Executive LinkedIn profiles are not private

There’s a misconception I hear from executives sometimes. They tell me, “I have my LinkedIn profile ‘set to private’ for now,” and they explain it’s so their boss won’t see it, or so nobody will see it until it’s perfectly worded.

Another one I’ve heard is “I don’t want my boss to know I’m on LinkedIn, so I haven’t connected with him.”

If we’re on the phone, they won’t see my exasperated facepalm. It’s frustrating to hear the same misconceptions repeated by different people year after year.

The not-so-private setting

Contrary to what you might believe, LinkedIn does not (as of now) have a blanket setting that hides your profile from the view of other LinkedIn users.

There is, however, an often-misunderstood setting—the Public Profile Setting—that some users mistakenly believe can hide their profile from the view of anyone on LinkedIn.

The Public Profile Setting allows you to adjust what people OFF of LinkedIn can see (people who don’t use LinkedIn at all, or people who aren’t logged in). It also controls whether search engines can index your profile.

However, LinkedIn users logged into their accounts can still view your profile regardless of what you do with the Public Profile Setting.

The usual limitations still apply—for example, LinkedIn tends to restrict the ability of free accounts to view profiles of users that are outside their network (beyond three degrees of separation).

In general, though, other LinkedIn users can usually view your profile even if you haven’t added them as a connection. Not only that, but LinkedIn might also suggest you as a connection for them. Let me explain how this works.

How LinkedIn shows your profile to users you might know

  • If you have listed your employer on LinkedIn correctly, LinkedIn’s algorithm will automatically start showing your photo and name to other employees at your company under the “People You May Know” suggestions within their LinkedIn accounts. They will be able to click onto your account if they want to look at it.
  • If you have any first-degree connections on LinkedIn who work at your company or run in the same circles in your industry (such as professional associations and conferences), there’s a chance they’re also connected with your boss or other co-workers of yours, which would then make those people second-degree for you (two degrees of separation). LinkedIn’s algorithm suggests second-degree users under “People You May Know,” so this is another case where you’ll be popping up in their accounts.
  • If you used your company email address or a personal email address that any of your professional contacts, boss, or co-workers might have in their email address books, LinkedIn will suggest you as a connection to them if they ever synced their email address book with LinkedIn (LinkedIn constantly hounds users to do this, so many people have done this, including those who are not tech-savvy). A similar feature does essentially the same thing with your phone number. Both of these can be adjusted in your LinkedIn settings, but doing so could cause you to miss out on connection opportunities you might have wanted.

Blocking your boss?!

Some of the folks I’ve spoken with are savvy enough to know that any LinkedIn user can potentially view their profile, so they take things a step further and actually block their boss or co-workers who they’re trying to hide from on LinkedIn.

The blocking feature on LinkedIn is similar to the blocking feature on Facebook. If someone is harassing you, you can block them. If you had a nasty breakup or divorce, you can block your ex. If you have a stalker who threatens your safety, by all means block them.

You can block whomever you want, so some would say why not just block your boss and anyone else if you don’t want them to see your LinkedIn profile and activity?

I’ll address the rationale for transparency later, but first, let me point out that blocking cannot guarantee the person never sees your profile—only that they won’t see it through the account you blocked.

Let’s say your boss goes home, realizes he forgot his laptop at the office, and checks his email on his wife’s computer that evening. Someone sent him a link to an article on LinkedIn, so he clicks the link to read it. His wife’s browser keeps her logged into LinkedIn, so he’s viewing it in her account.

His wife has added several of your co-workers on LinkedIn—she met them at the office Christmas party and wanted to connect with them because she’s a Realtor.

If any of those people are first-degree connections of yours on LinkedIn, guess what? You might pop up as a second-degree “People You May Know” recommended connection, and now your boss sees you (through his wife’s account)—and wonders why you haven’t connected with him.

Or, perhaps your boss bumps into someone at the coffee machine or water cooler on a Monday afternoon and they happen to mention that they just loved the great blurb you posted on LinkedIn last week.

Your boss then realizes he’s never seen you on LinkedIn and tries searching for you. When you don’t come up at all, he surmises that you must have blocked him and becomes suspicious about what you’re trying to hide. Busted!

The bottom line

You’re not private on LinkedIn. If you want to harness the benefits of using LinkedIn, it’ll be hard to do that without making yourself visible.

To truly be incognito on LinkedIn, you would need to use a fake name, not list your employer name, not connect with anyone, and use a unique email address for LinkedIn only—but what would be the point?

You should assume that anyone with internet access can potentially view your profile. This shouldn’t be a problem if you only share content on LinkedIn that you’re comfortable with anyone reading.

LinkedIn is no longer considered a “job hunting website.” Technically, it was never just about that, anyway—but now it’s more robust than ever, with opportunities for companies to market themselves, avenues for networking and sales, and thousands of LinkedIn Learning videos on diverse topics.

You can share news about your company on LinkedIn and even share kudos for your team members and co-workers. Your boss just might appreciate your loyalty to the company when he or she sees all of that!


This article first appeared on https://KellyDonovan.com

LinkedIn’s major overhaul of the site took place in 2017, yet many users seem oblivious to the impact this is having on their profiles.

One of the biggest changes was minimizing the amount of text that displays for each of your jobs as well as the About section (formerly known as the Summary section).

  • Only the first three lines of the summary section display
  • Only the first eight lines of your current job display
  • Only the first four lines of each previous job display

After the lines that display, there’s a link that says “see more” that people can click if they want to read the rest.

The problem: why should I, the reader, bother to make the effort to click “see more” if those first three, four, or eight lines weren’t sufficiently interesting?


Don’t let a company description hog your most valuable real estate

A common resume tactic is to include a short description of each company you’ve worked for. I do this on most resumes I write, and it’s especially important if you’ve worked for companies that aren’t well known–or if you’re changing industries and the readers might not be as familiar with your past employers.

On a resume, the description of a company is often two lines long–sometimes even three if a lot of explanation is needed (mentioning a merger, for example). This works fine; I usually use italic font that is .5 pt smaller than the rest of the body font. This helps to convey that the information in question is distinct from the other text and being provided for context only.

However, starting a job with a company description will NOT be a good approach on LinkedIn. If it’s a past job where only four lines will display before the “see more” link, that would mean that the first few lines are describing your employer and then there might only be a single line visible describing your work and accomplishments there!

That’s not very much room to “sell” your value. We need to get someone interested in clicking “see more” to read the rest, and company descriptions aren’t terribly exciting. They’re included on the resume to provide context, but ultimately the profile is supposed to be about YOU.

You can still weave in a very brief description of the company (eg., “Fortune 1000 manufacturer”) into those first few lines. Rather than this being the very first thing, you can gracefully incorporate it into the first sentence describing your work at the company.

Bear in mind that on LinkedIn, the company name and logo are clickable links to the company page (if the company has one and if you typed it in correctly so that the logo displays on your profile). The company page has information about the company, including its size, industry, and other details a recruiter or decision maker would appreciate.

Only a few visible lines at the start of the “About” section

The About section is the first thing a reader sees on your profile after the headline, head shot, and header graphic at the top. Now that only the first few lines display, it’s important to think about what the most critical things are for readers to know in case they don’t click “see more.” What would you want to be someone’s biggest takeaway? The top three takeaways?

You can also think about how to draw your reader in. Some advocate a creative storytelling approach to intrigue people. The potential downside is that if someone doesn’t read the rest, they might not grasp those key things you’d like them to know. Of course, it’s best to address those key things in the Experience section, too…but reinforcement is how you get people to remember something!

I like to strike a balance: get some key things in there that reinforce the messages and points we want to make, and do it in a way that’s informal, first-person, and conversational. That way it immediately shows that reader that you did NOT just copy and paste a boring resume summary filled with cliches. Unlike so many of the profiles on LinkedIn, you’re actually talking like a normal human being!

That being said, no two executives are the same, and out of every 30 or so LinkedIn profiles I write, I might do something a little different, like a very creative About section. It depends on the client’s career story and goals.

This article first appeared on KellyDonovan.com

The LinkedIn “About” section (formerly known as the Summary) is the one place on your profile that can be thought of as a “freestyle” section–you can write whatever you want without any structure. However, this freedom actually leaves a lot of executives wondering what writing style to use for this section.

If you spend some time looking around LinkedIn, you’ll find that many executives and professionals use wording in the About section that reads like a resume summary, while some use content that reads like an executive bio, and others simply list some keywords related to their career. Then there are those who haven’t even bothered to add this section on their profiles.

My approach (and best practice): conversational and informal

Personally, I always go with a conversational and informal approach unless a client has a strong preference to use a “bio” type format or other approach.

With LinkedIn being a social media platform, using a first person, conversational style helps the reader feel like they’re meeting you versus reading another impersonal resume-style summary of someone’s career.

Coming across as engaging and approachable is especially critical for executives. Coming across as a personable leader will help position you as someone who can earn the buy-in of rank-and-file employees.

I’m certainly not the only advocate of this; in fact, this approach is also recommended by authors of popular books about LinkedIn, as well as leading LinkedIn profile writers, executive resume writers, and career coaches who stay on the cutting edge.

Additionally, this conversational approach is taught in the premier certification program for LinkedIn profile writing: the Nationally Certified Online Profile Expert designation from the National Resume Writers’ Association. I’ve earned this certification and renew it annually–but this was already my approach for many years prior to the creation of the program.

Draw in your readers

If you write your About section in a conversational tone in first person rather than third person, it will stand out. Read 10 profiles all written with terms like “results-oriented” and then read one that feels like the person is talking to you–it’ll be more memorable!

Additionally, after LinkedIn’s 2017 redesign, only the first 2-3 lines of the About section are displayed; to read the rest, a reader has to click “see more.” If those first couple sentences are too dry, your readers might not be motivated to read the rest. Attention spans have never been shorter than they are today.

“You do you”

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to LinkedIn. If you want something more formal written in third person, you can certainly do that.  A recruiter who’s interested in a person’s qualifications will want to reach out regardless of the writing style of the About section. The most important questions to consider are: Does it position me correctly? Is it well-written? Have I checked it for errors by reading it out loud?

Should you follow the pack?

Your natural instinct may be to look at peers in your field for examples of what to do on your LinkedIn About section. But remember: just because several peers have handled it a certain way doesn’t mean that approach is necessarily the best or most compelling approach.

The reality is that a lot of LinkedIn users don’t know what the best practices are! Many of the executives I see on the platform haven’t put much effort into their profile and clearly didn’t invest in professional help. However, there are other users who have put in effort and hired LinkedIn profile writers, so keep in mind that recruiters and decision-makers might be comparing you to them.

Also, some of LinkedIn users have an About section that consists of a paragraph written by a robot (more on that below), and robots haven’t yet mastered the art of LinkedIn profile writing.

Should you let a robot write your “About” section?

As AI permeates every aspect of our lives, LinkedIn came up with the idea to offer its users AI-generated wording for their About sections.

This (in theory) solves the problem of LinkedIn users not knowing what to say in the About section, and often not even adding the About section to their profiles because of writer’s block.

You’re probably wondering how this works. The basic gist is that if you have some information on other sections of your profile, like jobs listed in the Experience section and skills listed in the Skills section, the AI will use that information to create a short paragraph.

Unfortunately, these AI-written paragraphs are similar to cliche-filled resume summaries that do little to differentiate the person from other candidates.

When a robot tries to write

Let’s say you’re a VP of Finance. LinkedIn’s robot might say something like:

“Results-oriented finance executive with experience in the technology industry…”

While I applaud the fact that robots can write nowadays (amazing!), let’s unpack the above example:

  • That wording doesn’t differentiate you from other finance execs who have worked in tech companies. Also, your headline would probably include this information already.
  • If you think “results-oriented” is going to distinguish you, a search for this phrase on LinkedIn produces 67,000 profiles containing that term. It’s an old resume cliche that no longer impresses decision makers (instead, focus on what the results actually are).
  • The robot-generated paragraphs are bland, boring, and unremarkable. They aren’t written in the conversational, informal style I recommend. They don’t shine a light on what you’re passionate about in your career.

What’s at stake

However, if you’re a 6-figure or 7-figure executive or entrepreneur, people are forming impressions of you based on your LinkedIn profile. Recruiters, potential team members, C-suite leaders, board members, journalists–the higher you rise in your career, the more attention it will get.

To make your About section engaging, I recommend you take the time to write content that is insightful, compelling, and heartfelt.

Looking for that human touch?

If you find the crafting of your LinkedIn profile to be challenging or simply too time-consuming, I recommend partnering with an executive LinkedIn profile writer (not a robot!) who can ask you powerful questions to draw out your personal brand and intriguing insights–that’s what will make your About section memorable.

I’ve been helping executives with their LinkedIn profiles for more than a decade, and they consistently report to me that they receive more profile views and more relevant recruiter outreach after working with me. A digital native, I stay up to date on LinkedIn, and I maintain my LinkedIn profile writing certification (Nationally Certified Online Profile Expert) through the National Resume Writers’ Association.

I invite you to learn more on my executive resume writing home page, or let’s talk if you’d like to chat about whether we would be the right fit to work together.

This article first appeared on KellyDonovan.com

Many employers are doing thorough online research into job candidates; a few bad apples try to take that to the extreme.