What Is LinkedIn and Why Should You Be on It?

LinkedIn Explained (For Those Who Were Too Shy to Ask What It Is)

LinkedIn Social Networking
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So maybe you've heard the term "LinkedIn" uttered by your colleagues at work, mentioned by your fellow classmates at school or spoken by a friend who's on the hunt for a new job. But what is LinkedIn, anyway?

You're not the only one who doesn't know. Despite being one of the most popular social platforms today, many people still have no idea what LinkedIn is supposed to be used for or how they might benefit from being on it.

A Brief Intro to LinkedIn

Put simply, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. Whether you're a marketing executive at a major company, a business owner who runs a small local shop or even a first year college student looking to explore future career options, LinkedIn is for anybody and everybody who's interested in taking their professional lives seriously by finding new opportunities to grow their careers and to connect with other professionals.

It's sort of like a traditional networking event where you go and meet other professionals in person, talk a little bit about what you do and exchange business cards. On LinkedIn, however, you add "connections" similarly to how you'd make a friend request on Facebook, you converse via private message (or available contact information) and you have all of your professional experience and achievements laid out in a neatly organized profile to show off to other users.

LinkedIn is very similar to Facebook in terms of its broad feature offering. These features are more specialized because they cater to professionals, but in general, if you know how to use Facebook or any other similar social network, LinkedIn is somewhat comparable.

LinkedIn's Main Features

Here are some of the basic features that LinkedIn offers and how they've been designed to be used by professionals.

Home: The home feed is your news feed, showing recent posts from your connections with other professionals and company pages you're following. 

Profile: Your profile shows your name, your photo, your location, your occupation and more right at the top. Below that, you have the ability to customize various different sections like a short summary, work experience, education and other sections similarly to how you might create a traditional resume or CV.

My Network: Here you'll find a list of all the professionals you're currently connected with on LinkedIn. If you hover your mouse over this option in the top menu, you'll also be able to see a number of other options that will allow you to add contacts, find people you may know and find alumni.

Jobs: All sorts of jobs listings are posted on LinkedIn everyday by employers, and LinkedIn will recommend specific jobs to you based on your current information, including your location and optional job preferences that you can fill out to get better-tailored job listings.

Interests: In addition to your connections with professionals, you can follow certain interests on LinkedIn as well. These include company pages, groups according to location or interest, LinkedIn's SlideShare platform for slideshow publishing and LinkedIn's Lynda platform for educational purposes.

Search bar: LinkedIn has a powerful search feature that allows you to filter your results down according to several different customizable fields. Click "Advanced" beside the search bar to find specific professionals, companies, jobs and more.

Messages: When you want to start a conversation with another professional, you can do so by sending them a private message through LinkedIn. You can also add attachments, include photos and more.

Notifications: Like other social networks, LinkedIn has a notification feature that lets you know when you've been endorsed by someone, invited to join something or welcomed to check out a post you might be interested in.

Pending Invitations: When other professionals invite you to connect with them on LinkedIn, you'll receive an invitation that you'll have to approve.

These are the main features you'll first notice when you get on LinkedIn, but you can dive deeper into some of the more specialized details and options by exploring the platform yourself. You may eventually be interested in using LinkedIn's Business Services, which allow users to post jobs, take advantage of talent solutions, advertise on the platform and expand your sales strategy to include social sales on LinkedIn.

What You Can Use LinkedIn For

Now you know what LinkedIn offers and what kind of people typically use it, but that probably doesn't give you any specific ideas for how to start using it yourself. In fact, many users create an account and then abandon it because they have no idea how they should be using LinkedIn.

Here are some tips for beginners.

Get back in touch with old colleagues. You can use the My Network section to find old colleagues, teachers, people you went to school with and anyone else you might think is worth having in your professional network. Just enter or connect your email to sync your contacts with LinkedIn.

Use your profile as your resume. Your LinkedIn profile basically represents a more complete (and interactive) resume. You can include it as a link perhaps in an email or your cover letter when you apply to jobs. Some websites that allow you to apply to jobs will even allow you to connect to your LinkedIn profile to import all your information.

Find and apply to jobs. Remember that LinkedIn is one of the best places to look for job postings online. You'll always get recommendations from LinkedIn about jobs you may be interested in, but you can always use the search bar to look for specific positions too.

Find and connect with new professionals. It's great to get back in touch with old colleagues and connect with everyone at your current workplace who may also be on LinkedIn, but what's even better is that you have the opportunity to discover new professionals either locally or internationally that may be able to help out with your professional endeavors. 

Participate in relevant groups. A great way to meet new professionals to connect with is to join groups based on your interests or current profession and start participating. Other group members may like what they see and want to connect with you.

Blog about what you know. LinkedIn's very own publishing platform — Pulse — allows users to publish blog posts and gain the opportunity to have their content read by thousands. Published posts will also show up on your profile, which will increase your credibility in related fields that are relevant to your professional experience.

Upgrading to a Premium LinkedIn Account

Many people can do just fine with a free LinkedIn account, but if you're serious about using LinkedIn and all of its most advanced features, you may want to upgrade to premium. As you go about exploring the platform, you'll notice that certain things like various advanced search functions and the "Who Viewed My Profile" feature aren't available to free users.

LinkedIn currently has premium plans for users who want to land their dream job, grow and nurture their network, unlock sales opportunities and find or hire talent. You get to try any premium plan for free for a month, after which you'll be charged $30.99 or more a month depending on which plan you choose.

As a final note, don't forget to take advantage of LinkedIn's mobile apps! LinkedIn has its main apps available for free on iOS and Android platforms with various other specialized apps for job search, contact lookup, Lynda, SlideShare, Groups, and Pulse. Find links to all these apps on LinkedIn's mobile page.

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Updated by: Elise Moreau