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4 Secrets to Writing a No-Fail LinkedIn Headline

When it comes to icebreakers, “describe yourself in three words” is by far one of the toughest. You’re a complex person, with unique ambitions, experiences, preferences, and traits -- how are you possibly supposed to distill yourself down to three mere words?

Unfortunately, get-to-know-you conversations aren’t the only time you’ll face this prompt. LinkedIn headlines are essentially the professional version: They ask you to describe who you are and what you do in just one line. It’s not surprising most people end up with the platform’s default option, their current job title.

But letting LinkedIn choose your headline for you is a mistake. With a customized headline, you’ll instantly distinguish yourself, give prospects and recruiters a reason to view your profile, and start building the case for your product. You’d say that pay-off is worth the effort, right?

And you don’t have to go through the process without help. Here are the four secrets to writing a no-fail LinkedIn headline.

How to Write an Effective LinkedIn Headline

1) Tailor It to Your Audience

SDR, BDR, account representative, client advisor -- if you work in sales, you’re probably familiar with these titles. Your prospects, on the other hand, typically have no idea that these are all code for “sales professional.”

When you’re prospecting on LinkedIn, using a job title that throws prospects off the sales scent is confusing at best. At worst? It’ll make your prospects trust you less. After all, if you look like a sales rep, talk like a sales rep, and act like a sales rep, why are you going by “account growth manager”?

There’s an easy fix: Use the title your prospects will recognize. That’s probably “Sales Representative” or “Sales Associate,” but if you’re higher up, it might be “Sales Manager” or “Sales Director.”

As a bonus, including “sales” in your LinkedIn headline will also make it easier for prospects to find you. People researching your product are much likelier to click on your profile if they can tell you’re a salesperson, rather than a random employee. And the same goes for recruiters -- if they’re looking for a rep in a specific industry or vertical, using the most common version of your title lets them easily track you down.

2) Add Your Value Prop

Of course, simply calling yourself a salesperson would be pretty boring -- plus, it doesn’t communicate the value you add. Use the next part of your LinkedIn headline to describe how you improve your customers’ lives.

To make it easier, here’s a simple formula: “[Job title]: helping X do Y.”

For instance, say your mobile IT solutions enable IT professionals to manage their infrastructure on the go. Your headline could be: “Sales Representative: Helping IT professionals provide support anytime, anywhere.”

Or maybe you sell automated expense tracking software. In that case, you might go with, “Sales Associate: Saving companies time and money with automated expense reports.”

Not sure how to describe your value? You can usually adapt it from your company’s value proposition. Alternatively, try browsing through your company’s customer testimonials for inspiration.

3) Use Your Prospect’s Language

When you’re creating your headline, watch out for company, industry, or role-specific jargon your prospects won’t know. It doesn’t matter how compelling your description is if they don’t understand half the words.

To give you an idea, while doing research for this piece I found a rep with the headline: “Our ground-breaking PaaS integrates and abstracts underlying Hadoop technologies.”

I asked a potential buyer if he had any idea what this meant, and he said no. But when I rewrote it in simpler terms (“Our software helps developers easily and quickly manage their big data apps”), he immediately said, “Oh yeah, sounds like something our team could use.”

As you can see, there’s a huge advantage to skipping the jargon. But thanks to the curse of knowledge, it’s not always easy for you (an expert in your product or service) gauge if buyers (often beginners) will understand the terminology in your headline. If you’re unsure, reread the first few emails from previous customers to see how they described their challenges and needs. Any words, phrases, or situations that show up again and again are fair game for your headline (not to mention the rest of your LinkedIn profile).

4) Don’t Brag

There’s nothing more off-putting (or less believable) than someone who publicly compliments themselves. For that reason, you’ll want to strike these adjectives (and others like them) from your headline:

  • Expert
  • Top-performing
  • Winning
  • Capable
  • Proactive
  • Dedicated
  • Hard-working
  • Best
  • Superior

Even though these adjectives likely apply to you, they won’t make prospects or recruiters more interested in you. On the contrary, you’ll seem arrogant.

The best way to show off your skills is including customer success stories in your summary and prior experience. Lines like “Helped online bicycle retailer increase sales by 30%” and “On average, clients reduced support tickets by half” stand on their own without any commentary -- and as a result, are far more impressive.

The upside to crafting a perfect headline? Once you’re done, you’ll immediately start noticing a difference in the quantity and quality of leads you generate on LinkedIn. Social selling just got easier.

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