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By Brian Everett, ABC, Senior Partner, MindShare Strategies

LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool for professionals. Many consider LinkedIn only when they are involved in a job search, but there is so much more value beyond this. LinkedIn can be used to find decision-makers or networks to secure new business opportunities. However, the time to start actively using LinkedIn is not when you desperately need it, but to frequently use it on an ongoing basis. Your profile should be current and relevant – anticipating the time you’ll need LinkedIn most. Here is a list of five things you should do to ensure your profile is updated and solid:

1. Change Your Profile Photo. Have you refreshed your picture recently? Your photo will be the first thing people notice when they look at your profile. How does your photo represent you and the organizations you’re associated with? By updating your photo, you also optimize your profile – which helps your ranking when others are searching for someone like you.

Action Item: Make sure your photo is current and relevant. Use an image that allows your personality to shine.

2. Strengthen Your Headline. Tell people who you are and how you can help them in your headline. A headline that communicates these points if usually what grabs a person’s attention when searching the site.

Action Item: Make sure your headline tells a quick but powerful story of who you are and why others should be in touch with you. Be clear and compelling.

3. Update Your Timeline and Jobs. Are your timelines current? Does your headline briefly capture “who you are” in a powerful way? What were your actual job titles? Your LinkedIn profile will paint a picture of your strengths, skills, and value you bring to the table.

Action Item: Go through your timeline and make sure to list out specific responsibilities and responsibilities for each role. Highlight significant successes whenever possible.

4. Fine-Tune Your Expertise and Skills. This part of your LinkedIn profile has two critical features. First, you can now be endorsed for specific skills by others – which ultimately provides you credibility. Second, this part also can be searched for. If you have unique skills, make sure to list them here. This will let people looking to work with you find you. Adding information here is like doing some SEO via LinkedIn on yourself.

Action Item: Add or update your most impressive skills to your profile.

5.  Ask For Recommendations. Don’t ask people for recommendations when you need them. Proactively ask them at opportune times, such as when you change jobs or finish a project. This will ensure people have adequate time to write your recommendations in a more thoughtful, meaningful way.

Action Item: Ask individuals who have credibility and a reputation in your industry to write your recommendations. Give them guidance on how you’d like to highlight your relationship – most will appreciate this, and it will help to ensure you are presented as you want.

6. Follow Groups/Companies/Influencers. LinkedIn has become a content powerhouse. Whether it involves joining groups, following influencers, or following companies, make sure you’re an active participant in the conversation. When you find great people to engage with, or amazing content, LinkedIn can become your go-to source for all things professional.

Action Item: Follow new influencers and companies that are relevant to your career and life goals; join targeted groups and participate by sharing your know expertise with others.

7.  Expand Your Network. Continue to grow your LinkedIn network – and leverage your network when you’re seeking advice or input on specific subject matter from people who are experts on that subject.

Action Item: Send personal invites to people with whom you have a professional relationship. After meeting someone at an industry event or after an interview, make sure to immediately and personally invite them to be part of your LinkedIn network.