Six tips to improve your LinkedIn profile for nonacademic jobs

improve linkedin profile

Searching for a job after finishing your PhD can be a tedious and complicated process. For the minority of graduate students seeking an academic postdoc, finding a position is a fairly straightforward process that often involves direct connections with PIs through collaborations and networking at professional meetings. However, for the vast majority of biology graduate students seeking jobs outside of academia, the process of finding a job will vary greatly depending on the field of interest. One key constant for these job-seeking grad students is that nonacademic job recruiters heavily rely on LinkedIn for recruiting and networking. How you present yourself professionally during the job search will differ tremendously for academic vs nonacademic positions. Networking should first and foremost be the starting point for any good job search, but creating a memorable and eye-catching LinkedIn page will certainly help you get connected with new people and positions. Here are a few quick tips for creating a memorable and professional LinkedIn profile for grad students seeking opportunities outside of academia.

First impressions matter

Your LinkedIn profile begins with a headline stating your current job title and where you are. However, LinkedIn gives you a whole 120 characters to fill this space and use it for powerful search potential. The LinkedIn search algorithm heavily weighs this initial headline and current job titles, so including more information in these 120 characters greatly increases your odds of being found by relevant job recruiters. Info to add could include the kinds of jobs you are seeking, a more detailed explanation of your job, marketable skills, and industry keywords. For example, instead of listing yourself as “Graduate Student at XYZ University,” you could make your headline “NSF Fellow and Graduate Student at XYZ University | biomedical researcher | R/Python, data science, bioinformatics.”

Emphasize your transferable skills, not your research

Imagine you are at a networking event. Dozens of grad students and industry recruiters are hob-nobbing together for two hours. One recruiter comes up to you and asks you the inevitable “What do you do?” One option is to go into a lengthy discussion on the finer points of heterotypic tumor-stromal paracrine signaling and watch the recruiter’s eyes glaze over. The other option is to give a quick elevator pitch about your work in how tumor cells and healthy cells talk to each other, and then steer the conversation to what the recruiter is looking for and what makes you a great candidate. Only one of those conversations will lead to a potential job offer (spoiler: it’s not the first one).

The same tactic applies to your LinkedIn profile if you are seeking a job away from the bench. Nobody at that cool new biotech startup or prestigious medical writing group will care about the details of your thesis work, but they will care if you bring skills to the table that will make you a good employee for their company. These qualities are what we call transferable skills, sometimes also called “soft skills.” Even though we spend most of our scientific training talking about research, grad students actually learn a whole host of incredibly useful skills that aren’t openly discussed enough, such as collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking, and written communication. Learning how to identify and market your transferable skills is a lengthy topic, but here’s a good place to start, by identifying your best skills through stories.

Quality over quantity

LinkedIn profiles allow you to list your relevant skills to show what makes you desirable compared with the other 500 million LinkedIn users. But not all skills are worth the same. No one outside of the lab will care that you know how to run a Western blot, but they will care if you know how to manage project deadlines. Delete meaningless skills and endorsements and stick to those that are useful to the field you are seeking.

Avoid jargon, and use job-specific keywords instead

There’s a time and a place for lengthy scientific discussions, but not when searching for a nonacademic job. The same thing applies to your LinkedIn profile. Post your resume tailored to the field you are looking for and NOT your full academic CV. Resumes and CVs are entirely different creatures that serve different purposes, but CVs are generally not accepted outside of academic institutions. Spend time creating a tailored 2-page resume that emphasizes your transferable skills.

In addition to avoiding jargon, it’s important to signal to job recruiters that you are familiar with and genuinely interested in their field by using the right language. Just like how you would use different language to explain your thesis project to a collaborating PI versus to your grandmother, you need to use the right language to market yourself. For example, instead of saying “grad student researching drosophila development,” you can say that you “developed an independent research project in developmental biology” or “designed new protocols that standardized lab sample processing and optimized workflow timing.” The important keywords for each field will vary, but a great place to look for them is in relevant job applications and in LinkedIn profiles for people already in that field.

Location, location, location

Although it may not seem like an important detail, including the cities/states/provinces that you want to work in will be incredibly important for job recruiters to find you, especially if you plan on moving out of your current city. Include your preferred location(s) in your summary statement at the top of your profile (along with a few job-specific keywords and transferable skills…see a theme here?). The LinkedIn algorithm also places a heavy emphasis on your summary statement, so including where you want to move will improve the odds of recruiters in your new desired city finding you. In addition, under the “Career Interests” section, make sure to update your location preferences to include not only where you are currently but also new cities/states/regions that you are considering.

Aesthetics stand out

The way your profile looks may not make-or-break your chances of getting hired, but the visual appeal of your profile can impact how long people will look at your page. The longer people look at your profile (i.e., dwell time), the better your chances are of them actually reading the full profile instead of skimming over it, and the more likely you are to turn up at the top of search results. One good way to approach this is to create your profile aesthetic the same way you would design a scientific poster. Don’t have a wall of text; leave white spaces to break up sections, summarize where possible, and include pictures. Use a professional headshot and an eye-catching but on-brand cover photo. Pay close attention to grammar and spelling. Remember that you are trying to present your best self on LinkedIn, so make sure the design of your profile also reflects the invaluable skills and experience you gained during your PhD.

About the Author:


Emily Summerbell is a PhD Candidate at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) in the lab of Dr. Adam Marcus. Emily studies the epigenetics and cell biology of how groups of cells cooperate to drive lung cancer collective invasion. She is a member of COMPASS. Twitter: @esummerbell   Email: emily@amarcuslab.com