Using LinkedIn for networking can seem daunting. It shouldn't be. Getting started using LinkedIn is as easy as picking a password. You'll truly see the power of using LinkedIn once you build your list of connections.
Effectively using LinkedIn requires you to observe some basic courtesies such as not spamming strangers and doing your homework before making a career contact. If you approach it right, you can use LinkedIn to network your way to a new job, build your business know-how or stay networked during a career lull.
Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile
The first and most important step in using LinkedIn is to create a complete and self-promotional profile of your career.
This is not the time to be modest! If you have a current resume, simply cut and paste your most impressive accomplishments into the appropriate LinkedIn fields.
If your resume is a few years out of date, make a list of the achievements that made you most proud. Use active verbs like "led," "created," "mobilized" and "sold." Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments rather than simply describing them.
Make sure to include keywords that a recruiter or hiring manager might be searching for to find someone with your expertise. If you're at a loss for what skills to emphasize, get inspired by looking at profiles of people in the kind of position you would like to achieve.
Claim Your LinkedIn Name
Next, claim your name on LinkedIn. This way your online resume can easily be found by headhunters and hiring managers who search for your first and last name.
Click on Profile and then scroll down to where it says Public Profile. If you click Edit, you can change from a random string of characters to your name.
If your name has already been taken, try simply reversing the order of first and last names. If that's already in use, you may have to insert a middle initial or even use a nickname.
Start Building Your LinkedIn Network
LinkedIn will automatically search your email account for people you may want to invite to connect on LinkedIn. You also can manually enter email addresses or search for specific people with whom you may have lost touch.
Feel free to cast a wide net, but it's best only to connect with people you know fairly well and trust. Remember that you are judged by the company you keep -- even virtually.
Request and Make Recommendations
You tooted your own horn when building your profile. Now you can let your colleagues and friends speak on your behalf.
Scroll down to the Experience section and click "Request Recommendations." Make sure to write an individualized request and feel free to suggest which skills or achievements you'd like highlighted.
"It virally lets your network know and other people's networks know you're a good resource and a valued professional in your field," said Krista Canfield, public relations manager for LinkedIn. "You have the opportunity to have more than three references speaking on your behalf."
Use LinkedIn to Make New Connections
Now, you're ready to get LinkedIn to work for you!
If you're interested in exploring a new job, you can research a specific organization by clicking on the Companies tab. Then you can search for people in the department you'd like to work, or in human resources, and see if you're connected to anyone they know.
Before you contact someone, read through her profile and look for commonalities that might ignite a conversation if you end up in an interview. And mind your manners - don't do anything you wouldn't do in a business lunch.
"LinkedIn is a global business lunch," Canfield said. "You'd never go into a business lunch saying, 'Who wants to buy my software?' "
You can search for open jobs by clicking on the Jobs tab. Simply forward your profile to any opportunities that appeal to you.
If you're happy in your current position, you still can use LinkedIn to find business opportunities for your employer. Or, you can connect with other people in a similar role and learn how they do their job and perhaps improve your own performance.