Julie Brush, Solutus founding partner

I receive a lot of questions about the value and use of LinkedIn for career success. And as this “social” medium has become a more important tool for professionals, more people wonder about the impact of their information and behavior on the site.

The LinkedIn “Background Summary” (the narrative at the top of your personal LinkedIn profile) is not a must for career success. But it is a tool that can be used (if used effectively) to enhance your professional brand, marketability and credibility should you elect to use it. The Background Summary provides the LinkedIn user with an opportunity to expand on the basics. A user can leverage this section to provide a detailed narrative on expertise, information on clients, past work projects, awards and the services that s/he provides. So how can this expanded information help your career? Below are a few of the key ways:

Business Development

For those lawyers in roles where business development is a key part of success, a detailed summary can build your credibility and attract new clients. Often, potential clients will review your background before a big meeting or an initial call; or to determine whether to consider your services in the first place. Knowing more about what you do, how you do it and for whom you do it can weigh heavily in your favor as your background is evaluated.

Potential Employers

For lawyers interviewing for new positions, a detailed summary can provide hiring managers and executives with additional information about your background before your interview (if these execs review your LinkedIn profile before your meeting). If an employer knows more about you and is impressed with your qualifications after reading your summary, s/he will approach your interview with a more positive mindset. This can give you a leg up in the cutthroat world of job competition.

Recruiters

Many recruiters (in-house and external) view LinkedIn profiles as part of their sourcing efforts and initial candidate assessment. So a greater understanding of your background will help recruiters evaluate … with greater precision, your qualifications for a particular role. This can result in a higher number of relevant—and quality overtures from recruiters. Even if you are not currently interested in making a move, you never know when your circumstances could change. So it’s important to be highly visible and on the radar of the best employers and recruiters.

Building Your Network

As part of building your killer network (you’re continuing to do that, right?), you will request to connect with (and others will request) professionals you may not know or know very well. This could be an actual request to connect through LinkedIn or it could be an overture to start building a relationship with another professional—like getting together for coffee. Regardless of the avenue, there is often a desire to assess the quality of the potential connection before committing. And one of the first tools a person uses when researching another professional is the LinkedIn profile. Who is this person? What’s his/her story? And the ol’ … I wonder what s/he looks like. By having valuable detail in your Background Summary, you give added comfort to others that you are “a high quality connection.” This facilitates building a strong and impactful network, which will serve you for the rest of your career.

Clearing Things Up

If you have a wonky work history or a move that looks like a head scratcher at first blush, the summary can provide the opportunity to answer the “why’s” as well as tee up the information that is to follow. This can circumvent potential misunderstandings and misreads, connect the career dots and strengthen your overall marketability.

So these are some of the potential benefits of a Background Summary. And if you choose to do it, do it right: No typos. Well written. Easy to Read. Relevant Information. Think about your audience and compose accordingly … and thoughtfully. If you choose not to include this detailed narrative, it will not kill your career. It won’t hurt it either—and will unlikely have much, if any negative impact. The only potential downside may be missing out on a benefit as described above.

LinkedIn is a career tool whose professional offerings run along a spectrum of value and importance. Some significant, others … not so much. The LinkedIn Background Summary is one such offering that can be used to highlight career details and build a more effective professional profile. While it is not essential for career success, an excellent summary could produce some career benefits with a pleasant surprise or two along the way.

Julie Brush is the founder and author of The Lawyer Whisperer (www.thelawyerwhisperer.com), a career advice column for legal professionals, also found on LinkedIn. She is co-founder of Solutus Legal Search, a legal search/consulting boutique firm, serving as a strategic adviser to lawyers, law firms and corporations.