In my prior articles about headshot fails on LinkedIn, I skewered 58 kinds of mistakes LinkedIn users have made with their profile photos. Today, I'd like to zero in on another area within LinkedIn that is ripe for exploration (and ultimately, exhortation to improve): the Professional Headline.

The mostly overlooked headline keeps growing in importance as LinkedIn keeps increasing the ways it lists us, specifically these sections that you see all the time on the site: You Recently Visited, People You May Know, People Also Viewed, and People Similar to.

Your headline serves as your working career one-line elevator speech. And let's emphasize the adjective LinkedIn uses to describe it: Professional.

What a Professional Headline Should Not Be

Don't be THIS person (or any of the following people) on LinkedIn.

The obscure reference gal

Please realize that to most (and by "most" I mean 99%) readers saying that you are "Always looking for 'Purple Squirrels'" is just odd. We're not sure what that means. I know Seth Godin wrote about purple cows, but I'm a little scared to Google your phrase of choice. And, of course, nothing on your page clarifies the expression.

The quirky statement-maker

You may actually be an "Aspiring Know It All" or you may just be an avuncular, self-deprecating sort. I'm not sure which way to lean on that. Also, I'm not sure if that's an elevator pitch you should be making on this massive network filled with future employers, clients, etc.

The REALLY quirky statement-maker

The headline reads: "The itch on your back you can't quite reach to scratch." No photo accompanying that headline, so you're really opening us up to imagination. And bonus points for creating a custom LinkedIn URL that I really wish I could mention, but it would give you away, you "handsome devil" you!

Hyper-enthusiastic salesperson

"Rockstar with a capital R" is a good one; it does stand out. Who is to say that this isn't an effective approach? Your intro background paragraph continues the chatty, conversational style, as does your mouth-wide-open-shouting profile photo. It's cool... You have spunk. I would probably buy from you, but I'm still going to hit the big red "X" button on my America's Got Talent desk.

Self-deprecating freelancer

I'm glad your profile photo shows you with a big smile because your Professional Headline reads "Freelance Chump." The Urban Dictionary defines chump as "someone who does not understand the basics of life on earth; confused easily." Well, that's about right.

Bravado guy

"Chief Revenue Officer at [CO NAME], keynote speaker, drummer, and part-time super hero." Something happens to some C-level executives; they do and say things they wouldn't have done or said at the beginning of their careers. This one illustrates a point I made in my headshot fail articles about treating LinkedIn as if it were Facebook. It's a fine line sometimes, and, superhero, you seem to skate right on it. One day, maybe when I've reached my aspiration to be a (capital-R)ockstar and keynote speaker, I'll pull off a line like that in my profile.

Intimidating venture capitalist

I'll go against all my self-preservation instincts and pluck an example from a user based in the Russian Federation who declares in his Headline: "Looking for investment opportunities ($0,1-30 mln)" First of all, which is it: $0? Or 1-30 million dollars? If I'm seeking your money I think I'm going to fall into the latter option there.

What a Professional Headline Should Be

OK, once the chuckles are over, the question is: "OK, wise guy, so what SHOULD a professional headline be?"

The first thing to realize is that you can edit your Headline. So, don't let the LinkedIn default (current title and company) win! It seems that at least 90% of all Professional Headlines are the default current title and company name: Bor–ing. Spice it up a little bit; use that space to author a one-liner recap of what you bring the table. Tell your story in a few words... It's hard, but you can do it!

For example, my Headline states: "20+ years of experience helping marketers meet their demand generation goals." That was my effort to distill my professional career down to one short sentence.

Here are a few more good Headline examples from my network, and I'm sure these folks won't mind being called out by name:

  • Veronica Jarski:  Writer, editor, illustrator. 
  • Lori Ruff: Enhancing revenue by exploring social media channels ★ Forbes Top 50 Influencer ★ Keynote Speaker, Author, Consultant
  • Allan Levy: Experienced Internet Retail, Advertising and Marketing Senior Executive 
  • Jen Knoedl: Video Producer ★ Travel Video ★ On-Camera Host ★ Motivational Speaker ★ Marketing Trainer ★ Online Media Consultant
  • Paul Anovick: Executive Coach | Leadership Development | Business Performance Coaching | Business Communications
  • Scott Butler: Executive Recruiter Specializing in Online Media

Last tip... In edit mode on your profile, LinkedIn helpfully adds two options: "Show examples" and "See what others in your industry are using." Find a few you like (it will take some time, but keep looking) then craft your own, original Professional Headline. Don't succumb to that lizard brain voice inside tell you, "I'm not that interesting; I'll stick with the default."

Your Professional Headline a golden opportunity to elevate yourself above the (300 million and growing) crowd. Even if you don't want to do to grab the attention for the many recruiters out there who rely on the Headline, do it for the rest of us who will appreciate and respect your efforts to be somebody.

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Don't Be This Person on LinkedIn: Headline Don'ts and Do's

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