LinkedIn Lessons: 10 Ways to Stand Out and Level the Playing Field

I love LinkedIn. It's one of the best networking tools out there to help you expand your reach. It's “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” for the business world. But it can be a big, foreign maze. To stand out in the LinkedIn crowd, here are ten quick tips:

1. To increase your Google search rankings, make your LinkedIn profile 100% complete.

2. Brand yourself by using a professional headshot that's also on your website.

3. In the “Specialties” box, list keywords that will help people find you.

4. Don't just cut and paste your resume – use short sound-bites that get your readers' attention.

5. Update your status regularly by adding articles and blog posts you have written, awards you have won, promotions you have earned, or, if you are looking for a job, let people know exactly what you are looking for so it's easy for them to help you.

6. Include links to your website, blog and Twitter account.

7. Put your phone number and email address in the “Summary” section at the top of your profile for quick contact.

8. Be open to invitations to connect with new people.

9. Get involved in groups and discussions by asking thought-provoking questions, answering questions, and sharing interesting information.

10. Get and give recommendations.

But speaking of recommendations – keep in mind that the words people choose to describe you could hurt your chances. Here's why.

Researchers from Rice University analyzed over 600 letters of recommendation. The letters of recommendation for both women and men used positive words; however, communal words such as helpful, kind, sympathetic, tactful and agreeable, and behaviors such as taking direction well and maintaining relationships were more often used to describe women, while agentic words such as confident, ambitious, forceful, independent, and intellectual, and behaviors such as speaking assertively and influencing others were more often used for men. There was no difference in the gender of the letter writer – both men and women used more communal words when describing women than they did for men.

Here is the interesting part. When men and women reviewers were asked to rate the strength of the letters, the researchers found that letters with communal words were ranked lower than letters with agentic words.

After learning this, I went to my LinkedIn profile and scanned the words on my recommendations. Phrases that I thought were great before, like “very accommodating” and “excellent listener,” suddenly sounded quite different to me. Instead, I wished to be described as decisive, smart, and a leader. Let's level the playing field for men and women by carefully choosing the words you use to recommend others.

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