The LinkedIn Mistakes You Probably Don't Know You're Making

July 9th, 2018 at 11:00am

You set your profile picture as a selfie you took in a low-lit room. Your summary is that you’re a rising junior and your favorite sports team is the cubs. You aren’t very active but when you are it’s to request recruiters and message them about opportunities. This is all on the professional networking site LinkedIn and you think you’re killing it.

In reality, you are committing all the LinkedIn mistakes that you should avoid. But unfortunately, there really is no how-to guide out there for LinkedIn. To remedy that, I sat down with Kelly Barnett, the director of career development at Syracuse University, to give you all the rundown on common mistakes and, as a college student, how you should really be using LinkedIn. Keep reading for her advice.

Missing a Headline

The headline on your LinkedIn profile allows you to describe yourself in about 120 characters. It can seem straightforward if you already have a job, but for college students, this can be a bit more challenging. Barnett suggests listing a recent internship, a relevant student organization role, or to state that you are an “aspiring __”—the blank being filled with a role or skill set. Doing this, she says, will make your headline less “cookie cutter” and more specific to what you want to be doing.

Having an Inappropriate Profile Picture

This one may seem like a no-brainer to some, but believe it or not, not everyone on LinkedIn has a professional headshot. Barnett describes LinkedIn as an important tool, not only because it will be a top search result when someone looks you up online but it is a search result that you have complete control over.

When you do a Google search, images will often pop up in the results and as Barnett mentioned this is one of the things you can have control over. Your profile picture should be a headshot and not a full body picture. It should be of just you (not a group shot that is cropped) in business casual attire, or professional depending on the industry you wish to go in. While employers don’t make selections based on appearance, a good profile picture can leave a lasting impression.

Using the Generic Connection Request

When you connect with people on LinkedIn, you have the option to pitch yourself in the message, particularly when you are trying to connect with an executive or someone in your field that you are interested in networking with.

The automated “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” is too generic. If you two spoke at a networking event, mention that, and maybe an interesting point you two talked about. If this is someone in your field, don’t shy away from mentioning that you’d like to learn more about what they do and how they got to their current position.

Treating LinkedIn like Twitter or Instagram

LinkedIn is a social site, but it isn’t the same as other social media platforms. The company describes itself as a site to manage your social identity and build your professional network. So, instead of posting your meals of the day and the social activities you’ll be doing that weekend, share articles that relate your industry and post and comment on others’ accomplishments on LinkedIn.

Being Inactive

“Many LinkedIn users think that it’s just enough to be ‘on’ LinkedIn, but very rarely will a company seek you out,” says Barnett about being proactive on the site. Rather than waiting around to be found, she suggests using LinkedIn as a database to search for people you wish to develop a networking relationship with. She says to remember that LinkedIn is should be your jumping off point. From the LinkedIn connections, you’ll be able to email and set up phone calls and even in-person meetings which are much more personal and effective ways to connect.

Lying about Positions or Skills

This one may seem like a no-brainer to some, but you won’t believe how common this actually is. In a poll conducted by LendEDU, 23% of respondents admitted they have lied on their LinkedIn profile especially when it came to the skills section. Eleven percent stated that their profile was almost entirely made up of things they had never done. With statistics like this one, it’s no surprise that background checks for companies have become a norm these days to combat lies on résumés. Don’t make this mistake—be 100% honest in everything you put on the platform.

Overusing Buzz Words

If you scroll through profiles and you’ll see people using words like motivated, creative, driven and hardworking to describe themselves. These are all good qualities to have, but are extremely overused on both profiles and résumés. As a result, instead of standing out you suddenly blend right in with everyone else on LinkedIn. Instead, try to cater the words you use to the job profiles you are looking for and add personality into your LinkedIn summary. Barnett says to humanize and bring life to your profile by telling your story.

Asking for a Job Instead of Advice

LinkedIn has a separate section to apply for jobs, and while ultimately the site can help you land the job of your dreams, it shouldn’t be where you ask for them. Above all, it is a professional networking site, and about building meaningful professional relationships. LinkedIn can help you to seek advice from people whose positions you hope to hold in the future and to find mentors in your field.

Barnett’s last piece of advice for college students who are new to LinkedIn is to take it piece by piece and utilize all the resources available. She suggests going to the career center as a first step but if not utilizing the resources that LinkedIn provides itself. has all sorts of tip sheets and tutorials on building your profile, tailoring it to meet your goals, and other topics that will help to get your profile in order.

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Opening image by Lex Kelly.