Recently a grad student asked me how to write a headline or tagline for her LinkedIn profile that didn’t sound hopelessly vague or nondescript. Her valid concern was that as a student she didn’t really have a job title to point to, or an extensive “work persona.” I thought about it, realized I had no clue what to suggest, and promised to get back to her after doing some research post-webinar.
What I discovered was that although almost no one takes advantage of this profile feature, it’s actually pretty easy to do once you’ve figured out the basic approach. Whether you’re an LIS student, recent graduate, or established professional, the following steps should help you develop a terrific headline.
How the Headline Field Works (If You Ignore It)
When you create your LinkedIn profile, if you don’t fill in the Headline content box, LinkedIn will automatically defaults to either your current title and employer. So, for example, if you were an outreach librarian at a public library in Philadelphia and simply went with the default headline, yours would read:
Outreach Librarian, Free Library of Philadelphia
If you’re a student and you note that in your Experience section, it will pick up “Student” or “Graduate Student” or “MLIS student” (however you’ve indicated your status), and the name of the institution you’re attending. For example, your headline would read:
MLIS Student, Drexel University
Not much there to grab someone’s attention. Happily, you’ve got 120 characters (including spaces) within which to provide a much more compelling, engaging, and informative headline.
Instead, Tell Your Story – Briefly
How do you differentiate yourself for potential employers within that 120-character parameter? A really simple approach is to simply identify your area of professional expertise (rather than your job title); for example:
- Content strategist
- Digital archives specialist
- Outreach librarian
If you’re a student or recent grad looking for a job, you can modify your area of interest with modifiers like “aspiring,” “in training,” e.g., “aspiring content strategist” or “digital archives specialist in training.”
Or, you could create a headline that goes a step further in showcasing your unique strengths to potential employers. The following four steps will help you do that.
#1 Be specific. Can you provide more detail about being an outreach librarian? For example, are you an “Outreach Librarian Known for Successful Information Literacy Programs among Immigrant Communities?”
Or perhaps you’re a “Multilingual Outreach Librarian Specializing in Cultural Storytelling and Building Cross-Community Relationships.”
Or maybe you’re an “Outreach Librarian Exploring Senior Support Services,” which indicates that this is an area of interest for you, but not necessarily one where you’ve had actual experience.
Do you want to build your opportunities within a specific type of library, or an industry, or type of organization (for example, government, start-up, nonprofit)? If so, make sure to mention that differentiator in your headline.
Key take-away: once you’ve started building your career, you want to make sure that your headline showcases what makes you unique both in terms of your specializations and your value to the right employer.
For students/recent grads. If you’re a student, you have two options. Option one is to focus on the path of expertise you’re pursuing in grad school (most useful if you’re early on in your program and not yet job-hunting). At this point, assume you’re just starting to build your professional visibility. Your headline might be along the lines of:
- MMLIS Student Exploring Connections among Libraries, Technology, and User Experience
- Info Science Grad Student Focused on Data Librarianship, Data Management, and Data Preservation
- Music Librarianship Grad Student Doing Deep Dive into Digital Music Archives
- Info Pro In-Training With Passion for Business Research, Competitive Intelligence, and Market Forecasting
- Future Digital Assets Manager, Researching Application of DAM in Public Relations and Content Marketing Industries
What each of these headlines provides is a very clear indication of your interests (especially useful information for those looking for potential internship candidates or project volunteers). Also, it starts to position you for greater visibility on these topics. And if you decide halfway through your program that you’re changing career direction? Simply change your headline to reflect your new passion.
Option two is to create an aspirational headline. What type of job or work will you aspire to when you graduate? In this situation, you want your headline to signal that you’re a soon-to-be or recent grad (translation: looking for an entry-level job), that you have mastered a specific body of knowledge, and the type of organization you’d like to work for.
So your soon-to-graduate/recent grad job-hunting headline might look like one of these:
- iSchool Grad (Digital Humanities) Exploring Academic Library Opportunities Where I Can Contribute, Continue To Learn
- Librarian-To-Be Eager to Contribute Multilingual Marketing/Outreach Skills to East Coast Public Library (5/16 grad)
- Aspiring Digital Archivist Seeking Entry-Level Opportunities to Contribute in Cultural, Corporate, or Academic Organizations
- Recent MLIS Grad Eager to Use My Marketing Skills To Help Your Public Library Serve Its Community
You’ll notice that each of these headlines is focused on a desire to contribute to the organization, rather than on what you, the job-seeker, want.
#2 Use keywords. This step complements the “be specific” approach, but takes it a step further by purposely including the keywords that potential employers are most likely to search on when seeking someone with your expertise. So, for example, rather than use the keywords “information strategist” in my own LinkedIn profile, I substituted “content strategist” when a quick keyword search turned up the fact that just about no one used this phrase but me – not good for findability!
There are a number of pretty easy ways to identify the best keywords for the type of job you’d like your headline to align with, but the best starting point is Susan Joyce’s article, How To Identify Exactly The Right Keywords For Your Linkedin Profile. Joyce provides very clear instructions for how to find your optimal keywords, as well as noting why it’s so important to do so.
#3 Focus on your value proposition. In the business world, a “value proposition” is the value that a product or service provides to the customer. Similarly, when you’re showcasing your ability to provide value to a potential employer, you want to focus on what makes you the person they’ll want to hire. If you’ve been working for awhile, you should have enough “wins” and/or specializations that you’ll be able to include some aspect of these in your headline.
For example, what problems can you solve? What unique expertise or skills do you have that will be the solution to the challenge they’re facing? One way to address this is to use the following format:
I’m a [what] doing [what] with [what benefit] [for whom]
Putting some sample LIS terminology into this format might result in:
- Increasing Patron Satisfaction as User Experience Librarian for Arapahoe County Public Library
- Ensuring Successful Product Development by Providing Competitive Market and Product Research, Intelligence
- Technical Documentalist Responsible for Performance Documentation, Ensuring Consistent Production Standards For Ballet
I have to admit, this can get a bit unwieldy if your headline doesn’t easily lend itself to this format with as few syllables as possible. But if you want to be visible for a specific role (as in, you’re in stealth job-hunt mode), this is an effective way to encapsulate the key benefits you deliver.
For students/recent grads. If you don’t yet have job experience on which to base your headline but would still like to try applying this approach to your headline, consider stating why you’re pursuing a particular topic in grad school. For example:
- Exploring Connections Among Libraries, Technology, and User Experience to Increase Findability, User Satisfaction
- Focusing on Data Librarianship, Data Management, and Data Preservation to Ensure Value, Accessibility of Data Assets
- Researching Digital Music Archives Best-Practices to Provide State-of-the-Art Archives Management and Preservation
- Developing Expertise in Business Research, Competitive Intelligence, and Market Forecasting to Support Corporate Goals
- Researching DAM in Public Relations and Content Marketing Industries to Help Support Competitive Market Positioning
What about Injecting Some Personality?
Generally speaking, you’ll want to consider the customary demeanor of your target audience when crafting your headline. If you’re shooting for a job interview or the eye of a recruiter, you’ll want to align with the expectations they have for their industry or organization. This extends to specific jobs as well; what works for a YA librarian may not have the same positive outcome for an aspiring medical research librarian.
However, I personally think it’s great to include a bit of your personality if you’ve got the space to do so. Why not say something that indicates you’ve got a healthy sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously? (I tend to think that any organization that doesn’t appreciate and seek out these wonderful traits isn’t really a place you’d want to work anyway, but that’s just me.)
A caveat here, however, is to make sure that what you see as a light-hearted and endearing headline comment is likely to be interpreted similarly by others. Check with your most professional friends for their feedback – if they hesitate for even a moment, best not to include. As always in online communications, discretion is your friend.