Building and optimizing a standout LinkedIn profile isn’t optional. It’s not even highly recommended. It’s mandatory—if you want to stand out. In fact, 67% of responding companies use LinkedIn to recruit candidates, and another 67% look at a potential candidate’s LinkedIn account before making a job offer, according to a 2020 survey by The Manifest.
“If you don’t have a presence on LinkedIn, you stand a strong chance of being overlooked,” says Rick Sass, a career coach and LinkedIn subject matter expert at Lee Hecht Harrison.
Whether you just graduated or are on the hunt for a new job, you can make your life as an applicant a whole lot easier by customizing your profile and making it stand out. Use these five strategies to optimize your LinkedIn profile, and employers will be more likely to find and hire you.
1. Write an eye-catching, descriptive headline.
LinkedIn automatically defaults the introduction beneath your name to your current job title. Optimize your LinkedIn profile and set yourself apart with a more creative description.
“Define yourself using nouns that describe what it is you do and what it is you want to do,” Sass says.
Try not to default to your job title even if you’ve landed a fabulous first job. “Marketing analyst” might be the name of your position, but “Quick-thinking marketing pro with an eye for catchy, viral content” will tell a recruiter that they should learn more about you.
2. Choose a professional, approachable headshot and background image to optimize your LinkedIn profile.
“The first thing people are going to look at is the visual,” Sass says. Your background image is an opportunity to share your interests or add another connection to your career. Choose a landscape photo of your favorite place to ski or hike if you’re outdoorsy, or a baseball diamond if you like sports. Depending on your career, you could consider adding a photo of your workspace, tools or products. Avoid potential copyright issues by taking the photo yourself or choosing from a website such as Flickr’s Creative Commons database—ideally only a photo with a “commercial use allowed” license, to be cautious.
Your profile photo is even more important. Recruiters are more likely to read through your professional experience if you have a headshot on LinkedIn, Sass says. It should feature your head and shoulders against a plain background. Make sure to smile; recruiters subliminally think to themselves, “I want happy, smiley, approachable people on my team,” Sass adds.
3. Use keywords in your ‘Summary’ section.
The summary is what makes your optimized LinkedIn profile better than a résumé. It’s a place where you can turn your unique educational and professional experience into a compelling narrative for employers.
“Unlike your résumé, your summary needs to basically tell me a little bit about your personality,” Sass says.
Tell recruiters what you love to do, what you do now and where you want to go next. If you’re looking for a graphic design job, say, “I am a collaborative, outside-the-box thinker who loves using design to make digital products come alive for users.” Format your summary into a few short paragraphs to make it more readable, Sass says.
Most importantly, add a section at the bottom of your summary called “Specialties,” he recommends. Employers can search for potential job candidates on LinkedIn using keywords specific to the industry they’re recruiting for. Find keywords your employers might search for in job descriptions, on recruiters’ own profiles and on the profiles of candidates similar to you. If you work in marketing, for instance, the bottom of your summary could read: “Specialties: digital marketing, social media marketing and data analysis.”
4. Optimize your LinkedIn profile by demonstrating transferable skills.
Your “Experience” section is the one closest to a traditional résumé. It’s where you’ll list all the jobs (both full- and part-time) and volunteer experiences you’ve had until now. After your summary and headline, Sass says, the titles in your experience section are the most important factors in LinkedIn’s results when employers search for candidates.
When writing this section, it’s OK to use “I” and to maintain a slightly more conversational tone, and you can go into more detail about each job you’ve had than on your résumé. Don’t be afraid to include jobs outside your field, Sass says. Speak confidently about the skills you developed in those positions and how they’ll apply to the job you want.
5. Show measurable accomplishments.
It’s great to tell employers what you’re good at, but specific, numerical accomplishments may say more than words can. Demonstrate to employers how your work had an impact. Maybe you exceeded a sales goal or increased your company’s social media follower count.
Not only should you include in the position descriptions what part you played in developing projects, but LinkedIn also allows you to optimize your profile by embedding links to samples of your work in your featured section. Work samples are yet another way to make yourself stand out in the sea of job seekers on LinkedIn.
Take advantage of the space and flexibility LinkedIn provides to show what value you’ll bring to a potential job, Sass says.
“Traditionally you have to do push marketing with hiring managers,” he explains, meaning it’s up to you to get your résumé in front of them. “This is pull marketing. They’re going to find you, and you give them samples of your work and why you’re good at it.”
This article originally appeared on NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a former staff writer and columnist for NerdWallet. This article was updated July 2023. Photo by Viktoriia Hnatiuk/Shutterstock