using subtext in your LinkedIn profile

subtext is that undercurrent to writing or a conversation that lets you know if things are on the up-and-up or not.

most people aren’t consciously aware of subtext, yet they react strongly to it. like when someone at a pool party says “don’t push me in” while standing on the edge of the pool.

in this case, content = words = “don’t push me in,” while subtext = decision to stand precariously close to the water = “I wouldn’t mind getting wet.”

here, Bruce Banner has turned into the Hulk. that’s how she knows he’s angry. technically, when it’s this obvious, it’s actually no longer subtext, it’s context, but same idea. (more awesome at microkosmic.com)

your LinkedIn profile is full of subtext.

when you write in your summary, “I’m a passionate, innovative problem-solver with 15 years experience building high energy, dynamic teams,” your subtext is saying, “I’ve written a profile that sounds like everyone else’s, so you can probably expect me to perform pretty much like the rest of my peers.”

when you write, “currently, I’m the vice president in charge of…” what your subtext is saying is, “I’m not here for the long haul. let me know if you’ve got a better offer.” and when you write five paragraphs about your managerial awesomeness, your subtext screams “I lack confidence!”

subtext: the key to an optimized profile

the key to a well-written profile is to make your subtext work with you rather than against you. when subtext and content align, they reinforce and amplify one another.

but as you probably know from your own attempts to write your profile, it’s not always easy to get the subtext right.

for one thing (and as I’ve written about before), we look in the mirror and look through the window with different eyes. so here you’re trying to craft a profile meant to be viewed by others, but you don’t see yourself the way others will view you.

secondly, strange as it sounds, it’s not easy to know which “you” to focus on. should you align your subtext with your current skill set? or with your aspirational skill set?

getting subtext right

ironically, the best thing you can do to get the subtext right in your profile is to not try too hard! rather than sit down and write your profile, ask 10 people what you’re great at, and write down the thing that gets said most often. 

unless you have great self-awareness, the harder you work at getting your subtext right, the more obvious the disconnects are likely to become.

here are three things you can do to get your subtext aligned with your content:

  1. shorten the text blocks on your profile. the more you say, the more your subtext says, “I’m not really sure what my core is.” forcing yourself to be brief forces you to make a decision about who you are.
  2. but how should you make that decision (other than asking 10 people)? take a bunch of sticky notes and write down all the things you love to do on them. as long as ideas keep popping in your mind, keep writing and sticking notes on the wall. big things, little things… it’ll turn into an exercise of appreciation, which is great; you’ll enjoy it.  when you’re done, step back and look at that wall. there will be a theme, clear as day. focus your profile around that.
  3. trust in the subtext! high achieving people tend to be control freaks. they don’t want to take anything for granted. but here’s the thing: there are certain things you simply cannot say credibly. for instance: “I am charismatic,” or “I am smart.” those are invitations for people to test you! so regardless of how badly you want to explicitly tell people that you’re a charismatic genius, stick to verifiable facts and trust that the subtext of your profile—whether it’s the quality of your writing, your vocabulary, your strategic focus, or the stage presence you have in your video—will communicate the rest.

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by Jason Seiden, CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing.
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2 thoughts on “using subtext in your LinkedIn profile

  1. What a great post to get us thinking. Thanks Jason. If we have received recommendations from many different former colleagues and what to use some of their comments as our starting feedback, how do you recommend doing that without sounding like an ego-maniac? I’m hesitant to appear like I’m patting myself on the back.

    Thanks

  2. Trish, that’s worth a blog post all by itself… coming at you early next week!

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