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LinkedIn's a great resource, but like many assets, it needs your time and attention to continue performing.

Recently I've been helping undergraduate and graduate students at the UNC Schools of Social Work and Public Health prepare their LinkedIn profiles for their job searches.

Here are some of the tips I've been sharing. Check them off to make sure you're not missing any opportunities for your LinkedIn profile.

 A screengrab of Margot Lester's LinkedIn profile illustrating a Word Factory blog post on optimizing your profile.
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Optimize Profile Sections

A.  Headline: 120 characters. Tell us about you that’s unique or interesting. Social justice advocate? Speaker of 6 languages? Or summarize your skills. Anything relevant to the job you want or that will make people want to read more. Include key words that have extra meaning to your audience.

B. Summary: 2000 characters. On the standard browser view, however, your summary cuts off after 270 or so characters. It’s 20-25 for the mobile view (but don’t worry about that).  Make your first 250+ characters a complete idea, if not a complete sentence. Again, focus on the key words that might be used by a recruiter, hiring manager or client looking for someone like you. Bonus points for formatting the summary so it’s easy to skim and scan with strategic paragraphing and bullet lists.

C. Cover Image: It may seem dumb, but no cover image just says, “I was too lazy to do a cover image”. Choose a photo of anything – the front of the School of Social Work, the Arboretum in bloom, your desk. Anything that with a good horizontal orientation works.

portrait of Margot Lester by Marc Borzelleca

D. Profile Photo: Use a professional head shot if you feel comfortable doing so. Some folks fear discrimination based on race or dress and don’t post a photo. Let that sink in for a moment. In 2019, people are still worried about being racially profiled. If you choose not to use an actual photo, you could upload a nicer “silhouette” than the default, or an artistic rendering. Again, tiny detail, but shows you were intentional, not lazy.

E. Other Images. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s willingness to let you post images, slide decks and PDFs to your profile. Use this to show off projects, presentations and other evidence of your skills.

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Word Art introducing the top three posts of the quarter on The Word Factory blog

What topics resonated most with our readers in the opening quarter? Here's our Top 3:

  1. Tips for starting your own business, including the 5 things you really need to do before quitting your current gig.
  2. How to get more eyeballs on your content marketing and brand journalism by getting SMEs and sources involved in amplifying it.
  3. Write better facts pieces by understanding the traits the make them effective.

Thanks, as ever, for reading our blog.



I was in college when I first had to fire someone. I was the ranking supervisor of the student team that ran the student union, and after several warnings by his direct supervisor, this employee was referred to me for not meeting the expectations laid out in his work plan and missing a couple of shifts. My job was to fire him. I was 20.

Luckily, my Dad was an experienced business person and had fired a few people in his day. Dad talked to me about firing someone the way I'd want to be fired and we role played that a bit. He also pointed out that the dude wasn't going to be surprised since he'd been on a long-term probation, and that as part of his referral to me he had been advised to consider finding another position on campus. I knew Dad was right, but it didn't make me feel better.

I steeled myself for the meeting. I wrote out a few talking points so I could both comply with state employment law and with my Dad's guidance. It went better than I thought, but it was still horrible. And even though I've had to let a few people go since, it isn't easier. But I do at least have confidence that I'm being decent when I do it, and and maybe that's the best we can aim for.
ghost emoji

Stop Ghosting Your Vendors

Why am I telling you this? Because a few people in my network recently have been "low-key fired" from agency or freelance engagements. You may have been there, too. You work a project, get it to certain point and then the client just disappears. If you're lucky, they make up some lame excuse to pay you off -- one of the best I've heard at end of year was, "We don't process invoices in December and we don't want you to have to wait so long to bill. Can you invoice us for what you've done so far and we'll pick up next year?" That's genius -- because you think they're being cool even as they are throwing you off the cliff.

If they don't do that, at some point you just decide to invoice for work done to date (that's part of your standard contract, right?) and at least get paid for the work you put in thus far.

Compensation's nice, but...

Just because someone decides to pay you (thanks!) doesn't make the ghosting OK. Sure, it takes some of the sting out of the whole sitch, but why not just also tell the truth? In my experience, most of the time both parties know things aren't working out. It's rare that we get the axe and are completely unsuspecting it was coming.

We're all adults here. We know sometimes things just don't work out. Maybe the woman you're supposed to write a speech for doesn't really like you. That's cool -- and reason enough to bail on that kind of gig. Perhaps the project scope changes and there's an internal person who has a stronger skill set in the new focus area than you do. No problem. Or maybe there's just a feeling that you aren't what the client wants, even though they thought they did. This is real life. It hurts a bit, but it's not unrecoverable.

When you don't actually fire your agency or freelancer

When you low-key fire or just plain neglect a contractor or agency, when you just let things go, there's a ripple effect you might not have considered:

Impacts on Us

  1. We can't get better because we don't know where we needed to improve
  2. We keep time available in our work plan in case the project comes back, which means we may not take on other work so we can be available to you
  3. We can't make our own good head count decisions.

Impacts on You

  1. We lose confidence and trust in you and your brand, and may decide not to work with you when an appropriate project comes along
  2. We might tell others in our professional network to be careful working with you

A better way to handle ghosting

Stuff like this happens all the time. What doesn't have to happen is the inhumane way it unfolds. The next time it's not working out, figure out what you can/have to pay for work done to date and then tell the truth about why you're killing the deal. Just do it.

And if the ghosting is being done unto you? Don't grovel. Don't demand an explanation. If somebody's ignoring you, it's unlikely they're going to take you back or suddenly develop the guts to tell you the truth. Ask for what you're owed and ramp up your biz dev efforts. The last time a client ghosted me, I invoked my contract and got paid for the work accepted. I reached out to a few contacts and let them know I had some unexpected capacity open up. Before too long, I had a new coaching client and an RFP for a big project.

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Why I’m an activist CEO

Each month, I take some time off for CEO activism and advocacy. Activities have included representing at a judicial redistricting hearing, attending a gun reform rally, delivering workshops on advocacy writing, and lobbying.

Last month, I went to the N.C. Legislature with NC AIDS Action Network to talk to state legislators about the importance of expanding Medicaid and increasing funding for therapies and programs that benefit people living with HIV. I couldn't make AIDSWatch in Washington this year, but I did continue my tradition of buying coffee for the advocates and allies. Here's the gang getting caffeinated before calling on the North Carolina delegation:

NC AIDS Action enjoys coffee provided by The Word Factory

NC AIDS Action Network advocates on a coffee break sponsored by The Word Factory

Investing in organizations and events on "work time" and/or with "work dollars" sends an important message: "This cause is important enough for me to slow the wheels of commerce to work on". And if you doubt the political influence of business owners, check out how much sway your local or state chamber of commerce has over policymaking.

CEO activism and advocacy is especially important for health-related causes. Healthcare is an integral part of my business, even as a brand journalism studio. Why? We pay insurance premiums. We need our team to be healthy and able to do their excellent work. We all need access to the healthcare services we need at a price we can afford.

I applaud agencies and freelancers who donate creative talent to nonprofits and advocacy groups. Thank you. It makes a difference. I invite you to up your game by joining me in showing up personally for events and rallies, too. Being seen is so vital.

Learn more about why CEO advocacy is important by reading my guest column for AIDS United.

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You didn't think I'd miss an opportunity to low-key brag on my alma mater making it to the Sweet 16, did you? Photo via GoHeels.com

As consumers of content, we know the value of a great image -- whether that's a photo, illustration or data graphic. Maybe it stems from our days in the cave, when all we had was pictures, but even all this time later, we still like pictures with our words.

We noticed that some of our clients -- even some big brands -- weren't maximizing the opportunity to make blogs more compelling with images. When I asked why, it largely came down to time. Finding a hero image was about all anybody had time for, or felt was truly necessary. But data from OrbitMedia show the game has changed, and more than half of typical posts have more than one image.

I saw an opportunity to add value, so I engaged our design partner, Marc Borzelleca, and created an add-on package for our clients. The pricing is an incremental add-on to the project cost.

Instead of their teams finding suitable images, we provide three per post. We do this for all new content we create, as well as part of our refresh package for evergreen or resurfaced content. For some clients, we even provide metadata for the images, taking one more task off their lists.

In addition to streamlining the process for them, we also make sure we have good representation in the photos and that there's sufficient variety to use throughout the post. They also get versions that are specially sized for social media channels.

Letting us take on this task makes sense, too, because we're so close to the topic we quickly zero in on opportunities to use imagery to illustrate key points or broad concepts that can be missed by internal team members who are reading more for keywords or grammar. And it's the only job our Marc has on the project, so he's keenly focused on choosing terrific images.

It's a low-drag process for us that delivers real value to our clients.

If you're an agency owner or freelancer, how can you make it easier for your clients to integrate more images into their blog content?

And if you run an internal shop, how can you leverage your outside suppliers to do more of this kind of work for you so your team can focus on other crucial tasks?

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