the best person for the job, what would they do? What results or credentials would be most impressive at first glance? What titles would you be typing into the LinkedIn search box? I can guarantee that if you spend some time getting into the hiring manager’s head, you’ll have your concept in no time!
For example, if you’re hoping to be hired as a social media marketer in the non-profit space, the hiring manager is looking for strong social media results. The hiring manager may also be thinking of his or her limited budget. Your headline might look something like this:
“Social Media & Digital Marketer driving successful campaigns on a tight budget. 500% increase in ROI in the past 6 months.”
If you’re targeting executive assistant roles, your target hiring manager is likely looking for someone who can multi-task, maintain order in a busy office and understands what it means to support an executive. You might consider a headline like this:
“Executive Assistant | Right Hand to CEO & VPs | Flawless Office Organization & Administrative Duties | Complex Scheduling”
Notice how these headlines immediately communicate value? I’ll break these headlines down further to explain each part.
How to communicate “who you are as a professional”
“Social Media & Digital Marketer” speaks to who this person is as a professional. The easiest way to communicate this is your job title or a broader industry/profession title. For the title “Social Media Marketer,” adding the keyword “Digital” will ensure that you are picked up in a multitude of searches. Research other common titles to get a sense of keyword synonyms. Then, incorporate several of these so that you are catering to a wider variety of search terms. For example Executive Assistant | Coordinator | Administrative Assistant
How to communicate “what you do”
While some titles may seem obvious in communicating “what you do,” you still need to spell it out. Don’t assume everyone who find your profile will be an expert in you role. Instead, help the reader understand your professional value. For example, “Social Media Marketer” doesn’t offer insight into the day-to-day value you bring to the organization. However, “driving successful campaigns on a tight budget,” gives me a much clearer picture. Think about your tasks, the big-picture role, and your value proposition. This rich detail will peak volumes of your value as a potential hire.
How to communicate the juicy results hiring managers love
When it comes to your branding materials, nothing speaks louder than results. The best way to communicate results is through numbers or metrics. In the Social Media Marketer example, “driving successful campaigns” is backed up by the fact that this Marketer “increased ROI by 500%.” Results are important because they tell the reader that you not only can do the job but you are actually quite good at what you do. There’s a big difference between doing something and doing something well. If you’re not sure about your results or haven’t produced any yet, try to incorporate language that speaks to your strengths instead. Reference the Executive Assistant example in this case.
Communicate proof to boost your professional credibility
If you’re looking for ways to stand out in a competitive industry, including proof of your successes can be powerful. Proof can take the form of certifications, specialized degrees (ie. MBA, CPA) and recognizable awards or accolades. For example, if you’re a blogger who’s been featured on a major website or publication, use that in your headline. Your first impression and level of credibility are vastly different when you go from “Blogger” to “Blogger featured on Mashable.”
Keep your LinkedIn headline up to date as your career changes
While the headline shouldn’t be a huge time investment, it is one of those activities that requires ongoing maintenance. Always keep your LinkedIn brand current, relevant and aligned to your end goal. Don’t be afraid to try out new headlines and continually tweak as your career goals change. This way you will always be appearing in the right places. You will also be more likely to be considered for the right opportunities.
If you’re hoping to improve your LinkedIn strategy check out the Job Search Accelerator. In this budget-friendly job landing program you’ll have access to all of Noelle’s expert LinkedIn resources including profile optimization templates, LinkedIn workshop recordings, and networking message templates – everything you need to feel confident in your LinkedIn job search strategy and increase your chances of landing a job you love!