It’s your friend and your enemy. It’s your best selling point while simultaneously serving as an ethical gateway to hell. It can make or break your career. And it’s just 60,000 square pixels.
It’s your basic info on LinkedIn.
Not your total resume – we’ll get to that in the future on the assumption that people read past the highlights in this swipe-left or swipe-right world. We’re only talking about your name, your position, your affiliation, and your smiling face.
That. Period. When you start getting active on LinkedIn, people will find you popping up in their suggested contacts under “People You May Know.” (That’s how I recruit many contributors for Before the Bar.) Maybe you’re interning at their firm or attending their alma mater. There’s a limited number of things your potential hiring manager, mentor, or nemesis can do at this point on this screen:
- Connect with you.
- Ignore you.
- Hit the little “X” on your profile that takes you out of their suggestions for eternity (or some other algorithmic time frame).
Note that two of the three don’t work in your favor. They could look at your page, sure, but there’s no guarantee. The difference could be one of these things holding you back upon first impressions.
Your profile photo
It’s the first thing people see. It’ll also be the last thing if your photo:
- Is a silhouette. Nobody likes that anonymous grey box person. Diligent hires don’t go default. You’ve been in photos. Find one.
- Is more than five years old. Do you look like what you did in high school? Not anymore. Don’t make them check their glasses when they hopefully one day meet you.
- Is just a color swatch. You bothered to put something in there, and it’s from the paint section of Home Depot. Why not try your photo?
- Is too small for the space. It’s 200×200 pixels. Look, just make a really big square image, and you can center it however you want. Just don’t look all shrunken.
- Has an inappropriate level of fun in it. Dress that photo for the job you seek. Vacation shots aren’t cutting it. Swimsuits are appropriate if you’re applying to be a lifeguard or an Olympic swimmer. Everybody else, suit up.
- Includes your pet. Aww, is Fluffy coming to the office? Probably not. Not even if you’re in veterinary law.
- IS your pet. Fluffy is not a lawyer. Have Fluffy go fetch your iPhone.
- Contains an alcoholic beverage. Huge no-no, don’t risk it.
- Looks like you just got out of bed. Put a little time and effort into your appearance.
- Contains you in sunglasses. You’re not a Snoopy “Joe Cool” poster at Hallmark.
- Has an exotic locale. Your most likely destination is a cubicle with no windows. You’ll always have Paris – but keep Paris on Instagram.
- Includes a celebrity. First off, as we’ve found out from stories of political candidates with quasi-educational products, that famous person just may be a cardboard cutout. One lawyer went so far as to Photoshop herself with celebrities on her website – you can imagine where that move got her. Your profile is about you, not who you know. Do your humblebragging when you get ready to retire, not when you’re getting your first foot in the door.
Why do I have a section called “your name” in this article? It’s literally one of the first things you learned to say, spell, and type into web apps. You’d be amazed how many people …
- Have their name in reverse order. Anybody with a brain is going to know that “Johnson John” couldn’t figure out that your first name goes in the first name box and your last name goes in the last name box. This is incredibly more common than you would think and belies a lack of attention to detail.
- Includes your job description. Some people are their job. But even they shouldn’t do this.
- Has too many honoraria. Yes, “John Johnson JD, Esq., MBA, RFD” looks lovely. It also sounds pretentious. And it’s gonna get you dumped PDQ (ask your parents).
- Is misspelled. Don’t laugh. I worked for someone who spelled both their name and the name of their company wrong when they set up their LinkedIn profile. It hasn’t been fixed. I have nothing.
Your job description
Starting off at the outset of your career, this will be short and sweet. You’re a law student or law school graduate seeking … something. That’s totally workaday and acceptable. Just don’t get cute.
- Don’t let your description get cut off. You’ve got 70 characters to work with, max. Anything past that and the VIP looking at you has to hover over it to see more. On mobile? You don’t even get that option. Brevity is the soul of your career at this point.
- Don’t you dare make up a title. You’re not a Modern Legal Warrior, Future Supreme Court Justice, or the Barristerial Barista. Nobody wants to parse your language to figure out what you mean. Use words people recognize.
- Is an inspirational quote. “Nobody cares what your mantra is. Save it for Facebook. – Abraham Lincoln.”
- Never include the following words: Guru. Ninja. Innovator. Rock Star. Solutionist. Wizard. Pro. Lawholic. Visionary. Mercenary. Assassin. Guerrilla. Czar. Maven. These get thrown out all the time in social media positions. They mean zero. Please don’t let the legal field be next.
- Never exaggerate your experience. My former boss from early in my career is on LinkedIn. His LinkedIn information on that time is, in my opinion, 90 percent fiction. Your knowledge will be put to the test and judged. Don’t get caught in a lie.
- NEVER WRITE IN ALL CAPS. WHY ARE YOU YELLING? IT’S OFF-PUTTING.
And lastly, never use the word “unemployed” in your description. First, it might be seen as implying that someone did indeed unemploy you after hiring you – which begs the question, “what was so wrong that they’re out of a job?” And second, you’re “seeking” or “pursuing” your goal of becoming the lawyer you envisioned when you started out on the road to becoming a lawyer. Show a little of that passion.
The cultivation and care of your personal brand is going to be critical. Like the Titanic on its first voyage, all this can sink you before you even get off the first screen of LinkedIn. Don’t be your own iceberg.