How to become a LinkedIn power user in five easy steps

LinkedIn is the most popular business network on the planet, boasting more than 200 million users. You’re probably one of them. Also highly probable: You’re not taking full advantage of this business and career networking service.

Here’s the good news: LinkedIn can be an excellent resource without becoming a time sink. Don’t neglect your profile or the service in general just because you’re not actively looking for a job at this very moment. Hiring managers, clients, colleagues, and potential customers and business partners are constantly browsing LinkedIn. A killer profile and savvy search skills will give you a competitive edge. It might also remind your current boss—who is probably doing the same thing—just why you’re so valuable (and potentially poachable).

Our five-step guide will make you a LinkedIn power user, so you can land your next job opportunity, promotion, or business deal.

Step 1: Polish your profile

Your professional profile is the most important—and often the most neglected—element of LinkedIn. This is where you display your work experience, skills, and education. More important, it’s the best place to inject some personality into what can otherwise be a dull laundry list of a résumé.

Wayne Breitbarth, author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success, points out that the LinkedIn profile is designed to be much more than a simple CV. “Hiring reps love LinkedIn,” Breitbarth says, “because it has defined spaces and it offers a lot more information than a traditional two-page résumé, such as recommendations and links to projects or published works.”

The more information you provide in your profile, the more likely your name will appear in searches. LinkedIn has a number of widgets that you can add to your profile to highlight honors and awards you’ve received, coursework you’ve completed, patents you’ve been awarded, languages you speak, certifications you’ve earned, and even causes you’ve volunteered for. To add widgets, go to Profile > Edit Profile, and choose widgets from the right side of the screen.

Be sure to include a well-lit, professional-looking photo on your profile too. “The biggest mistake people make is not having a photo,” says Breitbarth. "That’s an automatic disqualifier for many job seekers and hiring managers alike.”

A complete profile is the most important factor in having an effective LinkedIn presence.

LinkedIn will automatically fill many of the fields in your profile, but there’s no reason to accept what it comes up with. For instance, typically it populates the profile headline (the words displayed beneath your name) with your current job title. But you can edit the headline to say anything: Just click Profile > Edit Profile, and then click the pencil symbol next to that headline. If you’re an independent contractor, for instance, you might prefer to write something that encapsulates your philosophy or describes your unique take on your craft.

You might also want to edit your peer-endorsed Skills & Expertise section. While you're in Edit Profile mode, scroll down to that section, click the pencil icon, and add or remove areas of expertise and manage your endorsements. If you’re on the market for a new job, this is a great place to add skills that hiring managers will be seeking.

Don't underestimate the value of cataloging your skills and expertise.

Your profile is a living résumé, so keeping it up-to-date is critical. Add a reminder to your online calendar prompting you to review your profile every month. You should also update your profile every time you undergo a major work shift, whether it’s earning a promotion, moving to a new job, or changing careers. Tout your new work experience, revise your summary (which is one of the first things people see), and don’t forget to update your contact information. In fact, if you're logged in to your account, click that button now—it’s in the right corner of the first profile box, beneath your number of connections—just to make sure the information displayed there is current. To edit your contact information, go to Profile > Edit Profile > Edit Contact Info.

A job move or a promotion is one of the best times to tap current and former bosses, clients, coworkers, and other people you know—and who know your track record—for endorsements and recommendations, according to Jessica Bedford, a recruiter and account manager at Artisan Creative. “Make sure you really know the person, and be specific about what you want them to share,” she advises.

Step 2: Get connected—and stay connected

LinkedIn’s most valuable feature is its ability to connect you with other professionals. Whether they’re people you work with now or worked with years ago, met at a trade show, collaborated with, or did business with, your relationships can be highly and mutually beneficial—but only if you stay in touch with each other.

LinkedIn has a service that will scour your email contacts to find potential connections. To use it, go to Contacts > Add Connections. Select your email provider and enter your email address in the designated field. Once the service finds all of your contacts who have LinkedIn accounts, it will ask which ones you want to connect to. This can be a lot of people, especially if your email service is like Gmail and adds every person to whom you’ve ever sent an email to your contact database. Don’t just hit Select All—you probably don’t need to add your tech-savvy grandmother or the guy who bought the couch you advertised on Craigslist. Spend a little quality time choosing the people who will form your network.

Make careful use of the LinkedIn Contact Finder tool. Simply dumping your entire contact database into your network could prove counterproductive. 

Aside from that first “contact dump” of LinkedIn invitations, you should add a personalized message each time you invite someone to connect. The only exception to this rule is if you’ve known the person forever, and you’re positive they’ll recognize you. If you’ve just met the person, you should always include a note reminding them of who you are and how you know each other. If you’ve never met the person, a friendly and inviting approach is all the more important.

A small, well-maintained network is more valuable than a large network of people you’re never in contact with. Make an effort to stay in touch with people in your network, whether it’s within or outside of LinkedIn. The easiest way to do this is to send brief messages to people in your network every so often. Your best opportunities arise when they earn a promotion or change jobs, but you can also comment on their status updates, which appear on the main page in your LinkedIn feed. You can also offer endorsements and recommendations, which can prompt them to get back in touch with you—possibly to return the favor.

Speaking of endorsements, this is a recent feature that LinkedIn added to the Skills & Expertise section of user profiles. The tool lets users quickly vouch for other people’s skills. LinkedIn is clearly trying to drum up user involvement: Whenever you visit a connection’s profile, a large blue box will pop up, encouraging you to endorse that person’s skills.

Peer-corroborated skills look good in your profile. Returning the favor when appropriate is a good way to stay in touch with your contacts.

Here’s what you need to know: You don’t need to endorse all (or any) of those skills. If you’d rather not endorse that person, simply click Skip. If you feel comfortable endorsing only some of the listed skills, delete the ones you don’t want to endorse by clicking the X next to them. If you want to endorse the person for a skill that isn’t listed, type one in next to the preselected skills.

Don’t endorse people for skills you don’t think they possess—doing this will reduce the tool’s results to useless noise. A good rule of thumb is to treat endorsements as quicker, easier recommendations: If you wouldn’t write a two-sentence recommendation about that person’s skills, don’t endorse them.

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