by Marci Alboher, Working the New Economy, on Fri Aug 28, 2009 3:52pm PDT

Creating a LinkedIn profile is pretty straightforward when you have a job with a well-defined title. But I’ve been getting questions lately about how to create a profile on LinkedIn when what you're doing isn’t so tidy. Two scenarios that come up a lot are how to create one of these profiles if you have a slash career (e.g. yoga instructor/caterer), or if you’re unemployed (or, as some say, consulting).

There’s some overlap between the two scenarios because in both cases you are taking what feels like a standard tool and tailoring it to fit your needs. And the good news is that when you spend a little time with it, LinkedIn allows for a lot of customizing.

Here are a few ideas:

Play with your status updates. If you’re looking for opportunities, mention that in your status update so that your connections are reminded of it. The example above, which says "on the prowl for career and/or entrepreneurial endeavors," is a good model.

Use slashes or vertical lines between your different titles. Twanna Hines, a dating advice columnist, uses vertical lines to separate her various identities (including “sexpot,” which may not be an official job title, but gives you a good idea of what she’s about). I’m partial to slashes myself, and recommend keeping it to no more than three or four at any one time.

Be creative with the “Current” section. If you are between positions, consider identifying yourself with a title that reflects your desired position (e.g. “marketing director seeking opportunity in consumer products”). If you’re consulting or available for freelance work, give your consulting business a name and list it as a current position. This is also a great spot to list anything you’re doing on the side -- a column you write for a trade magazine, an officer position in your university alumni organization, significant volunteer work. Feel free to use several lines to describe your current positions.

Don’t forget to include websites. At the bottom of your LinkedIn profile, you can list a few Websites. If you have a side business or an organizational association with a Website, include it there. If you don’t have any websites associated with your work, use that spot to link to any other social networking profiles you want to highlight.

Include relevant keywords. If you have a few things going on in your career, make sure that you’ve sprinkled around relevant terms from your various interests throughout the profile and in the list of specialties at the bottom of the summary so that your profile will come up in searches on the site.

Tweak your summary section often. Use the summary section to tie things together and tell a story about what you’re doing or want to be doing. And get used to tweaking that often. Every six months I seem to shake up the mix of things I’m doing, and I specifically mention that in the summary section of my profile.

Focus on your recommendations. Though it’s nice to collect recommendations all the time, it’s especially helpful to have a few solid ones when you’re looking for new opportunities. If you can identify a few people who you know think highly of you, ask if they’d be comfortable writing one for you. If you want people to think of you for more than one kind of opportunity, make sure that you have recommendations that reflect those various skills. While you’re at it, cruise around the site and leave recommendations for those who’ve made a positive impression you.

One final thought: While these tips are focused specifically on LinkedIn, the ideas behind them apply to any site where you’re creating a profile from a template.