Want to stand out on LinkedIn? Then DON’T be strategic, passionate or an expert

On your LinkedIn profile do you describe yourself as Creative? Focused? Passionate? All strong descriptors but, according to the latest LinkedIn research, so does everyone else. And basically, that means you are rendered invisible. So which words shouldn’t you use? And more importantly, which ones can you use instead?

The LinkedIn article ‘You’re Better Than Buzzwords – Start Showing It’ highlights the Top 10 words that people (over)use in their profiles. In rank order, they are:

  1. Specialised
  2. Leadership
  3. Passionate
  4. Strategic
  5. Experienced
  6. Focused
  7. Expert
  8. Certified
  9. Creative
  10. Excellent

Are you guilty of using any of these in your LinkedIn profile? After checking the list, I have a confession to make. I was. Actually I had used half of them (but I have now expunged the majority and substituted them for more intriguing ones).

The problem here isn’t that any of these business adjectives are inappropriate, it’s just that if everyone else is using them then they become ineffective. Vanilla even.

And we all know (or at least should do) how vital it is to have your personal branding working as hard for you as it possibly can. I asked LinkedIn guru and personal branding expert (he is, after all, the only CEO that I know of who has a blue mohican) Chris J Reed who is CEO of Black Marketing for his opinion:

“As with anything in real life you have to stand out on in the virtual professional World of LinkedIn. I am lucky enough not to have used any of these words in my profile heading. Unsurprisingly “Only NASDAQ CEO with a Mohawk” does tend to stand out and be unique by definition. But as I tell all my clients, everyone has something which makes them special and allows then to be an outstanding professional brand on LinkedIn. What’s yours?”

The timing of this research is critical because January is the month where the number of people searching for a new job / career spikes (unsurprisingly given all those New Year resolutions we make) And, as a direct consequence of that, more people are updating their LinkedIn profile than at any other time of the year.

The research offered some reasoning behind the overuse of these buzzwords. They enlisted the help of best-selling biographer Christopher Sandford to determine why people use language that actually “makes them blend into the background rather than get noticed” and he discovered that there are 4 reasons why:

  • Ease: being innovative with the terms we use is difficult and requires effort. In other words? You are simply being lazy
  • Everyone else does: there is some comfort in the fact that everyone else is using these words so we believe that we should too. Again laziness.
  • Association: we use certain buzzwords to illustrate that we belong to a certain group or industry which provides some comfort
  • Appearances: their usage makes us feel more confident when talking about our professional achievements

What is clear is that first impressions really matter so if a prospective employer is reading the same terms in your profile that they have seen a gazillion times before then the chances are that you will be overlooked.

Personally, every time I read a LinkedIn profile, I subconsciously play a game of Buzzword Bingo. Strategic? Tick. Passionate? Tick. Innovative? Full house! Given that many of us purport to be experts in communication it makes it all the more incomprehensible why we all flog these words to death. On the flip side, if I read a profile with a more judicious choice of positive professional adjectives (what about accomplished, meticulous or sanguine?) then I am more likely to conclude that they are a candidate genuinely worth speaking to.

But what if your vocabulary doesn’t extend that far? And to be honest, that’s the case for many of us. The latest Oxford English Dictionary has precisely 171,476 words in it. On average, we use only 20,000 to 35,000 of those words on a regular basis. So I offer you a simple solution. Just Google some synonyms of the word you wish to swap out. As alternatives to the top 10 overused words, what about this selection instead?

  1. Differentiated
  2. Influence
  3. Ardent
  4. Tactical
  5. Adept
  6. Attentive
  7. Proficient
  8. Endorsed
  9. Inventive
  10. Superlative

But if you are going to make your profile stand out by using a more intriguing choice of descriptive words, there is a final note of caution from the aforementioned LinkedIn oracle, Mr Reed:

“The words have to mean something. Don’t just pick clever words for the sake of it, back it up and link it with your summary. You are in charge of your personal brand. If people get the wrong impression you can’t blame anyone but yourself”

So what do you think? Have you overused the words in the LinkedIn Top 10? Can you think of any better examples than my alternatives? Do you have any favourite words you want to share that you believe others should use? Or does none of this matter? As ever, I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

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