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Why (And How) You Should Be Using LinkedIn To Its Full Potential

It might be more fun to cultivate the perfect Instagram persona, but a solid LinkedIn profile will benefit you more in the long run.

Among young professionals, LinkedIn is sort of the black sheep of social media platforms. We might spend hours deciding what our profile pictures and Instagram captions will be, but LinkedIn is often used as an afterthought—if at all. There are varying sentiments about this platform in the workforce, with some professionals swearing by it, and others wondering if it's a complete waste of time. Career professionals across the board say LinkedIn is more important than you're probably giving it credit for. Here's why:

1. It keeps you informed.
Technology is constantly evolving. Because of this, most industries are ever-changing, too. Nancy A. Shenker, CEO of theONswitch®, says that besides using LinkedIn to grow her professional circle, she also uses it to keep updated on industry trends. "I learn a tremendous amount each day about the industries I work in, simply by reading posts from the professionals in my inner circle," Shenker says. The people you know within your field are valuable resources when it comes to staying up to date on industry trends, and so are the people you admire. Follow some influencers in your field who are frequent posters on LinkedIn: You'll learn a lot if you pay attention. Shenker also recommends using LinkedIn to scope out potential connections before you meet—it gives you a chance to learn a little about what they are interested in professionally and personally, which gives you a let up going into the conversation.

2. It lets you present yourself on your own terms.
Remember that picture you took on your 21st birthday with the bottle of vodka that was bigger than your head? Yeah, that's still on Facebook—and not hard to find with a quick Google search. Career expert Lorrie Thomas Ross says LinkedIn is a great way to present yourself to potential employers in a way that will bring benefits instead of embarrassment. "Whether you like it or not, people are going to search you to get more information on you," says Ross. "Why sit back and ignore an amazing online business presence opportunity that can communicate who you are, what you do and whom you serve?" This might sound daunting, but trust us—you're better off speaking for yourself than letting other social media (and other people, thanks to tagging) do the speaking for you. Often, getting your foot in the door with a company is half the battle, and if someone is recruiting on LinkedIn, it's in your best interest to keep an updated and impressive profile.

3. It gets your name out there.
"LinkedIn is the most efficient and effective way to find and connect to hiring managers, recruiters, and job opportunities," says Sandra Long, author of LinkedIn for Personal Branding: The Ultimate Guide. If you don't have a presence on the platform, you're preventing yourself from discovering a ton of great potential career options. With nearly 500 million members, it's hard to imagine opportunities aren't just waiting to knock—if only they could find you. Ross says her husband was recruited for a job on LinkedIn—one he didn't even apply for. His strong LinkedIn presence put him on recruiters' radars and got him an opportunity he didn't even know he could have. Even if you just graduated or switched industries, LinkedIn is a valuable tool that can help you get more visibility in your field. It's a game of connections—your old college buddy might have a friend working at your dream company, and a quick introduction might be the only thing between you and a job there.

4. It helps you build new connections.
Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn users aren't limited to only adding family and friends to their network—it's meant to help users build connections they don't already have. Your old co-workers and classmates will be priceless as you're trying to create these new connections. "If your peers are not on LinkedIn now, they soon will be," says executive resume writer Lisa Rangel. "By connecting with them now, or at least sending them an invite now—which will be there when they do establish a presence on LinkedIn eventually—it will be easier to track peer career movement through LinkedIn." Not everyone will say yes, of course, but it doesn't hurt to send a request with a note explaining who you are. I did this on a whim with someone I admire but have never met in my field awhile ago—lo and behold, he accepted within hours, and even sent a quick note back in response.

5. It keeps you credible
Interviewers might still give you the opportunity to provide references to vouch for your work ethic, but more often, recruiters are turning to LinkedIn to fill in the blanks. "LinkedIn is the only platform that is 100% professionally focused," says Ross. "If you are not on it, your professional contacts are going to question your credibility." It's easy enough to bluster your way through an interview and present yourself as the employee everybody loved working with—but LinkedIn connections don't lie. If you're connected to your old coworkers and bosses, that's likely to bode well for your future at a new company. Bonus points if you can get a few endorsements from fellow professionals and higher ups willing to vouch for your skills.

So, LinkedIn is looking like a pretty good platform to be on—but what does it take to stand out? Long offers five tips on how to cultivate a rock star profile:

  1. Have a great head shot that features your head and shoulders. A picture is worth a thousand words, so make sure this one is good and represents your personal brand. Don't forget to smile!
  2. Create a strategic and engaging personal summary written in first person. Think of this as an introduction—let people know who you are and what you're about. If they want to know about your past jobs and accomplishments, they can scroll down.
  3. Write a compelling headline using keywords and phrases that best represent your personal and professional brand. In an internet-dominated world, keywords are everything—you're more likely to get views and opportunities if you choose the right ones.
  4. Complete all of the relevant profile sections with a focus on your experience, education, skills, and volunteering. You never know who you might impress: A recruiter might share your alma mater or your interest in animal welfare, so make sure you add anything that might be relevant to your page.
  5. Include your contact information on your profile so people can call or email you regarding opportunities.

Got some downtime this weekend? Sounds like you should go ahead and give some TLC to that dusty LinkedIn profile.

Jessica Banks

Jessica is a Chicago-born foodie and adventure enthusiast. When she is not writing, she enjoys hiking, reading, and traveling to new places.

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