With thirty-five million potential business contacts—including executives from all the Fortune 500 companies—across an array of industries, LinkedIn is an essential tool for anyone looking to advance her career. But how do you stand out among the vast network of job seekers and employers? Here are six tips to make sure you’re using the social networking site to its full potential:
1. Craft a Specific and Searchable Headline
Employers actively search for new hires on LinkedIn; they’ll be looking first at your professional headline and summary and finding you based on the key words in your profile. Post a headline and summary that are creative and concise and that include targeted language for your field. Show that you have a grasp of the trends and goals in your industry. For example, instead of “Media specialist seeks position,” try something like “Versatile Communications Expert Creates Strong Branding Messages.”
2. Recruit Recommendations
You need three recommendations to complete your profile, but get more if you can, preferably from diverse points in your work history. They don’t need to be long; in fact, brief, high-quality recommendations are best. Nervous about asking for a recommendation? The best way to do so is to offer one to the person in return.
3. Become an Active User
It’s not enough to have a polished, engaging profile if you never interact with others on the site. Much like in real-world job searching, landing a position through online searching often comes down to who—not what—you know. That’s where the Groups section is super helpful in helping you network with people in your industry or your school or with those who simply share your professional interests. Interact on the discussion boards, ask and answer questions, and post relevant links to information and news stories about your industry. While making your job search and your candidacy known to the members of the group is a great idea, remember that people are more likely to advocate for someone whom they feel they know. Creating connections both online and offline takes time, so you should be interacting with LinkedIn users on a consistent basis—not just when you need something.
4. Take Your Offline Connections Online
After doing face-to-face networking at an office party, conference, or other venue, take all those business cards you’ve collected to the computer and search for your new contacts on LinkedIn under People. It’s great to meet new people, but in order for those relationships to be effective in helping you with your career, you need to maintain them, and LinkedIn is a great resource for that. Because status updates, profile changes, and direct messages do the work that phone calls and lunches once did, connecting with colleagues and potential employers on LinkedIn helps you stay on their radars. Just make sure you’re nurturing your offline relationships as well.
5. Show Your Industry Expertise
You can advertise your knowledge and expertise all day, but what’s really effective is showing your skills. Luckily, LinkedIn offers a space to do just that. Use the site’s Answers tab to ask questions of and offer answers to people in your area of interest. This allows you to not only benefit from their expertise but also to advertise your own and attract potential contacts.
6. Gather Information
The cool thing about LinkedIn’s Jobs board is that it lists many opportunities that are available exclusively on LinkedIn. The positions also often include the contact information for the recruiters who post them, providing you with a chance for more personal connection than other job sites offer. Use these leads to do your homework before an interview and learn as much as you can about the company and recruiter before you go shaking hands. You’ll appear prepared if you do.