How to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out to a Recruiter, with Nick Poloni

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If you aren’t using LinkedIn to find your next job, you are missing out on a  powerful tool. But you have to use it well. Find Your Dream Job guest Nick Poloni says it all starts with a story-driven profile. It’s not enough to have a list of previous positions; you have to provide content and context. Recruiters want to know who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you’re looking for. Nick suggests having a specific focus for your profile, using keywords and titles that are common to the field you are in or want to enter. 

About Our Guest:

Nick Poloni is the head of recruitment at Cascadia Search Group and works in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 425:

How to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out to a Recruiter, with Nick Poloni

Airdate: November 15,2023

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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Recruiters look at LinkedIn every day in search of candidates.

Some pages catch a recruiter’s eye. Others don’t.

Nick Poloni is here to talk about how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out to a recruiter.

He’s the head of recruitment at Cascadia Search Group and works in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

Nick joins us from Portland, Oregon.

Let’s get going, Nick. You’ve been a recruiter for many years. How important is LinkedIn in your daily work?

Nick Poloni:

I would say LinkedIn is incredibly important, Mac, and one of the pieces that I would say, pretty much all of my sourcing, or at least ninety percent of my sourcing, does come from LinkedIn. So it’s a great tool for potential prospect candidates or even ones that just want to be notified about opportunities to have. It keeps a good pulse on the market.

Mac Prichard:

Why do you spend so much of your time on LinkedIn? There are other social platforms. You’ve got your own professional networks. There are professional groups you could tap. Why does LinkedIn take up ninety percent of your day?

Nick Poloni:

It’s the place where most people, professionally, like to, I say, hang out, and it seems to be the most appropriate for contacting prospective candidates for new opportunities. They have that as a place where you’re able to either put that you’re open to work. Whereas, I think the other platforms, you know, Facebook or Instagram or a lot of the other social networking places, aren’t necessarily for that. And so, for me, I look at it as a place where it’s expected to be talking about professional career ambitions, goals, or even networking with peers.

Mac Prichard:

When you sit down at your computer, you are searching for candidates, a page pops up; what’s your minimum expectation, Nick, for what you’re gonna see on that LinkedIn page?

Nick Poloni:

Great question. The first piece I look for on a LinkedIn profile that you can see from the preview is just a photo. A professional photo is a good one, but not necessarily a make or break for me. I then look at where they’re at now company-wise, or even what’s currently on their profile for their current position, and what they’re doing from a professional perspective.

And so, for example, being in the pharmaceutical biotech space, a lot of the examples I use here will be from that area. But I look at, maybe, what brand, if they’re a marketer, what brand they’re working on. If they’re in sales, what product they’re selling?

And then, underneath that, I dive a little bit further and maybe look at some of the professional goals or career achievements they’ve had. In a sales role, one of the big ones is president’s club and how recent some of those achievements have been.

Mac Prichard:

What do you think, Nick, when you search for a particular person, perhaps someone has been recommended to you? You should talk to this person, and you can’t find them on LinkedIn.

Nick Poloni:

That’s a good question. As recruiters that’s one of our jobs is to find people that may not be on the common platforms, and so with Cascadia Search Group, what we’ve done is we’ve developed and tailored an AI tool that does find people that are not on LinkedIn. I would say that’s relatively rare, probably about ten percent of the time. Oftentimes, if the referral does come through a mutual peer connection, I’ll ask for contact information and let that peer know that I will keep their name confidential.

And, I would say, in most cases, people do want their name confidential, for whatever reason. I don’t necessarily ask why, and so, we really have one of two avenues. Just ask that mutual peer, and if, for some reason, that mutual peer is not willing to give that contact information, then I can find, in a lot of cases, that person, using Artificial Intelligence, somewhere on the internet. We have our internet footprint nowadays for a lot of folks is out there. It’s just a matter of how hard you want to dig to find that.

Mac Prichard:

So you can find people given the tools you have. But is it a strike against a candidate if they don’t have a LinkedIn page?

Nick Poloni:

I wouldn’t necessarily say that. I can totally understand. I always try to put myself in the shoes of a candidate or just anybody, in general, in the professional world, and it is brought up, I would say, relatively often that people don’t like having a LinkedIn or they disable it. I believe there’s a feature now on LinkedIn where they can disable a profile and kind of hide it from the public.

And I think if I’m in the candidate’s shoes or even my shoes. I’ll have people reach out to me all the time for opportunities that just don’t make sense. And so, it’s now, we’ve reached a point in time, I think, where the marketplace has been flooded with, I don’t necessarily think it would be considered spam. But, in a way, where people are having these recruiters, primarily, they’re being contacted for opportunities that just don’t make sense. And so, oftentimes, I hear that recruiters just don’t have a huge purpose.

And so, to answer the question, do I put a tick against them? Or a negative checkbox? I wouldn’t say so. And, oftentimes, people are happy in their jobs and doing their daily job. There’s no need to have a recruiter reach out. There’s no need for them. So why would they want that?

So, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a bad thing. It just – they won’t have as many opportunities put in front of them. So that would be the only negative.

Mac Prichard:

You and I talked earlier, before today’s conversation, and you shared with me some tips that you recommend to candidates who want to stand out on LinkedIn to recruiters.

I’d like to go through that list, Nick and number one on your list was you encourage candidates, if they want to catch a recruiter’s eye on LinkedIn, to figure out what you’re looking for. What do you mean by this? What do you have in mind?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, great question. I think it’s, as you have your potential opportunities, as you look, I think one of the big things is having a focus. A lot of the candidates that I will talk to, even in the pharmaceutical space, you know, the focus I tell them to have is not necessarily within the pharma-biotech space. At least, most of the candidates I talk to are already within that space. They know they’re staying. But the focus I give them is from a therapeutic perspective.

If you’re in sales, for example, you have all of these connections within, let’s say, the neurology space or you have all these connections with diabetes doctors. So, stick to that. If you do want to venture out and you do want to try different therapeutic areas, then go for it. But I think when it comes to a LinkedIn profile and having that focus, it’s really about tailoring your profile, putting specific keywords on your profile that are going to allow for us as recruiters to search for you as a candidate.

And so, again, when I’m using these examples in the pharmaceutical space, it’s having some of the, not necessarily achievements, although those do stand out and make me want to contact you; I’m not going to be searching for president’s club winner, per se. What I’m gonna be searching for is diabetes, you know, if it’s a diabetes sales role.

I had a search this morning that’s with an organization launching in the oncology space, and it is a sales representative in the Detroit area. And so, when I start my search, the first thing I’m gonna put in is oncology and then the variation of different titles that companies use as sales reps. So, maybe oncology account manager, territory manager, sales representative, and so, it’s up to the recruiters to understand companies, a, use different titles.

But as a candidate, you definitely want to have things in there, such as oncology. You don’t want to just have sales representative. Because if you don’t have oncology and I’m putting it in the keywords, you’re not gonna come up in that search.

Mac Prichard:

So know where you want to go, make sure you’ve got keywords that reflect the goal of what you want to do next in your career, and that they’re scattered throughout your LinkedIn page.

Well, I want to take a break, Nick, and when we come back, I want to work through the rest of your seven tips for how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out to a recruiter. So stay with us.

When we return, Nick Poloni will continue to share his advice on what you can do to catch a recruiter’s eye on LinkedIn.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Nick Poloni.

He’s the head of recruitment at Cascadia Search Group and works in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries.

Now, Nick, before the break, we were talking about how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out to a recruiter. You’ve got a list of seven ideas that you encourage job seekers to follow on LinkedIn.

The second one on your list was to use a professional photo. And you touched on this in the first segment: how you expect to see a photo when someone’s page pops up when you’re doing a search. What does a professional photo mean to you, Nick?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, great question. For me, there’s no specific you need to have, or you need to do it this way. But there’s a couple of ways that I would say would be ideas maybe not to do, and, for example, a lot of people look at the classic scenario like the selfie. Maybe a selfie in the car.

Those aren’t necessarily, you know, I’m not sitting there and saying, I’m not gonna talk to this person. But it definitely doesn’t put a tick in the positive bucket.

For me, a professional photo is something where you may wear a tie or, let’s say, a business meeting. Are you gonna be wearing a T-shirt and a hoodie? Probably not. For males, it’s probably a business suit, suit jacket, you know, tie’s great, collared shirt underneath is great, either one. And for the ladies, similar. I think there’s a little bit more variation that you can have. A suit jacket is not a necessity.

But for me, from a background perspective, nothing too distracting. Brick wall or something along those lines, or if you have access to a photo studio, it’s not a necessity, but it would be nice to have something where you have a neutral background.

And as you may look on LinkedIn and see varying profiles, you’ll kind of get the idea that not every profile photo is the exact same. And so, for me, it’s really just about having something where I look at it and say, I could see that person or see myself wearing that to a sales meeting or some sort of professional networking event.

Mac Prichard:

What about business casual? It’s becoming less common to see men, for example, wearing suits and ties. What do recruiters think when they see someone dressed in business casual, say, that they might wear in a professional meeting, for example?

Nick Poloni:

I would say that’s totally fine. I mean, like I said, there’s not necessarily this rulebook or this specific playbook that you need to have when you have your professional photo. I think a college shirt, a polo, for example, would be a great thing to wear.

The big turn-off for me, and I see it very rarely in my industry, in the pharma-biotech space, but, I mean, I’ve seen stuff where it almost looks like somebody rolled out of bed and took a photo. And at that point, you’re probably better off just not having one.

And the not having one piece, I would say, it’s pretty rare. I’d say maybe one out of a thousand people or maybe one out of five hundred doesn’t have one, and, again, it’s not a bad thing. But you’re better off if you don’t have a professional photo, just leaving nothing there and, at some point in time, hopefully getting something there.

But it does add a level of comfort, at least to our end, we can kind of see who you are as a person, and with the interactions we’ve been having, over not face-to-face, in the last couple of years, it does kind of add that level of knowing a little bit about who you are by having a photo.

Mac Prichard:

Number three on your list of seven steps that a job seeker can take to make a LinkedIn profile stand out to a recruiter is to tell your story in your profile. What’s the best way to tell your story on your LinkedIn page, Nick?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, great question. I think the big part for a lot of organizations, hiring managers, and people alike is we’re very story-driven. And so, in my bio, for example, it is a little, I would say, extra. But it does tell who I am, why I’m in the role that I’m in, and a little bit about my background.

And, now, it doesn’t have to be who you are from a personal perspective, but why you made the moves you made would be a nice piece in there, maybe why you’re in, if you’re a marketer for your entire career, what got you interested in marketing? If you’re in sales, what got you interested in sales?

And so, with that being said, there’s two areas on LinkedIn that allow you to do that. I think number one is just the about me or the bio section, and that’s just your whole profile as a whole and putting a little bit of information in there. Sprinkled with maybe a little personal. It doesn’t need to be all personal. But just maybe something about yourself.

But then the pieces in between that. The professional part you see on a profile kind of like a resume. It is very, very nice to have in there as a recruiter, why you made the move from the next role? And it could be something as simple as Company X went through a downsizing and I joined Company Y. It could be I felt like this opportunity to move onto this product was a very promising product, and I felt like it was a great career move.

Because then it takes away a lot of the questions that people have. At the end of the day, hiring is about who’s least risky for the position, and when there’s reasoning, logic, and story behind who you are and your profile, it does take away and mitigate some of that risk that somebody may have on your profile.

Mac Prichard:

Another item on your list of seven steps a job seeker can take to make a LinkedIn page pop is to use the open work feature or, rather, the open to work feature. Why do you like to see that green circle around a person’s profile, Nick?

Nick Poloni:

For me, in giving some guidance to job seekers, not all recruiters will reach out to you if that’s not there. If you’re happily employed, there may be some that are gonna say, you know, they’ve only been at the company for two years. I’m gonna pass on sending them a message. And that’s very few.

But if you really want all types of recruiters or all types of people to reach out, just from a social perspective, social cues, that will allow most people to go, this person wants to start a conversation. This person is open to looking at new opportunities.

And so, I think that open to work is going to give you the biggest reach.  If you really want to see every opportunity that’s out there. And so, as I’m scrolling through profiles, as a matter of fact, on LinkedIn, it does give me the ability to look at people who are only open to work.

Now, me personally, I want to blanket every candidate. So I don’t only select that button. But I do know there are recruiters out there that, if they do a search, and let’s say it’s ten thousand people. How do I narrow that down? Oh, open to work, and there’s a thousand people there.

So you may have recruiters out there that are gonna only filter candidates based on open to work. So what that does for you, as a candidate, who really truly wants to see every opportunity out there, is it does give you the ability to kind of be filtered into a quote-unquote bucket of candidates who recruiters only want to look at people who are open to work and are more likely to respond.

Mac Prichard:

Number five on your list, Nick, to make your LinkedIn page stand out to recruiters is to make your contact information visible. What kind of contact information do you, as a recruiter, want to see on a LinkedIn page?

Nick Poloni:

Great question. Number one is email, by far. It’s a way where you can have people connect with you, but the spam and all of those pieces probably aren’t there. Number two, the optional one, is a phone number. We want to call you, and we want to talk to you. So, having as much contact information out there will allow us to get a hold of you fastest.

Mac Prichard:

Number six on your list for standing out to a recruiter is to say what you did at your jobs. Tell us quickly what is this about. Is this about people who just list jobs but don’t describe what they did? Or list one job? What’s going on here?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, so I think one of the big pieces underneath your LinkedIn profile positions is, what were you doing if it’s a sales role? Were you selling to hospitals? Were you selling to academic institutions? Were you selling to oncologist doctors?

So, having some sort of information, more background context, so we don’t have to assume underneath there, and the way you can get that information is from your job description, from the job that you signed up for when you took the job.

Mac Prichard:

And the last item on your list, and this is something you touched on a moment ago, is if you’ve left a company, say so. Don’t simply let your LinkedIn profile say this was my starting date and imply that I’m still there. Why do you care about this? And what should people say about their departure if, in fact, they did indeed leave an employer three, six, nine months ago?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, if somebody has left a job nine months ago, ten months ago, the longer, the worse, and I call them, and it appears to be that they’re still there, it does raise initial questions for me. Now, if it’s been a month or two, people aren’t on LinkedIn every day, so I get it. But, when I run into candidates that maybe even contact me on LinkedIn and they left the company nine months ago, I understand that you don’t want that big job gap in your profile, but at the end of the day, we’re gonna see your resume, and the resume is it.

So, it just leaves, I wouldn’t say, the best and a somewhat sour taste in my mouth because then I ask, you know, I have more questions. Why? So that’s, I think, the most important piece. If it’s been a few months, I would say don’t worry about it.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the best way to plug that gap so that a recruiter will look at it and think, I still want to talk to this person even though they may not be working right now?

Nick Poloni:

Yeah, have a reason underneath that gap. Was it a downsizing and a layoff due to budget cuts? As long as you have a reason, and, of course, if somebody got fired or terminated for whatever reason, that’s a little sketchy. Well, then that’s gonna be something you have to explain. Again, it’s all about the story, about you, your profile, and why something happened.

And so, I think, as long as you have a legitimate reason on there, downsizing, layoffs, what we’re seeing a lot of right now, it’s fine if it’s been six or seven months. It happens.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, it’s been a great conversation, Nick. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Nick Poloni:

Cascadia Search Group, we’re building out our team, building out our organization, and keep doing what we’re doing: helping hiring managers and HR build their dream teams.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. I know listeners can learn more about you and your company’s work by visiting your website,, and you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn. As always, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job when they do reach out to you, Nick.

Now, given all of the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out to a recruiter?

Nick Poloni:

The biggest thing is have some content. Have a story in there. Don’t make us assume what’s happening or what’s not happening. I think having a story and having a professional headshot, those are really the only two pieces. The others, they’re nice to have. They’re relatively important. But I think if I had the most two, it’s have a story in your background.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Gene Rhee.

He’s the executive director of career services at the Lundquist College of Business at the University of Oregon.

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