LinkedIn can be astoundingly useful. However, it is not enough to create a profile and sit back and watch the contacts come pouring in. LinkedIn is not a passive activity. To get the most out it, make sure you take the following steps:
1) Have a 100 percent complete active profile in place. Because this is an Internet site that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, your profile is always going to be visible to those people who access LinkedIn.
You're not always going to be there to fill in any blanks and to clarify and explain certain details to someone who checks it out. It is up to you to have an up-to-date and accurate profile that doesn't simply spit back the same information that is in your resume; it must shade in the details without providing any contradictory information.
Prospective employers won't hesitate to run a search on your name when you apply for a job. If your LinkedIn profile shows some cracks in your professional armor, it will have a cost.
2) Make your circle as large as possible. That doesn't mean you should simply accept every connection request that comes your way. It also doesn't mean you should spam the entire population of LinkedIn hoping to get as many acceptances as possible. The key is to add all the people you do know as soon as you sign up. Then, the next step is to use these existing contacts as stepping stones for introductions to people they may be able to introduce to you.
3) Be as generous to other people in the LinkedIn community as you would like them to be. In fact, the best way to build a positive reputation in your circle of contacts is to be proactive and help others out without them asking for help from you in the first place. An unsolicited recommendation of support, detailing specific accomplishments that your contact has done for you is sure to not only make their day, but perhaps even inspire them to sing your praises in return by way of saying thanks.
4) Be sure to participate in LinkedIn Groups, which serve as a sort of community space on the site for people who might not normally share a workspace in real life, but can virtually "hang out" together in cyberspace.
Groups come in all shapes and sizes, not only in terms of business types, but also alumni groups and ones based on geographical proximity. By forging connections through groups, where a common interest is already established, you may find it easier to approach a fellow member for advice or assistance down the line with whom you've already bonded. You can even start your own group around a particular interest related to your field of expertise in order to network with those who care about the same things as you.
The point is that while LinkedIn may allow people to blindly stumble across your profile and grow your circle of influence in your industry, it will be far more effective if you take steps on your own to seek out others, rather than sitting back and hoping that they come to you.
Networking works best when it is a two-way street, but if you never actually get your car on that road in the first place, odds are you won't get to where you want to go.