What Your LinkedIn Profile Says About The "Real You"

New research teaches us how to read between the lines of a LinkedIn profile.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | August 17, 2021

A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that a careful reading of someone's LinkedIn profile can reveal true elements of their personality, but only if the reader pays attention to the right signals.

"LinkedIn is considered the most effective social network website for job seekers and recruiters," say the authors of the research, led by Sebastien Fernandez of the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland. "Although LinkedIn profiles are regularly accessed to evaluate candidates, we know very little about the type of information conveyed."

To better understand the connection between profile and personality, the researchers evaluated the LinkedIn profiles of 607 graduates of a hospitality management school in Switzerland, ages 22 to 35. They coded each profile for elements they thought might be indicative of someone's underlying personality, such as whether the person was wearing professional attire, the size of their professional network, and whether they were smiling in their profile photo. Next, they requested that participants take a personality test measuring the Big 5 dimensions of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. This way, they could trace which LinkedIn profile indicators mapped onto people's self-reported personality traits.

They found that, of the 33 unique profile indicators they examined, most provided an accurate signal of a given personality trait. For instance, for the trait of openness — or the degree to which a person possesses an active imagination, an appreciation for beauty, an attentiveness to inner feelings, a preference for variety, intellectual curiosity, and a disregard for authority — the researchers found that having an artistic LinkedIn profile picture was the top signal. Speaking more than one language, having "curiosity" listed as a skill, and having a large professional network were also reliable indicators for openness.

For conscientiousness, defined as the tendency to be hardworking, orderly, responsible, self-controlled, and rule-abiding, the researchers found that one's grade point average and possessing additional certifications were the top signals. Having "organization" listed as a skill and having experience as a student ambassador were also strong signals for conscientiousness.

Extraversion was most strongly predicted by the size of one's professional network. Other reliable indicators of extraversion were having participated in a sport activity in college, having a large number of skills, and having leadership experience.

For agreeableness, smiling in one's profile picture was the top signal. Having experience with volunteer activities and having "teamwork" or "groupwork" listed in the skills section were also strong signals for agreeableness.

Finally, for neuroticism, smiling in one’s profile picture was the only profile indicator correlated with this trait, although the strength of the association was not as strong as the indicators of the other four personality dimensions. Conversely, participating in a sport activity in college was most indicative of an anti-neurotic, or stable, personality type. Having a large number of skills and posting additional photos on one's profile were also associated with low levels of neuroticism.

The authors conclude, "Our study offers empirical evidence that LinkedIn can be used to accurately infer LinkedIn users' personality. In addition to past studies that have shown that the trait of extraversion could be reliably inferred from LinkedIn profiles, this study shows that there are a wide variety of indicators that signal a person's level of conscientiousness. There are also valid indicators of agreeableness and openness."