LinkedIn may seem like any other social media site but it is not. LinkedIn is a gateway to professional networking and as such there are professional guidelines you must abide by if you want to impress future employers and grow your network. Avoiding these top five LinkedIn mistakes will put you and your profile on the track to success.

Incomplete profile

If you plan on leveraging the largest online professional network in the world, you need to have a complete profile. Recruiters and potential employers will use your LinkedIn page as the first stop to determine whether to proceed with your candidacy. If they are met with a profile that lacks the basics (photo, summary, past work experience, education, and skills), skipping you to look at the next candidate becomes that much easier. Recruiters and employers will view an incomplete LinkedIn profile as a red flag as it can be interpreted that you start projects but lack follow through.

A complete LinkedIn profile also means when your name is searched in Google, your profile will be prominently featured at the top of search results. Profiles with 100% completion rates always go to the top of the results list. Use the search algorithm to your advantage.

Copying and pasting your resume

Whilst this may be tempting, copying and pasting your resume into the LinkedIn profile sections is a major faux pas. Resumes are written using very specific language, tone, and verb tenses. Transferring this directly over to your LinkedIn profile is obvious and lazy. LinkedIn is not a resume posting board. It is a social network that allows you to speak directly to employers, recruiters, and colleagues about your professional accomplishments, interests, goals, and expertise, as well as provide them with a sense of your personality.

Your LinkedIn profile should complement your resume. It is a space where you can further explore the professional experiences that have led you to your current position, and where you want those experiences to take you in the future.

One of the best ways to start customizing your profile is to look at job descriptions of interest and the profiles of top professionals in your industry. Determine what keywords they have in common and then use those terms to build your profile. Do not overuse keywords and when you use them back them up with substance. Nothing rings hollower than a profile pumped up on buzz words and light on meaningful content.     

To help organize your content and aid readers, avoid long paragraphs and use bullet points when appropriate. The smoother your content flows, the easier it is for a recruiter to quickly identify your strengths and merits.    

No customized URL

One of LinkedIn's best kept secrets is customization of your LinkedIn URL. Many people fail to do this and have a long list of random letters and numbers for their public profile URL. This looks sloppy and unpolished, especially when including on email signatures or business cards.

The fix is easy. Simply go to your LinkedIn profile header and click "Edit Profile". Then click "Edit" next to the listed URL on the bottom of your top profile card (the one with your photo). Click "Customize your public profile URL" and change your URL to something unique. If your name is already taken, try a simple variation by adding a middle name or initial, or even an abbreviation of the country in which you reside.

Selfies and flashy banners

LinkedIn may be a professional network, but it allows users to express their personality in subtle ways. Many choose to do this through their profile photo and banner. While there is nothing wrong with showing a little flare, you need to do this appropriately.

Photos should be kept to headshots. Your headshot should not be a selfie. If you cannot afford a professional headshot, have a friend or family member take your photo in a well-lit area with limited background activity. You do not want to be against a solid colour wall, but you also do not want images in the background to distract or overwhelm the foreground. A headshot taken in the lobby or corridor of an architecturally distinct building can work well. The background will have some composition and the lighting is usually even and bright. Your attire should be professional but if you want to add that little bit of flare and personality this is where you can do it.

LinkedIn recently introduced customizable banners. If you decide to customize your banner keep it simple. No flashy colours, images, logos, or designs that overwhelm your profile and photo. If you are graphically inclined, you can use the banner space to showcase your skills but remember to do so in an understated and refined manner. If design is not a talent, using a cityscape image of your hometown is a simple but personal option. 

Limited engagement with groups

LinkedIn groups are an excellent way to connect with people that have similar interests, as well as learn about different industries. If you are considering a career change or want to move on to a more senior role in the same industry, LinkedIn groups can provide you with unique perspectives, insider information, and the opportunity to become part of a community.

Contributing to group discussions will help build your network and get you noticed. Through measured and thoughtful engagement with group discussions, your profile as a thought leader will rise. In addition, when you are part of a LinkedIn group you can message other group members for free. If there is someone in particular you want to contact, see what groups that person has joined, find cross-over interests and join that group. You will have something to discuss in your introduction email. By adding that personal touch, your message is more likely to be read.