1. Complete your LinkedIn profile. At minimum, you should include a picture (very important!), your current job title or a headline describing your primary area of expertise, the company names and positions of all your previous jobs, and your education. If you're looking for a wide range of jobs, you can keep your profile sparse or your descriptions very broad, so as not to be pigeonholed into a specific type of position. In general, it's helpful to include a brief description under each section of your work experience, and filling out the summary section is a great way to set the stage and introduce yourself to the LinkedIn community. Just remember, LinkedIn is not your resume. You want to write in a conversational tone and try to express a “what I can do for you” sentiment as you phrase your descriptions.
2. Connect with everyone you know. If you have fewer than 500 connections on LinkedIn, you need to step up your game. Use the “People You May Know” tool to identify new connections. Spend five minutes each day going through this list and connecting with everyone you know, even if they work in a different industry. But don’t connect with strangers -- they won’t be able to help you in the long run, and too many spammy requests can actually get you kicked off the site. If you want to connect with someone you don’t know for an actual business purpose (and don’t already have a connection that can make an introduction), be sure to include a note explaining your intentions. Many people won’t reply to strangers even with a note, but you’ll up your chances of getting a response significantly if you can communicate a strong reason for reaching out.
3. Use LinkedIn to search for job postings. Tons of companies post for jobs on LinkedIn, and it’s a great, centralized way to search for new openings. The site allows you to create saved searches and get email notifications for new jobs that match your search terms, which will help you with a lot of the heavy lifting. Plus, you’ll often be able to see who created the job posting and can reach out to them directly to follow up on an application.
4. Identify possible contacts for informational interviews. The ability to search for people within a specific company on LinkedIn is invaluable. If there’s a company you’re really interested in, you should be able to find at least one person at the company that can help you. Look up the people at the company and see if you have 2nd degree connections with any of them. Politely ask your contact if they might be able to make an introduction for someone in a relevant department, and go ask for help! You can also search by job function. For example, if you want to be a development executive or writers' assistant and want to meet someone in that coveted role, search by job title and see who you know who knows someone you can talk to.
5. Figure out who’s hiring for a specific job. Most HR recruiters are very active on LinkedIn, so if you’re applying for a job, see if you can reach out to the recruiter to try to get a leg up. If you have his or her name, you may be able to figure out the company email format and send an email, but if not, you can always send a message through LinkedIn. Even better, see if you know anyone in the department who’s hiring (or someone that can pass along a resume to one of their connections). Any opportunity to get your resume into a real person’s hands instead of an application database will give you a huge advantage during the job search.