As many of you may know, I’ve been teaching LinkedIn classes for a great many years now — having identified, early on, that this tool had a “special something” about it that was going to make it a dominant force in the hiring world.  And yet, despite the site now having over 400 million users and counting, it’s amazing to note how few people seem to really grasp the basics of it or realize that with a few simple steps, they can increase their results dramatically.

Take the issue of profile optimization.  While having a well-constructed profile doesn’t automatically guarantee that hordes of employers and recruiters will track you down and present you with opportunities, it certainly increases the odds that you’ll be found by such audiences, proactively, when they’re searching the system for candidates.

What are the factors that lead a person’s profile to rank highly in a LinkedIn search?  As many web sources will tell you, your ranking is influenced by a wide variety of variables such as the number of relevant keywords you have in your profile, the number of overall connections you have on the system, the number of groups to which you belong, and the number of endorsements and recommendations you’ve received from various connections.  Additionally (and of surprising importance) there seems to be strong consensus that having a “complete” profile (as indicated by the little circle indicator on the top right of your Edit Profile screen) also gives people a noteworthy advantage in terms of findability.  So if you’ve left certain sections of your profile blank, to date, it might be time to rectify that oversight and polish your profile up to “100% complete” status.  See the discussion threads here for more information about this particular aspect of the system.

But the #1 profile tweak that will boost your rankings?  The element I’ve seen make the most difference, time and time again, after running thousands of searches?  It’s ensuring the job titles in your “Experience” section contain the relevant keywords you’re most hoping to be “found” around.  In my experience, you can screw up almost everything else on your profile, but if you insert your top target words in your actual job titles, multiple times, you’ll blow past the field and rank right up there at the top of the pack.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?  So why don’t more people do this?

For starters, many people miss out on this opportunity because their past employers have saddled them with quirky or non-traditional titles that don’t actually match the mainstream label(s) within their profession.  For example, if your last employer anointed you as a “Project Supervisor 3” for whatever reason, you’re going to be completely missed in a “Project Manager” search.  Or if you’ve been self-employed and have referred to yourself as a Consultant, Founder, Principal, or Owner in one of your past or present jobs, it’s important to recognize that these words are doing nothing for you — and are essentially worthless as far as LinkedIn searching is concerned.  They’re not specific enough and most people aren’t looking to hire owners or founders; they’re looking to hire marketing experts, biologists, actuaries, warehouse managers, and the like.  Those are the terms they’ll be searching on.

So if possible, and you can defend it in a reference check, I’d recommend you translate any “unorthodox” titles you’ve held into the more common titles used in your profession.  If you managed a company’s accounting department three years ago, for example, change your title for that role to “Accounting Manager” instead of “Fiscal Operations Specialist” or whatever weird label the company just so happened to print on your business card.  Or, if you’re a little squeamish about taking this type of liberty, simply list the mainstream title in parentheses after the official title you held, which will still give you the same results in terms of searchability: e.g. Fiscal Operations Specialist (Accounting Manager).

Make sense?

Additionally, and beyond the mere substitution method outlined above, I’d also suggest you augment your job titles with additional keywords describing the industry segment you worked in and/or a few specific competencies you utilized in each role.  You won’t have a ton of room to do this, given the length limitations of the title box, but when you embrace the idea that keywords in job titles count ridiculously more than words listed anywhere else, it makes sense to max out your job title “real estate” as much as possible — and add a few further keywords into the mix.

For example, instead of just referring to yourself as a Sales Representative, expand your title to “Sales Representative: Industrial Products & Machinery” or “Sales Representative (Cloud, SaaS & IoT Technology)” or “Sales Representative — Heavy Prospecting & Account Development Focus” or something along those lines.  By doing so, you’re guaranteed to rocket up the charts should one of these additional words happen to be searched on by a headhunter or hiring manager.

Ultimately, while this type of job title augmentation is far from the only factor involved in effective profile creation, it’s the most important one — and the closest thing to a magic bullet I’ve seen in all my years of running searches on the system.  Give it a shot and see if your results improve!