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A majority of my current job is replacing exceedingly complicated Excel-based data processes with automated software. I heard the phrase "Excel hell" on the podcast Talk Python To Me and thought it applied perfectly to the processes I am replacing.

Is it appropriate to include such a phrase in my LinkedIn profile Headline? How would a recruiter respond to this?

The exact wording would be "Escaping Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time." and my concern is the use of the profanity "hell".

EDIT: Within the context of the profile, the phrasing would be closer to "Helping XX escape Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time." as I am replacing existing Excel based processes.

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There's a time and place for humor - and realistically ninety nine times out of a hundred your LinkedIn profile isn't it. I'm guessing you wouldn't use this line on your CV so that begs the question of why would you use it on your LinkedIn?

Because exactly like your CV, LinkedIn is somewhere you're generally putting your "professional" facade on, and just like no-one expects people to be wearing a suit and tie all the time they probably still expect you to wear one for an interview.

The profanity isn't the problem but rather the irreverent tone - and the impression that you perhaps don't "get" professional norms of communication. Were I hiring candidates and saw that I'd possibly even chuckle at the line, I loathe Excel getting misused far beyond it's intended purpose as much as the next guy - and then I'd start having concerns that you might have a tendency to open your mouth and put your foot in it.

Say there was a hypothetical scenario where you might be in a meeting with some client or potential client and they're a bit on the formal side. We do a round-robin introduction of personnel and roles and you said

I'm johnDanger, I'm helping scientists escape Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time

If the client shares your humor they might have a chuckle, it might even be a great ice-breaker. If they don't you just committed a gaffe, and while representing the company no less. So it's potentially pretty darn cringey.

That's the problem with humor, it's not universal, and that makes it a (potential) minefield with people you don't know, and particularly where there isn't much context.

You might take the view that if someone is going to get all bent out of shape over what is really a very mild comment that you'd rather not work with them in the first place. And there's nothing wrong with taking that stance - so long as you're aware of that effect and are prepared for it.

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  • I'd add one thing on top: LinkedIn is a public broadcast and not a private two-way conversation. Therefore you cannot "save face" by adding a comment when you see your humour doesn't go down well on the recipient's side or is misunderstood. You simply have a) no idea who gets that piece of communication and b) won't know what their reaction is (perhaps not even when that reaction reaches you, e.g. by being not hired or not promoted) and you therefore cannot quickly calm the waters. That even applies for people who in general might share your humour. Misunderstandings are cheap. – Frank Hopkins May 1 at 14:23
  • And regarding the last point, one additional caveeat: I'm generally a fan of sarcasm but sometimes I meet another fan of sarcasm and the first conversation might feel like we are really never gonna get along. In a verbal conversation one can quickly read the other one, clarify and then have a great time. But in such communication that is not true so using this as a culture fit filter will have a decent amount of false negatives. Feel free to incorporate any of my points, or don't.^^ I just leave them here as suggested extensions of an answer I already upvoted anyway ,) – Frank Hopkins May 1 at 14:26
  • A job search is not the time to let your emotions slip, because it indicates that at times you let your feelings dictate your actions. Employers really don't like that sort of worker. – EvilSnack May 1 at 21:12
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    'juvenility', +1. Once I figure out how Stack Exchange got me to open my mouth and put my foot in it to get stupid points for saying stupid things, then I'll finally quit it. - It tells me you're a social media using idiot (SE is as far as I go), which in today's day may or may not be a bad thing.... – Mazura May 2 at 2:56
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"Escaping Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time."

This is a bad idea

The profanity aside which might bother some people, that phrase makes it seem that you want to get out of Excel work, not that you are an expert in it. If I saw that, I wouldn't think that you were a developer translating Excel work but rather that you were a disgruntled analyst seeking a career change.

Obviously your LinkedIn would provide a bit more context, but do you really want that confusion?

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    How about "Helping scientists escape Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time" ;) – johnDanger May 1 at 6:17
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    @johnDanger how does that change much? Unless you want to annoy any scientists/ engineers who might look at your profile... – Solar Mike May 1 at 10:11
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    Insisting on being funny - isn't. Unless you are an artist, columnist, critic, known maverick, or similar, being flippant even on a not very charged topic can be a career-limiting move. As artists, columnists, critics, known mavericks, or similar will attest, events in recent times show that being flippant on a charged topic can be a career-limiting move even for them. Keep your jokes for an audience you know and understand. – Captain Emacs May 1 at 13:51
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    @johnDanger The issue here isn't that it's not funny, or that it's not indicative of your career - it's that it's completely unprofessional, and you want to be professional on your LinkedIn profile. You heard this phrase from a Podcast - their goal is to be entertaining. Your goal isn't to be entertaining, but to get hired in a professional field. – Zibbobz May 1 at 14:00
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    I really think that the little quote shows off a bit about your personality more than anything and may be a good way to vet places where you may enjoy working. I guess it comes down to how desperate you are for finding work. If this is a casual, "feel free to reach out to me with an offer" Linkedin then I don't see the issue. If your aim is to get a job then professionalism above all else. – Howdy_McGee May 1 at 14:14
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Probably not, but...

...you are onto something with this general idea.

Whilst I agree with the other answers and think this particular example goes a bit too far, I'll offer the devil's advocate perspective: looking at this through a marketing lens, where you are the product, using quirky taglines to differentiate yourself from the crowd whilst 'losing' a certain portion of potential buyers, is an interesting tradeoff to consider and play around with.

Let's look at the extremes:

  1. Describing yourself in the blandest, most conservative terms. You 'lose' virtually nobody, yet you risk not standing out at all in a sea of similarly bland profiles.
  2. Putting yourself in an extremely tiny niche, where if someone in that tiny niche happens to be looking, you'll go to the top of their list, but will they be looking and will they find you?

Clearly, both are bad, and like any tradeoff the optimal strategy lies somewhere in the middle.

I think with the Excel Hell tagline you're drifting a bit too close to extreme 2, but don't take that to mean you shouldn't stray at all from the 'safe', dull and equally bad extreme 1. It's not binary, it's a spectrum.

You're onto something here with a distinctive tagline, just maybe stay away from humour and especially negatively framed humour!

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    I like that you encourage them to not blend in with everyone else. – Clockwork May 1 at 18:29
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    Frankly I would not want to work anywhere run by people who can't cope with or comprehend the meaning of the OP's phrasing. Being a bad fit for a job's culture is setting yourself up for misery as the OP would have to fit in with the uncomfortable culture all the time. Likewise a candidate that just performs and says things that are By The Book Of Human Resource PC Behavior would be utterly ignored by me - it's not useful in getting a feel for their real personality - it's just people acting to get a job and who knows what they're really going to be like day-to-day. – StephenG May 2 at 23:38
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    This is the only correct answer, and that's there no clear answer. It depends on what he wants to achieve. Which he didn't clarify in the question so we can only do assumptions and guess. In general taking risk is good, being cheesy isnt. Using "excel hell" sounds childish and too generalised. – Gerben May 3 at 2:18
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YES! If you're trying to tailor your profile...

Evorlor hit the nail on the head. This kind of language is an effective culture filter.

A number of the other answers claim that this is a bad idea because it will alienate % of folks who view your profile.

If you're using your LinkedIn profile to attract any and all-comers, then keeping your language bland and inoffensive is probably good advice.

If, on the other hand, you're looking to attract folks with whom you'd enjoy working, then injecting your personality into your LinkedIn profile is a really good idea.

Certainly, you'll alienate some folks, but you'd probably end up alienating them sooner or later anyway. In addition, you'll probably filter out some people who you would have wanted to connect with and that's the risk to this strategy.

If this is the route you take, then one more thing to be careful of is this: humour usually revolves around intentional ambiguity or obliqueness. Make sure that your humour doesn't send incorrect information. For example:

  • "Escaping Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time" suggests to me that you're trying to get away from having anything to do with Excel.
  • "Helping scientists escape Excel hell, one spreadsheet at a time" suggests to me that you're trying to improve others' data processing efforts
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    In general I agree. But there is a chance you won't work that closely with HR (who'll see your "Excel hell" at first), and they might filter you out before the guys with great sense of humor get the opportunity to see your CV/Linkedin profile. So there is a risk. Small companies might work without dedicated HR, so you have better chance with those. – Nyos May 1 at 21:23
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    @Nyos But if one considers filtering incoming contacts by LinkedIn profile, then filtering HR/recruiting is very much part of this. Even if they're not on your team, they can very much affect how well you fit into the culture of a company. – hyde May 3 at 16:02
  • This answer is correct in that this is a great way to filter out lots of opportunities for which you're not suitable. Lots and lots. What it misses is the opportunity for the OP to grow as a person and perhaps change how they approach life; just saying "this is me, I will alienate people eventually" is pretty silly. – Asteroids With Wings May 3 at 16:40
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I disagree somewhat with some of the other answers; I find that, particularly in tech-adjacent fields, casual language is somewhat common in LinkedIn profiles and doesn't necessarily seem to be holding anyone back. It is a much less formal format than a true CV, which doesn't typically, as far as I know, even have something like a tagline the way LinkedIn profiles do. If you are worried the word "hell" would give offense, though, you can just as easily express the same idea with a tagline like "solving your Excel headaches one spreadsheet at a time," which, to my ear, has a similar tone and message, but avoids any word that could possibly be construed as offensive.

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    Good point and the first post I've read with constructive advice. – StephenG May 2 at 23:40
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No this is inappropriate.

Though I understand what you want to say, as I read your profile with an internal chuckle, 95% will read it and feel/think any number of things.

They‘ll find it any of the following or a combination of unprofessional, maybe childish, not funny, offended, or any number of random things I can‘t think of right now, most of them not positive and you‘ll get the red flag.

This isn‘t much different than an online dating site where writing something that is obvious and clever and sarcastic and funny if you get the references and man if the person gets my clever jokes and references when reading my profile we‘ll be a match made in heaven....you unfortunately generally come off as a creepy weirdo who is possibly sexist, a bigot and idiot, and a huge red flag.

Though I get the joke, and I had an internal chuckle...no-one else will.

Stay professional, save the jokes when you get the job.

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    Add to this that the majority of professions where Excel is being used in quantity are normally "serious" professions: accountants, analysts, forecasters, etc. They need people who will be careful and thorough with the business knowledge and value in those spreadsheets. They are unlikely to find the "joke" funny. – Joe Stevens May 1 at 10:10
  • So you're basically smarter than 95% of the readers, that's what you mean? – pipe May 1 at 11:52
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    No, it means my opinion doesn’t matter if 95% of other readers don‘t agree. – morbo May 1 at 12:16
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    I found your fourth paragraph "This isn't much different" hard to parse. I had to read it several times, though I got the gist of what you mean. – Captain Emacs May 1 at 13:46
  • @JoeStevens - accountants using excel? What do you think this is, the early nineties? That would literally be illegal today because you don't have a proper audit log. – Davor May 2 at 13:47
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Depends on your situation. Do you want to risk pis.... upsetting somebody in HR or tech department that is screening LI profiles and has no technical skills/sense of humor?

If you want to take a risk what you might gain is that potential employers that might hire you are more likely to be a company where you want to work since they did not disqualify you for using "nonprofesional" language on your LI. It is not just about being forced to be boringly polite, it is also about if you can be honest in your workplace or you have to pretend that pile of Excel garbage is a technical masterpiece.

Now evaluating probabilities and value of this is extremely hard, so it is is up to you...

Do you get contacted by recruiters 3 times a month and you are happy with your current job? Sure, take a risk.

Are you unemployed and 90% of the applications you send get rejected/ignored before first contact with a real person? Maybe it is time to play it safe.

On a personal biased note: for me hell is not a profanity, I have seen it used many times, "DLL hell", "production hell", but I am not a manager/recruiter.

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  • The OP will likely have to behave the same "HR friendly" way every day they are employed, and that's a problem if you're just acting unnaturally to get a job. It's very uncomfortable for most people to perform like that. Acting unnaturally at an interview is just as problematic and most people will look awkward or nervous doing that. – StephenG May 2 at 23:50
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One potential problem is that your target audience may not consider themselves to be in Excel hell. Some of your potential customers are people who are totally happy with using Excel all the time, and who could benefit from custom software, but are totally unaware of that. They're going to read the phrase "Excel hell" and think, "Well, we're not in Excel hell, so we don't need that."

People may also think you have an unrealistically negative opinion of Excel.

Excel is a good tool for many things. It's certainly not a great tool for everything, and people who are primarily familiar with Excel may end up using it in a situation where custom software would really be better. But if you have some data, formulas and patterns you want to explore, then just punching that into Excel and playing with it there is likely to be a lot easier than writing code.

So when I see you talking about "Excel hell", I wonder: are you someone who really knows about the strengths and weaknesses of Excel and custom software, and knows when it's appropriate to replace spreadsheets with custom software and when it's not? Or are you someone who thinks that Excel is just terrible and wants to get rid of it entirely?

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  • You see, Excel is a great tool for scientists Not in my experience. For serious science analysis specialist software is what you want (Mathlab, etc.). Spreadsheets are not really "great tools" for science, they're just useful for some things. They're not even great tools for business anymore - one client of mine wanted to learn about spreadsheet until I showed her an accounting system that she can use through her phone - no more spreadsheets ! They have uses, but IT has improved. – StephenG May 2 at 23:47
  • @StephenG Yeah, that's fair. I toned it down to "a good tool for many things". – Tanner Swett May 3 at 2:14

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