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How Veterans Can Write a Great LinkedIn Profile

Does LinkedIn seem confusing or overwhelming? I get it. You definitely didn’t need a LinkedIn profile when you decided to serve, but it’s an important tool for you in the civilian world. It’s also an excellent resource for networking and job searching. Recruiters and hiring managers use this as one of their main resources to pre-screen job applicants so it’s time to make a profile or update your current one.

I have 10 tips to ensure you make a strong first impression when someone looks at your LinkedIn. 

You need a good headshot

Make sure your profile includes a headshot that looks professional. This should be a civilian photograph not one in military uniform. It should only include you from the chest up – no family or anything else in the picture. Think about your expression in the picture. If the sort of work you want to do involves needing to be outgoing and interacting with lots of people then smile in your picture. if you’re interested in more serious work such as security or law enforcement then a sterner expression makes sense.

Include a background picture

Most people don’t realize that LinkedIn profiles default to a blue and white pattern behind your headshot. You can change the default background to be something that matters to you and helps tell your story. Chose this picture carefully to convey a passion of yours that aligns with your professional goals.  Be sure your profile picture and background picture are a high enough quality image so they don’t appear blurry (over 100KB should be fine).

Your headline matters

When you build your profile one of the first things you’ll do is complete the ‘Intro’ section. Your headline is what shows up directly under your name in your profile. If you’re looking for work, I suggest making your headline something such as ‘Ex-marine lieutenant responsible for 30+ people. Seeking opportunities in team management’.  Obviously update it to reflect your own background and the sort of opportunity you’re seeking but realize that most civilians don’t understand military terms so translate them when possible to civilian terms.  For example, as I did above, instead of saying ‘platoon leader’ you could say ‘responsible for 30+ people.’ And for your headline, don’t say ‘I’m open to all opportunities’ or something vague like that because just like in combat, you need to have a clear target or you won’t accomplish anything. If you aren’t sure what direction you want to go with your post-military career, a great book to help you figure it out is What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles.

Use a specific location

Perhaps you aren’t back in the U.S. yet and are getting organized to transition back by setting up your LinkedIn profile. Many recruiters advance search on LinkedIn based on location so if you use ‘U.S.A’ it’ll be tough to be found. I suggest using a specific city and state.

Write a summary

LinkedIn allows you to write an overview about your experience. When you’re editing your intro, be sure to scroll or tab down to this section when completing your profile as this is an important part of your profile that many people neglect to do. The summary should be just that – a short summary of your background in a few sentences plus one sentence explaining what you’re looking for.

Here’s an example of summary from a vet I worked with: 

Leadership and managerial professional with 8 years of military experience.  Demonstrated successes in planning, operations, and team leadership. Experienced in workload planning, daily assignments, employee training and development, budgeting, and logistics. Seeking a project management position.

When you write your summary, be sure to include any key information that employers would like such as language skills, years of experience, and main areas of professional expertise.

Incorporate all relevant positions

In the ‘Experience’ section, include all past positions that allowed you to develop transferable skills – be sure to include your military experience. Mention any special training including tools, techniques, or software that you are skilled at that would be desirable for the position you’re seeking. For non-military experience, don’t just include the company and job title; be sure to write out key responsibilities and try to incorporate skills you’ll need for the job you want whenever possible. For military experience, try to translate military terms into civilian terms whenever possible. Ask a civilian friend to read over your profile and have them flag anything that most people won’t understand. That’s your cue to explain it more simply.

Don’t forget your education

Include your degree and the school where you obtained it. I’d leave off the year if you’re over 45 or 50 to avoid possibly being seen as too old. Yes, ageism exists whether we want to accept it or not so let recruiters and hiring managers focus more on the depth and breadth of your experience and less on that fact that perhaps you finished your degree in the 80s if you’re older. Add your major if it’s relevant to your target job, if not then just your degree and school are great. And there’s no need to include your GPA unless you graduated in the last 2-3 years and it’s well above average (3.5+).

Add special accomplishments

When you’re in your profile in the top right corner you can ‘Add profile section’ and under the ‘Accomplishments’ section, you’ll see several options for things you should consider adding such as professional certifications, licenses, special training, coursework, etc.

Ask for recommendations

LinkedIn allows you to add skills and people can endorse you for those skills – this feature is great and I recommend you do it, but even better than being endorsed for skills is to have a few recommendations on your profile. I suggest asking 3-5 people to write you a recommendation. LinkedIn makes it really easy for you to do this. In your profile under ‘Recommendations’ you can select ‘Ask for a recommendation’ and the site will walk you through doing this.  I’d send anyone you want to ask an email first and letting them know the sort of position you’re interested in plus the skills it would be ideal for them to highlight in the recommendation.

Build connections

This takes time but it’s worth the effort. Start by reaching out to everyone in your immediate network – friends, family, former co-workers, former military contacts, etc. Be sure to add a short note when you send a connection request. LinkedIn allows you do to this when you add connections from your laptop or desktop but not from your smartphone. You never know – someone you end up connected to may be the source of your next job! Feel free to add me – Merryn Roberts-Huntley.

If you’d like more help on your job search, check out my online courses at madetohire.com. We Hire Heroes followers can use code HEROES to get 20% off any of my courses.

About the author:

Merryn Roberts-Huntley founded Made To Hire to help people land their dream jobs faster.  She has 17 years of business experience and 10 years of career coaching.  People call her their secret weapon.  She has a B.A. from Canada’s McGill University (’00) and an M.B.A. from the University of Oregon (’06). Her brother is an ex-army officer with 12 years of service and she has helped several military veterans in their career transitions. She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon with their three children and two dogs.