Here's What a Recruiter *Really* Thinks of Your LinkedIn Profile

You’ve just spent hours at the keyboard. Your fingers ache, your eyes starting to blur.

Have you been working on the next great literary masterpiece?

Or your PhD dissertation?


Your LinkedIn profile is finally complete, thank goodness. Because nothing inspires stress in job-seekers quite like LinkedIn. After all, even 10+ years into the company’s history, no one really knows how to master it, let alone what it’s used for. Just that they better have a profile – or else!

So, as the person who LinkedIn charged with educating millions of students and recent grads on the site, let me see if I can shed some light on how to get the most out of your profile. Not just from a LinkedIn employee perspective, but from the perspective of someone who looked through thousands of profiles to hire his own employees.

Step 1: Get Found

The first thing to realize about hiring managers using LinkedIn is that they’re not omniscient – just because you have a profile doesn’t mean that they’re going to see it. And if they don’t see it, your profile isn’t going to do you any good, no matter how awesome it is.

So the first step is to get found. Which means you have to think like a hiring manager. Now, as tempting as it may be, don’t overthink this one. Hiring managers are busy and they don’t have time to try a million LinkedIn tricks. Instead, if they’re looking to find someone for “X” role, they’re likely to enter “X” into LinkedIn’s search box. For example, a hiring manager searching for a marketer is going to search for “marketer.” Whereas a hiring manager looking for the perfect product manager is going to search “product manager.”

And so how do you make sure you get found in that search? Simple, make sure that exact phrase is everywhere that LinkedIn’s search algorithm looks. In particular, you want to have it in your Headline and Summary (since those sections are character-limited and less easily gamed), but also your Experience and Skills sections.

In addition, make sure to have as many connections as possible on the site as, all else being equal, LinkedIn’s algorithm prefers to show results who are more closely connected to the searcher (e.g., 2nd degree vs. 22nd degree). You can boost this number by importing your address book and specifically adding as many people as you know in your desired hiring manager’s industry.

Step 2: Win the First Impression

OK, let’s say you’ve finagled your way into the search results. But how do you actually get the hiring manager to click your profile? After all, a search like “product manager” returns over two million results.

Well, the trick is to win the first impression. Given the sheer number of results out there and the hiring manager’s harried schedule, you’ve got to assume that she’s only going to spend a nanosecond looking at your result. And so, in that brief flash of time, you need to immediately wow her with your stellar presence.

You can do this in two ways:

  1. Have a charismatic profile photo. People like to surround themselves with happy people. So no model poses, no fake smiles – only genuine charm, as if you just saw your best friend walk into a room. While you can optimize for clothing, scenery, etc., nothing wins as instantaneously as someone who conveys: “You’d like me.” Period.
  2. Have an eye-catching headline. While a Headline like “Very First Product Manager at Google” always works, the vast majority of us just don’t have that kind of track record. So the next best thing is to focus on what the hiring manager cares about. For example, if you want to work in Product at an early stage startup, say: “Product Manager for Early-Stage Startups: I Help Small Companies Become Big Companies!” That not only speaks to where the hiring manager is today but also where she needs her team to take the company in the future.

Step 3: Get the Invite

So you’ve gotten on the hiring manager’s radar, you’ve won her attention, and now she’s looking at your profile. What actually matters here? And what doesn’t?

Again, go back to that rule of thumb about speed. No hiring manager is going to spend hours poring over your profile. Instead, they’re going to scan the whole thing in seconds. Which means that you need to win them over for good at the headline level, not the bullet level. Here’s what looks like:

  • Summary: You can have a long summary full of all the relevant keywords (as per the first step) but it should start with a single sentence that encapsulates your candidacy (e.g., “I’m a startup product manager with a track record of helping firms earn their first revenue and achieve successful exits.”). That way, even if the hiring manager doesn’t read anything else, she gets that you belong on her list.
  • Experience: No hiring manager is going to read all your bullets, but they’ll definitely skim the titles and companies. Which means that if you had some weird startup title (“Grand Poobah of Product”) at a no-name company (“Gazoozle!”), it’s best to translate those into something more easily understandable (“First Product Manager at Startup with 8-Figure Exit”).
  • Recommendations: Again, a hiring manager isn’t likely to read the 2,000-word treatise your former boss composed in your honor. But she will notice if you have recommendations under every job you’ve ever had. Because that says you consistently outperform – and she doesn’t just have to take your word for it. By the way, if you’re about to ask for a recommendation, tell your recommender to focus on the first two sentences (e.g., “Kayla was the very best product manager I’ve had in 20 years in this business. I can’t recommend her more highly.”) since those are typically the only part that appear embedded in the Experience section.

1-2-3: Put It All Together!

And that’s it. The three critical steps that will help you show up to hiring managers, get their attention, and win their interest. Take special note of everything I didn’t mention: You don’t need to follow Richard Branson’s Influencer feed religiously. You don’t need 27 endorsements from your family for Teamwork. And you don’t even need to pay LinkedIn a cent if you don’t want to.

Because, as with most things in life, only 20% of your profile is what’s going to get you 80% of your impact. So put yourselves in the shoes of your future hiring manager, focus on what really matters, and save all the stress for your dissertation!