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.
What is a headline on LinkedIn?
A LinkedIn headline is the section at the top of a LinkedIn user's profile where they can describe what they do in 120 characters or less. This brief description appears next to the user's name in search results. It should entice readers to click the profile to learn more about the user's experience and background.
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?
What should your LinkedIn headline be?
Now that you know what a LinkedIn headline is and why a custom one is the best choice, it's time to put pad to paper. One one hand, you want to simply describe what you do, but at the same time, you want your headline to be attractive to prospects (and avoid scaring them away).
To make coming writing your headline easier, here's a simple formula:
In this formula, X will represent your ideal prospect, and Y will be their ideal outcome or state of mind after using the services you're selling.
But how do you come up with the right wording for each of these elements? Read our 4 tips for writing the perfect headline.
How to Write a LinkedIn Headline
Tailor it to your audience.
Include your value proposition.
Use your prospect's language.
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. Include your value proposition.
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.
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. Avoid hyperbole.
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:
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.
Is there something you're particularly proud of or excel at? Try using an "unofficial title" instead of your official job title to highlight it. This headline catches attention with a question -- a question is a great way to start a conversation with a new connection or prospect.
This deadline takes the focus off the individual and onto their audience by including the word "You." It's also outcome-oriented (get more clients and free up time) rather than product- or sales-oriented.
Even though this headline says "Sales Manager," it positions the individual in a more consultative role, claiming that they are there to help small businesses "make SaaS decisions," not buy a specific SaaS product. Also, by calling out a few different locales, prospects see themselves in this headline.
This LinkedIn headline calls out what the individual does and what the effect of that work is (confidence). In addition, the emoji adds a little bit of flair that draws attention and shows personality.
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.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Oct 21, 2020 1:30:00 PM, updated October 21 2020