Stand Out Through Story on LinkedIn

September 2020
Share this article

Look at your LinkedIn profile and put yourself in the shoes of a potential employer, customer or other important person. What do you see? 

A laundry list of experiences, skills and achievements? Or a compelling narrative that captures who you are, how you’re different and the value you bring to the table?

Does your profile tell a story?

We all know that storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to influence and persuade. But how many of us put stories to work on our own behalf?

Here are a few simple ways to use story in your LinkedIn profile to grab people’s attention, stand out from the crowd and strengthen your network.

1. Get a quality headshot.

Because people are so visually oriented, your picture is a big part of telling your story. Here’s how to get a good one:

• Hire a pro. A professional photographer will get a sense of who you are and what you want to communicate, advise on wardrobe and setting, and produce a top-quality product. If that’s not feasible, then you could enlist a friend with proven skills. Just don’t settle for a selfie. 

• Consider wardrobe and setting. Choose clothing and a backdrop that reinforce the image you want to project. A headshot for a government agency’s public information officer is going to look different than one for a digital marketing pro. Wear something that looks sharp and makes you feel great. Find a background that’s neutral and not too busy.

• Be expressive. Think about what you want to convey. Energy and enthusiasm?  Calm assurance? Cool confidence? And remember, a smile is about more than your mouth — it involves your whole face, including your eyes. As you look at the camera, think of an occasion of joy, triumph or pride, or imagine a favorite client or colleague. 

• Be sure to crop your picture tightly. The thumbnails in a search result or comment thread are tiny. We want to see your face, not your shoulders and waist.

2. Compose a compelling headline.

In a distracted world, your headline is critical. Here’s how to make the most of the precious 120 characters LinkedIn affords you:

• Don’t settle for “the usual.” LinkedIn’s default is to use your current job title, which is boring (and repetitive).

Most people simply list their skills in a series of keywords — Media Relations Pro, Crisis Expert, Digital Strategist, etc. While that may help the right people find you, it doesn’t really set you apart from all the others making the same claims.

• Offer a value proposition. Supplement those generic descriptors with a short narrative statement that communicates your value. Check out these examples:

  1. Karen Swim, APR: I help B2B, technology and healthcare companies identify and connect with their target audiences | Public Relations
  2. Robert Rosell: Turning Chaos Into Structure | Senior Project Manager | Scrum Master | Trainer | Coach
  3. Deme Jackson: A creative content strategist with the ability to develop engaging and targeted media. Let’s connect!
  4. Michael Gonda: VP Global Communications, McDonald’s | Building innovative communications strategies to evolve and advance top brands

To get the wheels turning, think about your target audience (who you help or serve), what you do for them and an important outcome or result of your work. Put it together in a compelling sentence or phrase.

3. Make your summary a story.

A lot of people share the same skills and accomplishments as you, but nobody else in the world has your particular story. The “About” section gives you an opportunity to tell yours — to lend meaning, context and texture to your career path. 

Discover the theme to your career. Start by identifying the thread that ties your narrative together:

  1. Think about the challenges you’ve overcome and the problems you’ve solved. What skills, traits or characteristics were key to that?
  2. Look at your performance reviews, client or customer feedback, LinkedIn recommendations, honors and awards. Ask co-workers for their opinions.
  3. Identify the value you bring. Are you the creative? The doer? The people developer? The relationship builder? 

Leadership Consultant Terri Gehr nails it from the start: “‘Figuring it out’” has been the story of my career.” She then proceeds to demonstrate that in the rest of her narrative.

PR Consultant Kathy Keating opens with, “I get results. That’s what every colleague says about me.” 

By the way, consider the power here of third-party validation, which is more credible than anything you say about yourself and makes you sound humbler. Karen Swim takes a similar approach by noting that “clients agree” about the qualities she showcases.

Find the conflict. At the heart of every great story is conflict. It provides the drama that keeps us engaged. Think in terms of problem and solution, threat and opportunity, or perception versus reality.

Here are some great examples:

  1. Digital/branding strategist Shonali Burke: “Big ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s only when they’re translated into reality and reach the people they’re intended to help that they actually start to change lives.”
  2. Video expert Julian Mather: “Worried about the digital shift to video? I can help.”
  3. Agency CEO Jason Mudd: “Consumers buy from the people they know and trust. If your brand is obscure, how can buyers trust you? We increase our clients’ visibility in the marketplace.”

Keep in mind that while your story is technically about you, it’s really about your audience and their needs. Business Coach Glen Dall makes that explicit: “Let’s talk about you,” he says, and then he asks a series of questions that show he understands their biggest concerns.

4. Be human.

Your story is ultimately about showcasing the real “you.” After all, we’re much more likely to hire and want to work with people we feel some affinity toward.

So let go of the jargon and boring business speak. Make it conversational and relatable. Use first-person voice and speak with passion and conviction.

And throw in a little humor. I love this line from Brand Strategist Chelsea Hardaway: “On a not-so-secret lifelong mission to strip the bull out of business, and replace it with humanity.”

For inspiration, scan your list of connections and see whose profile jumps out at you and makes you want to know more. Then get started on fleshing out a story that will get you the attention and results you’re looking for. 

Don’t miss Rob’s session next month at PRSA ICON 2020, “Unleash the Power of Storytelling: Win Hearts, Change Minds, Get Results.”


Return to Current Issue The Tech & Social Issue | September 2020
Share this article

Subscribe to Strategies & Tactics


*Strategies & Tactics is included with a PRSA membership