Dear Life Matters,

I recently joined LinkedIn at the recommendation of a friend. I am new to the site and am not sure how to use all of its features. Can you please provide me with some recommendations to make the most of my new online endeavor?

Thank you,

Getting Linked

Dear Linked,

Online networking sites, liked LinkedIn, can be a great tool for your career development and building your professional network. LinkedIn is an easy-to-use professional networking site that connects professionals to trusted colleagues through an “invitation” system.

While joining LinkedIn is free, the website also features a premium version which allows you to connect with professionals outside of your network who are working in your area of interest.

LinkedIn can be used to stay in touch with colleagues, build your network, collaborate on projects, or investigate new opportunities. Although it does not have the photo and instant sharing features of Facebook or Google Plus, it does allow users to focus on displaying their professional background and qualifications. Many users choose to include their professional resume and a tagline describing their talents.

While I could probably write numerous articles about all the ways you can use LinkedIn, I will focus on the basics to get you started. LinkedIn also has great information online about how to make the most of your account. You can access this material by logging into your account, clicking “More” from the top menu and selecting “Learning Center.”

I would recommend starting your LinkedIn journey by completing your profile. One of the first steps you will want to take is to select your display name (how your name is listed on LinkedIn), your professional headline, and your location and industry. This information is generally what others will see when looking through the directory or when searching for you on LinkedIn. You can customize this information to your own personal preferences, for example you can have the specific location within a city that you live listed (i.e. “Santa Monica”) or the general greater area listed (i.e. “Greater Los Angeles Area”). Your headline can be a specific job title, an industry or specialty focus, or quick statement to describe your expertise. Add a professional headshot to upload as your profile picture.

Once you have completed your basic information you will have the opportunity to finish the rest of your profile. This includes a summary section which lists your qualifications and experiences (how you market yourself), publications, and education. Rather than just a laundry list of experiences, think about writing your profile in a very action-oriented way. You want to engage the reader by focusing on key accomplishments and results.

One of the unique features of LinkedIn is the ability to request a recommendation from a current or former supervisor, colleague, business associate or other professional. After you enter each of your experiences, you can request a recommendation by clicking “ask for recommendations” under the appropriate entry. Once a reference writes you an online recommendation you will have the opportunity to review and approve the recommendation before it’s posted on your profile. This feature allows potential employers and those in your network the opportunity to learn about you from another person’s perspective and can be a great way to enhance your professional online image.

Beyond sharing your own personal information, LinkedIn can be a great way to gather professional information as well. Consider joining LinkedIn groups related to your interests, industry, university connection, and location. Some groups are open to all interested parties while others require approval. Once you’ve joined a group you’ll have access to the discussion boards where you can review current topics within that field and also comment or start a discussion of your own. LinkedIn is a great way to find out about new job openings, hot topics for a particular industry, and to keep tabs on your former classmates and colleagues.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!