9 Unacceptable LinkedIn Mistakes and How to Fix Them

September 2, 2015

There is so much advice that can be given about LinkedIn – tons of possibilities for tweaking and enhancing profiles and countless opinions on the nuances of this social art. As someone who looks at hundreds of profiles, though, from the developers moving through our professional mentorship program to the applicants for our company to our own employees, I’ve come to realize that it’s not in this minutia that most people need to improve their LinkedIn profiles. It’s in the major stuff.

When I give people advice on their profiles, job hunts and careers, I often find myself repeating the same information over and over again. I’m not the biggest fan of repeating myself, so I’ve decided to lay out some super basic advice on how to improve your LinkedIn profile.

A word of warning: if you have an excellent LinkedIn profile, don’t read this and comment about how useless it was. If this isn’t helpful for you, you weren’t the target demographic. This is for people whose LinkedIn profiles are in a state of abject disrepair or just getting started.

Now, a word of advice: open your LinkedIn profile while you read this and follow along. It’s much easier to see and fix as we go than to imagine a bunch of tasks for later or think this doesn’t apply because the offending profile is tucked away somewhere.

Without further ado, here are the 9 most egregious offenses I see on people’s LinkedIn profile pages and the fastest ways to fix them.

The headshot is inappropriate or missing

If you are not prepared to put a picture up on your LinkedIn profile, just don’t have a profile. When people are looking for you on LinkedIn they want to confirm that you’re the Sandy Sonenshine they met at that networking night when you forgot your business cards. Plus, the gray silhouette default screams, I don’t care enough about this social channel or the people who use it to abide by some basic conventions. You wouldn’t leave your Facebook profile picture blank, so don’t leave this one empty either.

But just because you wouldn’t leave your Facebook profile pic blank doesn’t mean you should use the same picture on LinkedIn. Heavens, no. The only person who should be in this picture is you, and the only body parts I should see are your head and shoulders (fully clothed, mind you). No knees. No toes. This is a head shot. It should be professional. The background should not be a beautiful foreign city. Your girlfriend should not be in the picture. No inanimate objects should be present other than clothes.

Your head should take up the overwhelming amount of space in the photo and you should be dressed professionally. I’m often asked what professionally means, to which I reply, that’s industry specific. You don’t need a tie or suit in every industry. Tech, for instance, can be more casual. Law, not so much. Your dress should match the industry you’re trying to be a part of.

The title is lousy or not descriptive

LinkedIn basically gives you the opportunity to have a by-line – to describe yourself or your major role in 10 words. Do not pass up this opportunity. Some people just read, Do not pass up this opportunity to be clever. Should you think of something unique and grabbing to say? Sure, if you’re David Foster Wallace incarnate. If not, be direct. If someone doesn’t read your profile further make sure she got the main point of you professionally. Not sure what that looks like – browse the profiles of other professionals you admire.

There’s no summary

LinkedIn was literally like, Free form, baby. Tell us anything you want about yourself. And you were just like, Uh, I don’t know how to talk about myself in a non-standard fashion, so I’m going to skip this and move right onto the experience section. Shame on you! You have just been given an unobstructed area in which to talk about how awesome you are professionally. Do not pass up this opportunity. It will not happen every day. Facebook doesn’t let you just summarize yourself. Twitter gives you 140 characters. But LinkedIn is like, Regale me, [insert your name here]. So why aren’t you regaling us?

Is it hard to provide a summary of yourself? Yes! Am I interested in hearing about these struggles? No! Ask a friend to take a first crack at it and you do hers. Pretend like you’re writing about someone else. For ten minutes, imagine there’s no such thing as modesty and just be unbelievably proud of the person you are.

Tell us who you are and what you’ve accomplished. Tell us about your skills. Tell us about your biggest accomplishment to date. Tell us where your presence makes a unique difference. Hell, share all of those things! But for heaven’s sake, share something.

Terrible job titles

Were you actively given the world’s worst job title by your supervisor? If not, were you so lowly at your position that you weren’t even given a job title? If so, wonderful! Stop looking at this as a problem. Stop calling your position “Intern,” or “Associate.” You don’t need to write what it said on your business card, and you certainly don’t have to come up with the lowest common denominator for the name of your position from the activities you participated in. Tell us, in your words, what the position really was. If you were a Junior LAMP Stack Developer, don’t write, Coding Intern. Say the thing that you want to be and could really have been described as doing – and be proud of it. Make it descriptive, interesting and demonstrate a trajectory towards where you want to be next in your career.

Inconsistent formatting

There are some things that are challenging about writing, like diction, which is picking the right word to describe the right thing. If you don’t have the vocabulary, it can be hard to say what you mean effectively. But there are some elements for which we all have the same advantages, and one of those is formatting. This is as true of LinkedIn as it is of a paper, essay, report, presentation or any other written communication. Format everything consistently.

If you are writing lists, don’t make one of them bulleted and one dashed. When you write in full sentences, don’t put two spaces between some and one space between others. Did you just speaking in first person in your experience section but third person in your volunteer experience. My head is figuratively imploding! What? You wanted to say literally imploding. That’s it, get out.

English mistakes and no editing

It is absolutely okay if English is not your first language or if you can’t compose strong prose in English. I will never hold that against you if your position doesn’t require it. However, I will hold it against you in your LinkedIn profile because it means you didn’t edit. Maybe you wouldn’t have caught your own mistakes, but a fluent English speaker might have. And you don’t need to be a non-native speaker to have typos and mistakes. You just need to be human. That, however, doesn’t make them acceptable. Always edit your own work, and always make sure someone else does as well.

A lack of information on the experiences

Many people just put their titles and companies on the experience section of their LinkedIn profiles. To this, I roll my eyes and move onto the next application, one where the applicant thought I would be interested in what they actually did rather than the position and company. I have had 27 friends titled “Associate” at [Insert Major Consultancy Here]. Was there some overlap in their experiences? Sure. But did each of them do different things and work on different projects and therefore have a relatively unique experience? Absolutely. Don’t assume that I know what you did. I may know 500 Business Analysts at McKinsey (I don’t, thank goodness), but even though I can assume similar skill sets from them I cannot assume similar industry experience. They all worked on different projects in different industries, and that changes what they have to offer their next place of employment. Be specific about the experience you had. Tell us actual things you did and real projects that you worked on. Inquiring minds want to know!

Not filling out the other sections

LinkedIn has a ton of sections. There’s education, volunteer work, publications and so much more. You may not have published a book, but if you volunteer anywhere – really, almost anywhere, then there’s no reason you can’t share that with us. Why not? It rounds you out as a person, shows depth of character and interests and lets people connect with you better. You may have been part of some persecuted cult at some point and thinking to yourself, I don’t want people to know that. Okay, no problem – you don’t have to share. Don’t share what you actively don’t want to, but do let us know that you are more than three positions and a list of skills, which brings us to the final annoying mistake people make.

The skills section isn’t there for my health

Do you think that LinkedIn added the skills section because they get a dollar for every skill you list? Well, they didn’t. They added it so that you can say, I know how to do all of these things that I didn’t really get a chance to say elsewhere, PLUS, other people can agree that I know how to do this. Can this be faked? Absolutely. Can it be helpful? You better believe it! People relate to those skills, however unconsciously. They endorse you (and you should endorse them!) because it helps all of us form connections and lay claim to the things we can do. Use the prepopulated options LinkedIn provides, and think about more than “project management.” Do you know Scrum specifically? Say fifty things you can do that you haven’t had the opportunity to tout. Just do it.

And these are the 9 things you should do before asking someone to help you with your LinkedIN profile. What are your most obvious fixes to someone’s LinkedIn profile?