How to Write an Executive LinkedIn Headline

A branded LinkedIn headline is one of the most important branding tools for executives hoping to stand out. Considering executive recruiters are constantly on the hunt, you’ll need a headline that immediately conveys your executive value. If your LinkedIn headline isn’t capturing recruiter attention at first glance, you are most definitely missing out on valuable executive job opportunities. In this blog post, we’ll explain why your LinkedIn headline is so important and how to fully optimize your executive LinkedIn headline to create a stellar first impression. 

Why the LinkedIn headline is critical for accomplished executives

As an accomplished executive, you know your worth and the value you can bring to an employer. You’ve spent your entire career advancing up the career ladder and honing your leadership abilities. Because you know your value, you may think that a LinkedIn headline is just another branding gimmick. So why bother? This is the wrong approach to take when it comes to executive LinkedIn branding. The LinkedIn headline is one of those branding pieces where you should spend time getting it absolutely right. Without this piece, you are doomed to be passed over for great executive opportunities.

Why your executive LinkedIn headline is so important for standing out

The LinkedIn photo and headline are the two most important profile parts for executives. Why? Because they are the only profile parts someone will see when scrolling through a list of LinkedIn search results. These two profile parts are your first impression whenever your profile appears in searches. If you think about how you search for other people, this will make more sense. When you’re quickly skimming your search results, do you spend a whole lot of time clicking into every profile and learning more? No. You are likely spending less than a few seconds scanning each person’s headline. If someone doesn’t have a profile picture, you likely don’t even give that profile a second thought.

Recruiters and hiring managers search the same way. Similar to the 6-second resume scan, recruiters will only skim the list of candidates in search of the right one. As a former executive recruiter I can absolutely confirm this. Executive recruiters work fast to find executive talent. Therefore you can’t afford to miss out on the few seconds they spend skimming LinkedIn candidate lists. Only if your executive headline and photo are compelling, will recruiters click into your profile to learn more. Therefore, you can’t afford to get your executive headline wrong. If you need some more executive branding tips, check out this blog post on executive resume writing.

What your executive LinkedIn headline communicates in under 5 seconds

You might be wondering how a simple one-liner can be so powerful. In a day and age where we can communicate a mouthful via one tweet, the impact of this small profile part shouldn’t come as a surprise. Your LinkedIn headline communicates who you are, what you do and whether or not you have potential to be the best person for the job. The headline should summarize your entire professional brand in just a few characters. This statement will determine how you are perceived by hiring managers and recruiters at this critical stage in your career. Because there are fewer executive roles than mid or early career roles available at each company, the competition is much stiffer once you hit this career level. While the headline is fairly easy to create, it can just as easily be overlooked. Therefore, it’s important to spend some time getting it absolutely right.

What happens if you don’t edit your LinkedIn headline?

One of the biggest branding mistakes people make at the executive level, is not updating the LinkedIn headline. If you don’t update the LinkedIn headline, LinkedIn will pull your most recent job title and company from the Experience section. LinkedIn does this in order to help your profile appear more complete. By having a complete profile, you are contributing to the value LinkedIn aims to provide its users. This is nice of LinkedIn to do but not entirely helpful for your brand. If you happen to have a stale job title, recruiters/hiring managers will not be compelled to click on your profile. Therefore, avoid using the “headline” they provide and create your own from scratch. The headline LinkedIn provides, while effortless, is not a branding strategy. It is simply pulling information that may or may not be helpful to the executive recruiters searching for you. Your goal is for your profile to be found and clicked. Therefore you need to intentionally brand your headline so you appear to be the perfect fit.

Is a branded headline necessary if you work at a very well-known company?

If you happen to have a very specific title and work at a well-known company, I still advise crafting a new headline. Titles don’t tell the full story. Titles may also be lacking in keyword power. Therefore you should enhance your title with strong, searchable keywords. With regards to the company name, there is no need to include that in your headline. LinkedIn already provides this info in the search results. Including it in your headline would only make it redundant. Use strong brand or industry keywords instead.

What is the LinkedIn headline character limit?

Professional branding can be a challenge for most people. The good news with your LinkedIn headline is that you only need to write a few characters. For as long as I can remember, LinkedIn only allowed 120 characters for the headline. As of 2020, it appears LinkedIn has expanded that to 220 characters. This expansion of characters will allow for more branding potential.

How many characters should you use for your LinkedIn headline?

When it comes to LinkedIn profile writing strategy, my rule of thumb is simple: max out all of the characters. More characters equals more keywords. Considering that LinkedIn is a search engine the more keywords you use, the more searchable you become. Think: Google or Amazon. While I’ve always believed in maxing out the characters, the new headline character count has made me reconsider. The 120 character count always seemed to be just enough to create a robust, clear, and skimmable branding statement. However, the added characters create a bit more text for the reader. This could work against you in that your brand message may be lost. It could also cause you to write more than is necessary to attract quick interest. Therefore, I would recommend staying anywhere between 120 and 220 characters, with a tendency to stay on the short side. This will keep your brand more concise. To illustrate my point, I’ve included two LinkedIn headline examples:

This headline example has 185 characters.

Linkedin-headline-220-characters

 

 

 

 

 

This headline example has the traditional 120 characters. In my opinion this headline is much more concise and reader-friendly.

Linkedi-headline-120-characters

Have an executive headline strategy in mind before you write

The most important concept to remember when writing your LinkedIn headline is to keep it keyword relevant. Use executive job descriptions to find your brand-relevant keyword. Skimming other industry-relevant executive LinkedIn profiles can also provide some good ideas. Your goal with the headline is to communicate two pieces of information: what exactly you do and the value you will bring to an employer. Therefore, gather as much keyword research as you can in this space, to create a more detailed picture of you.

Brand to your future target, not your past roles

Another area of confusion amongst 50-plus job searchers is whether to brand to the current role, the past experience, or to the future targeted role. Whenever you’re in the job search, you should brand to your future target role. In this case, you will brand towards the executive role you are targeting. The reason you do this is so that you are appearing in recruiter searches for your target role. If your past career was in pharmaceutical sales but are trying to transition into high-tech, a pharma-centric headline will not serve you well. Anyone who lands on your profile will assume you are targeting pharmaceutical roles. By focusing your headline on your target role/industry, you will appear to be more of a relevant candidate. This will ensure you appear in  more searches and cause more recruiters or employers to actually click on your profile. To achieve this, focus your brand on the common connection points to the industry or roles you are targeting. This is an important strategy for career changers.

3 headline options if you don’t have experience in your target next role

It may be the case that you are trying to switch industries completely. This makes headline writing a little trickier but not impossible.

  1. Career Pivots: When making a career pivot you can either pivot on industry or on role. If you are trying to change industries, you will pivot on your role – leveraging your executive skillset as the transferable connection point. For example if you have the bulk of your experience in pharmaceuticals but want to shift to high-tech, focus on any transferable or real world experience you have in high-tech – and then leverage those particular keywords. This way, recruiters will know you can talk the industry talk. This will create a more natural pivot point. For more tips on  how to career pivot over age 50, check out this blog post. 
  2. Zero Experience: If you absolutely do not have any experience in high-tech, then you will leverage your executive abilities such as leadership, financial management/budgets, development, etc. in the headline. You will opt for a slightly more vague headline that speaks to your executive value.
  3. Leveraging Your Past Industry to Target Similar Verticals within a New Space: The other scenario you want to consider is targeting high-tech companies in the pharmaceutical space. With everyone moving to apps, cloud-based support, etc. this is one way to show the high-tech industry you can bring value. In this case you DO want to include pharmaceutical keywords in your headline.

Should you use complete sentences, phrases, or both to communicate your brand?

The beauty of the LinkedIn headline is that there is flexibility in how it is displayed. Some professionals opt for complete sentences. Others create a solid brand out of a few keyword phrases. It’s entirely up to you so long as you get your keywords right. I tend to really like a combination of sentences and keywords. Don’t worry about forcing complete sentences if they don’t fit.  If you find that short phrases or single words work best, I recommend using a sleek separator line “|”. This will  create a more high-impact easy-to-scan headline.  The separator line is located below the delete key on your keyboard using Shift + backslash.

What to write in your executive LinkedIn headline

Think of the headline as a condensed version of your elevator pitch. Try to communicate: who you are, what you do, results you’ve produced, and credibility or proof. This may seem near impossible but it’s actually quite simple. It just takes some practice. Spend some time focusing on the “who” –  who you’re trying to attract to your profile. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. If you were trying to hire the best person for the job, what would they do? What results or credentials would be most impressive at first glance? What titles would you be typing into the LinkedIn search box? I can guarantee that if you spend some time getting into the hiring manager’s head, you’ll have your concept in no time!

Use synonyms to achieve title and level fit

One strategy that works great for executives is to use synonyms to achieve title fit. The reason I recommend this strategy is to help recruiters find you. Often, when recruiter search, they search on title keywords. At the executive level, many companies have interchangeable titles for the same role. For example, a VP at one company might be called a Senior Executive at another company in the same industry. It will be up to you to do your research to see what your position is called in your industry and across a sampling of companies. Research the companies you are targeting to get a good sense of all the various relevant titles. Then use those in  your headline.

Here is an example of the first part of a headline for someone hoping to be hired as a Marketing VP in the high-tech space. Using the synonym title strategy your headline will start:

“Marketing VP | CMO | Senior Executive in the High-Tech Industry…

The importance of communicating your executive capabilities

In addition to the title variants, you want to also weave in your strongest capabilities or. As an executive, your capabilities will be much more high-level than that of a more junior professional. You want to convey the capabilities that will be valued by your future employer. The capabilities must be big picture to achieve this. Reviewing job descriptions is a great way to find out what is valued by employers in this space. To complete the headline above, you would add on:

“Marketing VP | CMO | Senior Executive in the High-Tech Industry | Strategic long-term view, exceptional measurement analytical capabilities, and financial management rigor”

While some titles may seem obvious in communicating capabilities,  you still need to spell it out. Don’t assume everyone who find your profile will be an expert in you role. Instead, help the reader understand your professional value. For example, “Social Media Marketer” doesn’t offer insight into the day-to-day value you bring to the organization. However, “driving successful campaigns on a tight budget,” gives me a much clearer picture. Think about your tasks, the big-picture role, and your value proposition. This rich detail will peak volumes of your value as a potential hire.

How to brand your big picture organizational value

If you’re targeting General Counsel roles, your target hiring manager is likely looking for someone who has greater business and industry knowledge than a lawyer as well as financial acumen. You must be someone who can interface with the C-Suite and Boards as well. For roles that have heavy interface with other key departments or players, it can be valuable to paint that picture into your headline. For this example, you might consider a headline like this:

“General Counsel | Senior Legal Advisor & Confidant to CEOs and Boards | Deep business, financial and High-Tech industry knowledge | Strategic Partner to Senior Leadership”

Notice how these headlines immediately communicate value?

Communicate proof to boost your professional credibility

If you’re looking for ways to stand out in a competitive industry, including proof of your successes can be powerful. Proof can take the form of certifications, specialized degrees (ie. MBA, CPA) and recognizable awards or accolades. For example, if you’re an executive who’s been featured on a major website or publication, use that in your headline. Your first impression and level of credibility are vastly different when you go from “Executive” to “Executive featured on Forbes Top 30 under 30.”

Keep your LinkedIn headline up to date as your career changes

While the headline shouldn’t be a huge time investment, it is one of those activities that requires ongoing maintenance. Always keep your LinkedIn brand current, relevant and aligned to your end goal. Don’t be afraid to try out new headlines and continually tweak as your career goals change.  This way you will always be appearing in the right places. You will also be more likely to be considered for the right opportunities.

 

If you’re hoping to improve your executive LinkedIn strategy, check out our ageism-busting LinkedIn services. Our master writers will provide you with a fully keyword optimized LinkedIn profile, that speaks to your strongest career accomplishments and value – everything you need to feel confident, navigate the job search successfully, and put your best foot forward as a 50-plus executive!

Noelle Gross

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