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Liz Ryan Contributor

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. full bio →

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com

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The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Leadership 4,314 views

How To Write A Killer LinkedIn Headline

Until you conduct a few searches using the massive LinkedIn LinkedIn user database, you don’t realize just how powerful and essential your LinkedIn headline is. When you conduct a search for LinkedIn members using any search term you like, from “wallaby” to “poltergeist,” you’ll see that your search results are displayed in a particular format, just like Google Google web search results are.

When you’re looking at a page of LinkedIn search results (using the People search function) you’ll see each LinkedIn user’s name, his or her profile photo, and his or her headline. That’s all you can see — on the strength of a name, a headline and a photo, you have to decide whether or not to click through to see the user’s full LinkedIn profile. You can’t change your name. You can change your photo, if yours isn’t  doing you justice.

You can add a LinkedIn photo to your profile if you don’t have one now. Please do! We need to see your smiling face or else we’ll picture you in our minds as the Phantom of the Opera or Jason with the hockey mask.

Your headline is critical, because it tells us how you see yourself. The default for a LinkedIn headline is your current job title, and that might be the best headline for you — but what if it’s not? Maybe your brand is a little different from the title your employer bestowed on you. There are lots of people who’d be better served creating their own LinkedIn headline than letting their current job title define them professionally.

Let’s say you’re the co-founder of a startup that is so embryonic it’s still in your apartment. Because the startup is so new, you’re also working as a software engineer for a mobile device company. What’s your brand? You want visitors to your profile to know about your startup project (your boss knows about it) but your software experience is a big part of your credibility, too.

That’s okay! You don’t have to choose to use your startup co-founder title or your software title in your LinkedIn headline. You can invent a headline that describes you the way you want people to know you. You might choose the LinkedIn headline “Software Architect and Startup Co-Founder.”

You can list both of your current job titles in your profile, and use your LinkedIn Summary to explain your “complicated” status vis-a-vis your two jobs.

Our client Angie was an Office Manager, but she got laid off. Angie wanted a new Office Manager job. LinkedIn is full of Office Managers Seeking Next Next Opportunity, the  same way the site is full of job-seekers of every description.

Angie put into words how she looks at her Office Manager responsibilities. She is not like every other job-seeker. She does things a particular way, so she wrote this LinkedIn headline:

Office Manager/Business Air-Traffic Controller ISO Stressed-Out CEO to Make Sane

Angie wanted the world to know how she does her job — to her, it’s air-traffic control. She loves to help a crazed CEO organize his or her day and projects. Angie got calls from recruiters the minute she updated her headline. (ISO is an acronym for In Search Of.)

You can put a human voice in your LinkedIn headline, too. Try it!

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