Your LinkedIn profile is more important than you think. Here’s why and what you should do to improve your digital first impression, your digital handshake.

When a potential employer, connection, or acquaintance wants to know more about you, what do they do? They do the same thing as you. With the internet at our fingertips, the most common action is to Google the person.

When is the last time you Googled yourself? If I Google you right now, I guarantee your LinkedIn profile is one of the top 3 results listed (unless you’re famous or named something like “John Smith”). LinkedIn has more information about an individual than virtually any searchable source and, with over half a billion users, it’s the largest source of professional information in the world. The #1 activity on LinkedIn is viewing profiles, and you can bet that when someone sees you’ve viewed their profile, their first reaction is view yours.

My time at LinkedIn revealed that your LinkedIn profile is your digital first impression, and it frequently precedes and supersedes a real-life first impression. Before anyone even speaks with you before a planned meeting or call it’s likely they’ve already formed an idea of who you are based on your LinkedIn profile. Do you want to face an uphill battle or set yourself up for success?

The Ideal LinkedIn Profile

Your ideal LinkedIn profile depends on what’s most important for you to communicate. Before I tell you how to craft your profile, you need to decide on your priorities.

Is it more important for you to close sales or would you prefer to be appealing to a potential new employer? Including past results like “closed $45M of sales in 2016, 185% of quota” will make you appealing to a potential new employer but will likely be a turn off to the decision makers you’re prospecting. First, decide on your end-goal.

Next, you need to craft the brand that best aligns with your end-goal. What’s most appealing to the individuals tied to this end-goal? Potential clients/customers might want to learn more about the results you’ve helped clients/customers achieve, whereas the people you manage will want to read about your emphasis on collaboration, mentorship, and developing those you manage. You can have multiple priorities, but only to the extent that they do not conflict.

The Top Impact Areas

Digital first impressions mimic in-person first impressions in that they are typically formed within the first 7 seconds. That means the vast majority of your focus should be whatever appears when someone views your profile and scrolls slightly. I recommend focusing on the:

  • Profile picture
  • Headline
  • Summary
  • Current work experience

Your Profile Pricture

Your profile picture should reflect your professional brand. If you want people to know you’re a cutthroat lawyer, a goofy smile won’t do. If you want people to know you’re a creative, goofy marketing genius, it works for your picture to include a Hawaiian shirt and a big smile with an interesting background. Whatever you want your “ideal profile viewer” to think of you, make sure your profile picture evokes that feeling.

Your Headline

Your headline is your 3-10 word tag line that sums up your brand and aligns with your priority. It can be your job title, it can be how you think of your job, or it can simply set the lens through which the viewer reads the rest of your profile. Whatever you do, please don’t put “seeking new opportunities” even if you are seeking new opportunities. It comes off as undesirable and desperate, and you can achieve a similar result more subtly by signaling yourself as an Open Candidate.

Your Summary

Your summary is effectively your elevator pitch for your end-goal. It should hook the reader’s attention and be substantive enough to communicate your point. I recommend keeping it to less than 15 seconds of read time (excluding speed readers). We want your summary to directly or indirectly state your end-goal, and it forms the bulk of a reader’s first impression if they get that far.

Your Curent Work Experience

Your current role, under the work experience section, can either solidify or conflict with the reader’s first impression. You don’t want someone to get to your work experience and ask themselves “oh, this is a salesperson?” It should reaffirm their first impression and can move you one step closer to your end goal.

All the other sections on your LinkedIn profile can make an impact, but the vast majority of the impact is made in these four sections. People want to hire people they feel like they know and your Digital First Impression, plus a referral from a company employee, can make a job yours to close.