Spanish storytellers, Autonomous University of Mexico

Stories Sell, Lists Are Boring

As the saying goes, “Facts tell, stories sell”. Most LinkedIn profiles I look at are about facts: I had this job, the job had these duties, I had another job after that, the job had these duties…. I have these skills, I have these other skills, I have this university degree, I have this diploma…

Informative no doubt, but if we want people to hire our services or buy our products, or offer us a great business opportunity, where is the attraction in all those facts?

We need to use our LinkedIn profiles not to provide these “shopping lists” but to tell our story and, by implication, why we are just who the visitor was looking for and why the prospect of working with us makes them smile, not frown.

Everyone’s working life or business career is a story or a series of stories, some of which can be exciting or even inspiring.

So why do so many LinkedIn profiles look like so unexciting and uninspiring? No doubt because of the way we were taught to write resumés.

And let’s face it, the LinkedIn Profile template is set up to encourage us to see this as an online resumé and just populate the sections with a bunch of job descriptions – or statements of duties – for the various positions we’ve held.

That’s an easy process. It also makes for very boring reading.

And it can be deceptive, without our intending it to be so. Because any of us who have been employers or worked in human resources know that part of the trick of writing a duty statement is to include everything the employer might ever require the person in that position to do, so they can never have the response “But that’s not in my duty statement”. So we know that many of the “duties” in those long lists were probably never performed by the person.

One caveat. Some job seekers have told me their recruitment agents insist they stick to the old duty statement focused, “shopping list” style of resumé for their LinkedIn profile, as that works better with recruiters (or their computer programs). That may well be so, and we each have to do what is best for us. My clients are business people, not job seekers, so that problem does not arise for them.

Time to Check Your Profile for Story Quality?

So my tip is to have a cold, hard look at your LinkedIn profile and ask yourself, “Does this tell a story that is likely to excite someone to consider hiring me, or buying my services or products?”. And if your answer is No, start to think about how to turn your lists into a series of stories, each of which then becomes part of the overarching story of your hero’s journey.

And yes, that can include some setbacks and how you overcame them. We’ve all had setbacks and – not to beat around the bush – probably failures too. How we dealt with those challenges goes to giving a picture of our resilience and character.

But It’s Not a Good Idea to Make It Just a “Me, Me, Me” Story

Realize there’s a paradox here, which is “Don’t make it all about yourself”.

You can still tell your story but make sure it includes at least these two things about others:

  1. recognition of the challenges others (your prospects especially) face and
  2. something about teams you worked with and how at least some of your successes were part of a team effort.

For example, in your Summary section I recommend starting with something about the kind of challenges your prospective business associate, client, employer might be facing and then go on to show how from your experience and talents you can help with that. And in separate sections give some credit to the people you worked with, supervised, learnt from and so on.

And in each section where you tell the story of how you worked in a particular role or job, as well as telling what you achieved and maybe about mistakes and how you dealt with them, give some space to sharing some glory with the team you worked with or supervised.

Don’t Stop at the Summary

Some people tell a great story, and tell it well, in the Summary, but neglect to do anything with the text of the various positions listed under Experience.

So don’t stop with telling your story in the summary. Each of those positions represents a part of your life and work/business experience. What was that all about? How did it go for you? Did you achieve special things in particular positions? Did you meet and overcome particular challenges?

The Value of Another Opinion

Then finally, when you have rewritten your Profile, including the story that goes with each position you’ve held, ask someone who knows your career story to read it critically and give you honest feedback.

If you are not a complete egoist, and I’m sure you aren’t, you may be pleasantly surprised to find you have not given yourself enough credit in telling your story. At least, that’s what I find with clients when I get them to go through this process.

And by the way, try and have fun with the process: the result will read better and make people more inclined to contact you.

Share It!

If you do this exercise, why not share the end result here? Just use the comment section to tell us how you went with the process and make sure you include a link to your new look Profile.

Image credit: Spanish storytellers in the Library “Julio Torri” Centro Cultural Universitario (University Cultural Center), UNAM. Autonomous University of Mexico via Wikimedia Commons, by Protoplasmakid


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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).