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When Jason Patel founded his D.C.-based college and career prep company Transizion, he needed ways to demonstrate his expertise to persuade clients to come on board. LinkedIn proved to be one place where he could easily do that.

“The parents and students in our target audience aren’t going to spend money with a company they have no idea about,” says Patel, 25. “So they could look at my company profile and my [personal] profile to see that I’m an actual person who has experience. Social proof, in a positive way, is always better than no social proof at all.”

And Patel doesn’t just have a static LinkedIn profile simply restating his résumé. He also uses the platform to publish articles about college and workplace skills. A recent piece he wrote about the leadership style of Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay served as a conversation starter with the parent of a potential client. “It’s a great way to find common ground to build trust,” he says.

Potential networkers tend to fall into two camps when it comes to LinkedIn. They either love it or don’t quite get what all the fuss is about. If you’re one of the latter, you could be missing out on some easy opportunities to use LinkedIn to your career advantage. You’d probably Google the name of a blind date, right? Employers and business owners do the same thing with potential candidates or clients. If you don’t have a LinkedIn page, you might look less legitimate, no matter what experience and accolades you’ve racked up. A lackluster profile can be just as bad. “If there’s no picture, no summary, none of that kind of information, it leaves a flat feeling,” says Paula Brand, an Annapolis-based career coach and consultant who’s a big proponent of LinkedIn.

Worse, it can make you seem lazy. “A profile that isn’t completely filled out gives the indication that maybe you don’t pay enough attention to detail or you don’t care enough, which may not be the kind of person I want to reach out to,” says Patrice Rice, CEO and founder of Patrice & Associates, a Dunkirk, Md.-based recruitment company specializing in the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors that uses LinkedIn to find candidates. “List your accomplishments, but list things that are specific to you. Saying, ‘I’m highly skilled in training’ is something anyone can say about themselves. But if you say you have a proven track record in employee retention because of your unique training methods, it’s specific to what you’ve done.”

An online workshop helped MaryBeth Hyland realize her LinkedIn profile wasn’t giving the first impression she wanted for her company, SparkVision, which helps businesses with company culture and millennial engagement. So she got a professionally done headshot, replaced jargon with concise, simple language, and started posting daily updates about her company and industry.

Since October, she’s increased her connections from about 2,000 to some 7,000. She’s also generated new business for her firm and landed several speaking engagements. “I had no idea what was possible on this platform,” says Hyland, 33, who lives in Baltimore. “My regular daily posts [on LinkedIn] will get on average anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 people seeing them.”

Hyland wants to be a thought leader in her field. But even if your aspirations aren’t that lofty, posting updates and articles on LinkedIn, as well as thoughtfully commenting on others’ posts, can pay off.

“It gives people a sense of how you think,” says Jen Dalton, CEO and founder of BrandMirror in Oakton, Va., which helps clients build their personal brand. “Liking stuff is great, but you could put a comment instead that people will see and might say, ‘I like the way they think about that.’ If you’re doing stuff like that, it will be noticed.”

Consistency is key, and you want to think like Goldilocks when it comes to speaking up on LinkedIn — not too much, not too little, but just the right amount for the goals you’re trying to accomplish. “Treat your voice with the respect that it deserves,” Patel says.

When it comes to making connections on the site, some people go for quantity, while others focus on quality. Winston Lord first tried maximizing his number of connections when he started using LinkedIn several years ago, thinking it would be an effective way to amass customers for Venga, the business intelligence platform he co-created in D.C. for restaurants and fitness studios.

“I would try to connect with anyone in the industry, thinking that if I connect with them I can reach out and ask them to buy my product,” says Lord, 50. “But I quickly found out that was a huge waste of my time and created a lot of false hopes.”

He’s shifted his focus to making connections he classifies as meaningful. Others, like Hyland, accept almost any connection request that comes their way, even if they’ve never met the requestor. It’s a good idea to come up with a personal philosophy as to how you handle requests. Maybe you automatically delete generic requests, or you accept requests only from people in your field and geographic area. Or you can respond to ask for more information about why they want to connect. Those standards will vary by industry and personal preference.

“It would be a shame to not connect with people just because you haven’t met them,” Dalton says. “It’s important to connect with people you could be valuable to but also with people who could help you as well.”

Can LinkedIn really help you find your next job?

When Michelle Sullivan, 46, was ready to look for a new job, she turned to LinkedIn, which had helped her find jobs in the past. And because she was an active user — commenting on posts, keeping up with connections — she felt comfortable tapping her network for leads. “Because I already had a level of engagement, it didn’t feel like I was reaching out to someone I hadn’t interacted with in years,” says Sullivan, who lives in Vienna, Va. “I picked about 20 percent of my contacts and sent a note that I was looking for a new position.” A phone call to a LinkedIn connection actually led to her current job as marketing director for training-management system Training Orchestra. Career coach Paula Brand has seen plenty of people navigate LinkedIn’s hidden job market this way. “You want to be networking and finding out about it before it gets posted,” she says. “There are definitely recruiters who hang out in certain groups for their industry just to see who speaks intelligently and who’s active.”

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