Facts Tell, Stories Sell

Most LinkedIn profiles I look at are about facts, marshaled into lists: 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 hire living, flesh and blood people, not lists. We do business with living, flesh and blood people, not with lists.

So why, when LinkedIn gives us this opportunity to tell our unique story to the world and show the kind of talented person we are, do we present ourselves as a list of lists?

My personal view is it’s because of how we were taught—maybe even required—to apply for jobs.

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, whether as employees, or contractors, or consultants or coaches, or business partners, makes them smile, not frown—or yawn!

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? To go back to my earlier points, 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 job description 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 job description.” 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 focus in my coaching practice is on working with business executives and entrepreneurs, not job seekers, so that problem does not arise for them. But even for job seekers my personal view, having over the years spent many hours going through applications for positions, is that if you are a job seeker, you too need to look at ways to let your story shine through

Some coaching may be needed to get that right; good recruiters will work with their candidates to help them do that, or point them towards someone who can.

Would Now be a Good 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?”  My compelling, personal brand story?

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. Probably failures, too. How we dealt with those challenges goes to giving a picture of our resilience and character. When you’ve been in business for a reasonable time, and held enough supervisory or senior roles, you know that there are advantages in working with people who have had setbacks—even sometimes of their own making—and have learned resilience and developed fortitude (“When the going gets tough,” etc.).

Make sure you include reference to the good things you’ve learned about yourself, about business, about life. You know the old saying, “Some people never learn?” Show that you are one of the smaller tribe of those who have learned from experience. In doing that you are building a picture of a more rounded, more interesting person—a person someone would like to hire, like to do business with!

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 always recommend starting with something about the kind of challenges your prospective business associate, client, or 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 under the Experience heading give some credit to the people you worked with, supervised, learned from and so on.

Then 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.

A key reason for giving credit to others and showing how you value working in a team is this: Every time I have been part of a selection committee or interviewed a job applicant one-on-one, a key question in my mind is “Will this person fit in here?” Because it doesn’t matter how brilliant someone was, what formidable skills they had, or what amazing accomplishments they had. If I felt they were only going to be good at being a lone ranger and would not work as part of the team, or worse, create conflict in the team, I was not interested in employing them.

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 industry was that company in? How significant was their brand? What was your role really all about? How did it go for you? Did you achieve special things in particular positions? Did you/your team 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.


Des Walsh is an executive leadership coach and social media strategist. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs solve one or both of two key challenges – the CEO’s internal monolog and the risk of social media overwhelm. To help solve one or both of these challenges, Des applies his advanced coaching skills, his social media expertise – especially about LinkedIn – his life experience and what he’s learned from 20+ years in business.

Connect with Des on LinkedIn and Twitter and like his page on Facebook.