LinkedIn. Deep and emotional sigh.
Love/hate doesn’t do my relationship with LinkedIn justice.
On the one hand, grateful love. I wouldn’t have near the success I’ve had without it. My burgeoning career accelerated in no small part due to my neurotic obsession with LinkedIn, a/b testing headlines, adding a thousand contacts in a day, and exploring how the algorithm works.
I’ve spent 3-4 hours a day using LinkedIn since 2010. Even on holidays. Let’s say I’m well past the 10,000 hour rule.
On the other hand, fiery eye-rolling hate. The shallow, pedantic, self-centered, ego-driven, humblebrag capital of the world is expletive-ing exhausting.
So yes, I am calling out the speck of sawdust in your eye while sitting here with a giant plank in my own. Guilty as charged.
Anyway, feelings aside, I’ve gone through LinkedIn hell and returned with trinkets. Let’s git it on.
Blatant Self-Promotion is Fine (This Time)
LinkedIn is, in fact, social media and not Resumeblaster 2.0. And that means you must put a sales and marketing hat on. Not play historian.
Passive users can load their top-of-funnel with smart positioning and semi-regular check-ins. Active users can drive new opportunities, close deals, and accelerate their careers by managing the entire funnel.
All right—enough of the sales and marketing mumbo jumbo. Back to basics. How should you use LinkedIn? Well, what do you want? Do you want more of the same, more of what you’re doing now? Or do you want the next great thing? Do you have clarity on what you want?
Jacobism™ (career positioning 101): You should communicate in a manner that reflects where you are going, not where you’ve been.
Whether it’s a promotion, same-shit-new-company, or a complete career reinvention, you can get there by aspirationally marketing yourself on LinkedIn.
What Matters (But Shouldn’t): Bias & Perception
Unsurprisingly, appearances and subjective bias matter a lot.
My team tested identical messaging across 150,000+ outbound LinkedIn interactions. We tested from male and female profiles, with and without professional (or even ‘attractive’) photos, with and without elevated titles (e.g., Director vs. Associate).
- Profiles with professional photos were 5x more likely to garner a positive response vs. a casual photo with poor lighting or no photo at all.
- Profiles with elevated titles were 2-3x more likely to garner a positive response.
- Profiles with sales titles (e.g., head of sales) received 2x fewer positive responses than profiles with organizational titles (e.g. Director, Customer Success)
- Men were 2-3x more likely to be treated with professional respect during sales calls.
- Men were also 5x more likely to get blocked or reported for spam.
- Women made more connections but were over 10x more likely to get sexual harassment from their responses. (Men received harassment too, but significantly less and typically by other men)
- Our minority employees were treated notably worse during conversations. We didn't tally the quantity, but listening to their calls was eye-opening.
- Profiles with less common, hard to pronounce (for an English-dominant audience), or foreign names received ~40% less attention.
You should know the factors that can influence your efforts on LinkedIn. I don’t intend to spark controversy—but factors don’t care about your feelings.
My ‘nobody asked this guy’ take on it is that if someone expresses their bias on you and treats you poorly—bullet dodged. So, keep your chin up and get after it to identify people of substance.
What Matters: Seniority & Company
After an unfathomable amount of effort ‘reverse headhunting’ and studying the LinkedIn algorithm, I’ve come to understand what influences inbound search and what doesn’t.
In short—your most recent job title and the company you work for makes the most impact.
For example, a Director at Salesforce is categorized with other Directors within large tech/FAANG. Therefore, they would not likely show up in searches in other industries, such as healthcare or manufacturing.
However, that same Director is also unlikely to show up in Vice President searches at large tech/FAANG firms even if they held a prior role as a Vice President.
Why? The recency of their experience as a Director trumps their past work.
Your title affects both subjective perception AND robots. So whoever says that titles don't matter is grossly mistaken.
If you take an advisor, board member, or consulting role—and list that as your most recent experience, LinkedIn now favors you under that terminology and you will show up with other advisors, board members, and consultants. (Which may or may not be your intention)
LinkedIn is designed to give you more of the same. It is optimized for recruiters to find the exact title they’re looking for in a given role.
This leaves you to hope that a recruiter says, “Ah yes, I will search for Directors to fill my VP role.” or “I’ll search other industries to fill this role and take a gamble.”
Which, let’s be honest, is unlikely because presenting less impressive titles to their clients—or industry mismatches— typically doesn’t bode well for them. And that’s after assuming that they found you in the first place. It's neither right nor wrong. It's just the way it is.
What can you do?
Pay attention to your job title, and if you can make tweaks to it in your favor—do so. Be more intentional and forward-thinking about negotiating the right title and get creative when appropriate.
For example, if you work with a company that gets acquired, sometimes listing that you work for the larger company will steer your career in a better direction.
There are countless nuances that I can’t get into here—so buzz me an email with a specific scenario to consider.
What Matters: Skills
“Jacob… Are you kidding me?”
Look, the skills section and its importance irritate me. Hell, you may not even know where the skills section is because most people don’t, and 99.9% don’t even read it.
Our robot guardians do, though.
Typically, LinkedIn users are prompted to fill out the skill section when they set up their profile for the first time. Then never touch it again.
The problem is, most of you set up your profile a decade ago. And LinkedIn has a snapshot of who you were then—not who you are now—and most certainly not whom you are trying to be.
I won't bore you with the tactical details here. But I implore you to take another pass at your skills section this evening. Swap out Excel Proficiency for P&L Leadership or something.
What Matters MOST: Activity & Network
The No. 1 factor for success on LinkedIn is actively using the platform.
If you’re feeling spicy, publish or share content at least twice a week and engage in conversations daily for best results. Like other media platforms, video content earns strong engagement—although don't go crazy if you aren't a video wizard.
Maintain your activity by using a pragmatic approach to LinkedIn. You don’t need to be obsessive like me.
I recommend that my clients create a small habit of checking LinkedIn once or twice daily for 10 minutes. Or put a weekly block on your calendar to spend a few minutes playing catch up and starting conversations.
The most reliable way to improve your appearance in desirable searches is to connect with other executives (or investors) at the organizations you target. This is because the LinkedIn algorithm favors those who have the shortest degree of separation from one another. (First and second-degree connections over third-degree)
Additionally, LinkedIn serves more content to people that you connected with recently to learn whether they like engaging with you. LinkedIn needs time on-site and engagement to fuel their advertising revenue, so hooking users with recency is mission-critical.
Use this as a next-level way to stay top of mind at the right time.
- Identify hiring managers, company leaders, or people on the team you’d like to join.
- Message contacts in a friendly and empathetic way; ask for a no-stakes conversation.
- Keep conversations brief and casual.
- Publish new content within a few days of adding a new ‘target’.
- Always remember to add value.
What DOES NOT Matter: Analysis Paralysis & Details.
LinkedIn does not need to be over-optimized to be effective. Getting too scientific on a largely subjective and ever-changing platform will drive you cuckoo.
Your time is better spent finding ways to expand your network, helping colleagues improve their careers, giving value to or consulting others, and building badass relationships.
Like most executive-level things, it's not what you know; it's whom you know. And LinkedIn is simply one tool you can sharpen to help accelerate your connections.
Final point, and this may be controversial. But I’ve got a bone to pick with oversharing. JUST DON’T.
I used to think the exact opposite, probably because I previously sold 7 figures in LinkedIn makeovers and thought that character count in the About section and heavy content work warranted the value. It doesn’t.
I also mistakenly thought that people read profiles in detail and more content about the job experiences influenced the search algorithm. It doesn’t.
It typically serves more harm than good. There is a lot more detail about LinkedIn and oversharing in my high level negotiation guide – so I won’t overly-reiterate.
- You don’t need to share too much. It won’t help you get found.
- Writing too much creates boundaries that you must adhere to when discussing your career. “Oh, they only led a team of 10 and $3 million in revenue—whatever.”
- Sharing more broadly gives you the most opportunity to steer later conversations toward where you’re headed next (less about the details of your past). Casting a wider net—so to speak.
I went into this article thinking it would be a short slam dunk—and again—I walk away with the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface. Maybe that will help you stick around.