LinkedIn – how to stand out

LinkedIn can be a noisy and chaotic place – 313 million people all trying to network. So how, as an accountancy student or a junior finance professional, do you stand out in all this commotion?

Do you really need a LinkedIn profile?

Quite simply, yes! ‘LinkedIn is changing recruitment,’ says Heather Townsend, author of The FT Guide To Business Networking (1) and co-author of How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life. ‘It’s one of the first places recruiters or employers look for candidates.’

But you need to stand out. ‘If you’re trying to market yourself as young, fresh, forward-thinking, innovative,’ continues Townsend, ‘you need a LinkedIn profile, because if you don’t you’re not encapsulating those brand values, and guess who’s getting employed – those willing to take on new things, to move with the times and embrace technology.’

Likewise, while it can look bad not having a profile, ‘it’s better not to have one at all than a poor one,’ says Townsend. ‘However, the reasons why you should have one far outweigh those against.’

What is a LinkedIn profile?

‘It’s not your online CV – it’s your professional showcase,’ explains Townsend, ‘so let your personality shine through – brand yourself up!’ Unlike CVs, which focus on career history, use LinkedIn to connect with people with your future in mind. ‘A LinkedIn profile isn’t about your career here and now, think in a five-year timespan.’

How do you do it well?

Firstly, if you haven't already, open an account, join those 313 million people, but before you start saying hello to all of them, make sure your profile is shining. ‘Don’t reach out to contacts until you are thrilled with your profile. They will likely view your profile before deciding if they want to connect with you,’ says personal branding expert William Arruda.

Don’t be lazy when setting up your profile, ‘if recruiters think you’re taking short cuts on your LinkedIn, they’ll wonder where else you’re doing so,’ says Townsend. 

Fill out the main sections as thoroughly as you can:

  • Name
  • Professional headline
  • Location and industry
  • Summary
  • Experience
  • Skills and endorsements
  • Education

Don’t worry about the additional sections until you’ve got the core of the profile perfect.

  • Be quiet while you’re updating your profile. LinkedIn by default wants to tell everyone in your network about every change you make to your profile. Go to your privacy settings and turn off activity broadcasts while you’re making changes.
  • Add your current role/situation into your professional headline. ‘When looking for junior or part-qualified accountants it's important to consider key words in your profile and headline,’ says recruiter Morgan McKinley’s Aimee Carmichael. ‘For example, if a client requests ACCA, we would run a LinkedIn or Google search for this term alongside job titles.’ For example: assistant accountant ACCA, audit trainee ACCA part-qualified.
  • Make your professional summary sing. ‘A LinkedIn summary is important as this is the first piece of information that a recruiter will read on LinkedIn,’ says Carmichael, ‘so it should be concise and give a clear overview of your professional or academic experience.’
  • The experience section. This may seem the hardest part if you have little work experience, but remember that LinkedIn is not a CV, it’s your chance to pull together relevant experiences and achievements for all of your life. Don’t discount the week of work experience in a local company, or a project at university. No one has nothing to say about themselves.
  • Think about your skills and attributes, and align them to the job you want next. Heather Townsend’s tip: ‘Ask recruiters what skills and attributes employers are seeking for the role you want to do, then make sure they feature in your profile – LinkedIn’s search algorithm is more influenced by your skills and endorsements section than anything else in your profile.’
  • Endorse others and they’ll endorse you. ‘Ask your contacts to endorse you for only your top skills,’ suggests William Arruda. ‘Having the highest number of endorsements for your signature strengths will influence those who are looking at your profile.’
  • Network with people higher than you – not necessarily the highest, but people who can actually relate to you and be in a more realistic position to provide you the leg up into the next position. As Townsend says, ‘the finance world is very small and people are willing to help one another on the way up.’
  • Join groups to increase your network. Arruda says: ‘Join groups that will let you connect with people who are in your target audience but are not contacts. Join groups related to your area of expertise, industry, alumni, passions, social causes, and other aspects of your identity.’ Being active in relevant groups means you’ll be seen by employers and recruiters who use these to connect with potential candidates, so conduct yourself professionally.
  • Engage with your networks. Link to articles, blogs and news that highlight your understanding and engagement with the profession. But beware of spamming, says Carmichael: ‘Status updates should be reserved for sharing useful sector insight, articles or opinion pieces.’
  • Now it’s ready you can ignore it, right? Think again. LinkedIn is something you need to be active in and update regularly. It’s no use putting in all this hard work to just ignore it. Once you’re happy with your profile, you then need to expand your network. Heather Townsend suggests doing at least five things on LinkedIn everyday, which may seem a lot, but it can be as little as connecting with or endorsing someone, linking to an interesting article or commenting on a group update.

(1) Townsend, H. (2011), FT Guide to Business Networking: How to Use the Power of Online and Offline Networking for Business Success (FT/Prentice Hall)

"If you’re trying to market yourself as young, fresh, forward-thinking, innovative you need a LinkedIn profile, because if you don’t you’re not encapsulating those brand values, and guess who’s getting employed – those willing to take on new things, to move with the times and embrace technology"

Heather Townsend